Sunday, March 12, 2017

One Sermon Inspires Another

Two months ago this very day, the Orthodox Church lost a wonderful priest, a beautiful young woman lost her dad, and many people, including me, lost a great friend in Father Ignatius Crockett of Birmingham, Alabama.  Today, I am to give a sermon in our parish, and given the subject of our day in the church today, I could not help but use one of his sermons I was blessed to attend as inspiration for the one I am to give.  If it fail to do him justice, the fault lies totally with me; if it does his sermon justice, the credit is totally his.

Here is the sermon I have been blessed to give today.  Memory Eternal, Father Ignatius! GO BARONS!

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
Glory Be to Jesus Christ!  Glory Forever!

Welcome Home!  Thank you for being here this beautiful day!

The Lenten Spring is here.  As always, spring is a time of renewal, rebirth, rejuvenation and even remembrance.  In a sense, it's a rebirth of the flowers and trees that slept through the winter.  It's a time that in our part of the world, the land feels rejuvenated from the sun's warmth as the time of daylight grows longer and we feel rejuvenated because of it.  And as it is Great Lent, we are called to remember why Christ came here for us, what He went through and is going through for us, and we're called to remember by using the same traditions and practices as those who came before us a thousand, fifteen hundred years ago did, practices set down by Christ, by Scripture, the Church, and defended by the Saints like Saint Gregory Palamas who we remember today. We are reminded of why it is so important TO remember St Gregory's struggle to show that our faith is not meant to be just understood, but, rather, it is to be experienced.

There is a uniquely American Tradition that is celebrated every spring.  Whether you are there in person or in spirit, if it's spring, and if you're a baseball fan, that means spring training is underway now in Florida and Arizona, and a new baseball season is born in just a few weeks.  Right now, the players are working themselves into game shape, they are taking extra time in the field and in batting practice to get themselves ready for the marathon that is called baseball season.

A few years ago, there was a story about a young man who played amateur baseball, a huge Atlanta Braves fan, and his hero was the big star of the Braves at the time, Dale Murphy.  Whenever this young man came to bat in his own ball games, he copied everything Dale Murphy did when he was batting; the number of practice swings, the tapping of the spikes with the bat, adjusting the batting glove just the right way; everything that Dale Murphy did at the plate, this young man did also.  He studied the swing; he held the bat exactly the same way, literally copying his favorite ballplayer to make himself a better hitter.  When he was picked on for it, he would take it in stride and do everything he could to make those who mocked him pay for it the next time he came up to bat.  Just like his baseball hero, while he didn't always succeed, as long as he was playing, he never stopped trying.

With the start of a new baseball season, with all the rituals that the young man went through to make himself a better baseball player, we should be mindful of why we, as Orthodox Christians, do exactly the same thing in going through the training, but that we do it for a more important reason.  Just like a pro baseball player taking batting practice every day, whose very livelihood depends on getting in all that practice to be successful at hitting, usually less than one third of the time they're at bat, we do the same rituals and practices of our faith to not only be successful once in a while, hopefully more often than one third of the time, but to remember that try as we might, more often than we wish, we may be less successful in our efforts than we would like, but as long as we live, as long as there is still a game to play tomorrow, we always have another shot at redemption.

It is for those very reasons we celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy when we do, and how we do.  We celebrate it the first week of Great Lent, and we do it not just because it's a service that we have been doing for years, but we do it to remind us of how we almost lost the icons, one of our connections to Christ, the Theotokos, the Apostles and Saints.  Today, we probably don't realize just how close we were to losing something so valuable to not only the faith, but to our ability to live it, to understand it, to grow in it, and to help it grow.  To experience it.   It is for those very reasons we celebrate Saint Gregory Palamas today, the Second Sunday of our Lenten Spring; we do it to remind us what the task at hand is, and that task is that ours is a faith to be experienced, not because of our traditions, but with them and through them.

In today's Gospel, the paralytic that Jesus heals and forgives had to be let in through a hole in the roof where Jesus was teaching.   The crowd was so big; you couldn't get to the door!   Jesus was impressed by the faith of the paralytic, and those who carried him, and Christ forgave the man's sins much to the chagrin of the Scribes there.  Who was Jesus to forgive sins when only God can?  Well, sensing the Scribes disapproval, Jesus had the paralytic rise from his bed and walk, not only to show the Scribes who He really is, but to give them an experience it is certain they never forgot, and even then, the scribes failed to understand they had witnessed the workings of God Himself!.

If we've never experienced something, that particular something is difficult to understand, and even more difficult, if not impossible, to express.   Most of us will never experience hitting a game winning home run, and we certainly can't describe that feeling!  But someone who just hit that home run might say they can't describe how they feel, words fail them; they can't express what they just experienced.  They're so happy they don't know what else they are feeling!  And that's where the truth that there are occasions where words are not only inadequate, but unnecessary, comes shining though.  Often times, in our lives as Christians, we are called to be more like the shepherds from the Nativity Gospel of Saint Luke, who were amazed at what the angel pronounced to them, but they didn't fully understand just what they were told, yet, they went, and they gazed upon the Christ Child in the manger, and in seeing, they did understand, even if they couldn't put it into words.  It's the same with our traditions.  We may not always be able to explain to the world why venerating an icon is important to our experience as Orthodox Christians, though we should strive to do so, but when the results bring one closer to God, closer to Christ, closer to the saints, no words are necessary or adequate.  We can't even always explain our experiences in our faith, but to truly know our faith means that sometimes, when the faith shines the brightest, there's no need to.

Brothers and sisters, Dale Murphy was a baseball hero to one young man, a young man who literally copied everything his hero did all in the hope, all in the faith, that at just the right time, all those practice swings he took, all that time he spent doing exactly what one of the best baseball players of the day did, that he, also, in his own way, at his own level, could experience just what a professional baseball player experienced on those occasions he did succeed.  As Orthodox Christians, if our heroes are the Apostles, the martyrs, the saints, we know that we do exactly what was won for us 1000/1500 years ago, and yes, it WAS won for us, and we do these things not because they make us better than others, but because without them, we are no different than a baseball player who skips batting practice or fielding practice, or Spring Training.  We understand that if we skip those things, if we don't practice Lenten Spring, if we don't continue the practices and lessons and we forget them, if we let them get away from us, it will be more difficult to experience everything that the God who loves us more than we love ourselves, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wants us to, and needs us to, so that His Glory can be revealed to all.

Glory Be To Jesus Christ!  Glory Forever!!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Homily on St John Kochurov

I have been blessed to give a homily today on the life of St John Kochurov, Hieromartyr of the Bolshevik Yoke.  Here it is in written form.
O Hieromartyr John Kochurov, pray for us.

In The Name of the Father, and The Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen.

Glory be to Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, 98 years ago today, Heaven crowned a new martyr, in a village just outside of St Petersburg called Tsarskoe Selo named John Kochurov.  He was a priest, just like his own father; in fact, he came from a long line of priests in Russia.  He did something that none of them did, however, something any of us may be called to do.  He left his home country as soon as he graduated from seminary, bringing his new wife with him, and he came to a foreign land, a land whose language he did not know, and he began his missionary work, which in reality was adjusting to a new foreign land, in New York City.  He then went to the Diocese of Alaska, where the Church had been for over 100 years already, and there was ordained a priest by Bishop Nicholas in August of 1895.

In the true spirit of a missionary, he happily went to Chicago, where he took up the work of establishing and stabilizing the church there.  There were two parishes there, both without a priest, and compared to Alaska or New York, there was no organization.  He took on the two parishes there, the only two Orthodox Churches in Chicago at the time.  There were no other priests in the area he could ask for advice from.  The buildings they used for worship were horrible; the people were poor immigrants looking to live an American dream.  They worked very hard, very long hours, and could barely feed their families.  This is the Chicago Father John Kochurov ministered to.

For five years, he labored to stabilize and grow the church in Chicago; within that time, many who had left the church in their journeys returned to it thanks to Father John.    Eastern Catholics and Roman Catholics came to the church.  In that time, the church grew in Chicago to over three hundred men and their families, but as it grew, so too did the needs change.

Missionary work under those conditions can be very tiring and stressful.  Let’s face it; being 6000 miles from where we grew up is going to make us homesick once in a while.  Needing that visit, Father John did something extraordinary; he combined his vacation with fundraising in his native land.  In his approximately four months back in his native Russia, he spread the word of his mission in Chicago to his fellow clergy, his family, his old friends, and he came back to Chicago successful enough in those labors so that in March of 1902, St Tikhon went to Chicago, and the foundation for what is now Holy Trinity Cathedral in the Ukrainian Area of Chicago was laid.   That, however, is not the end of his story in America; it is the beginning.

He was elevated to Archpriest in 1906; he was awarded a gold pectoral cross for ten years of priestly service; he was appointed to Dean of the New York Area of the Eastern States; he helped organize what was the first North American Orthodox Council, and was essential in setting up the administrative aspect of a growing church in a new land.  It is fair to say that he organized from almost nothing, just God’s grace, human availability and the request of St Tikhon, the administration of the church in North America.

Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago is still used for worship today, more than 100 years after its consecration.  The parishes we have today benefit from the administration Father John organized.  The missions we have today benefit from his love of God, his faith, his energy, in spreading God’s word in a strange land where everything is new, just as is true OF a mission parish where everything is also new.  Were it not for those efforts just over one hundred years ago, there is no telling how the church may have grown in the USA, and knowing what we know now, we were very, very blessed to have this man of God, from a long line of men of God, organize and administer the needs of new missions and parishes in a new land.

Russia had those same needs, however, and in 1907, Father John left Chicago and returned to his native land, taking his family with him.  For almost ten years, he was a teacher of God’s law in Narva, attached to the Cathedral there, and while he was successful in these efforts, they did not afford him the liturgical duties he so loved.  In November of 1916, Father John was assigned as a parish priest to the second position at St Katherine’s Cathedral in Tsarkoe Selo, thus returning to active parish life as both priest and educator.

Hopefully, we all know the history of 1917 Russia.  By the end of October, the Bolsheviks had pretty much gained total control of the land.  As they came into Tsarskoe Selo unopposed, many residents of the town, most of them parishioners, came to the cathedral seeking comfort. They came to pray for peace, stability, and brotherhood.  Father John led those services, he led those prayers, and he knew that all of them came to that church that day for God’s protection.  He knew that day, protecting them was his duty as a priest.

They served a Molebien as the Bolsheviks entered the town.  After further serving a Divine Liturgy, arriving back at the family apartment, the Bolsheviks came and arrested Father John, accusing him of praying for the Cossacks, who opposed the Bolsheviks.  They took him to the outskirts of town.  When accused of praying for a Cossack victory, Father John tried to explain the situation.  Eventually, those who had rifles raised them at Father John, aimed, and fired.  He fell to ground mortally wounded.  They dragged his body by the hair through the town, with some yelling “Finish him like a dog”.  They even stole his pectoral cross award.  98 years ago today.

Brothers and sisters, as we venerate the icon of St John Kochurov and read what is written on the opened scripture he is holding, we need to remember not only his martyrdom, but what his true crowning glory in Heaven is. Yes, he was a priest. Yes, he died rather than deny God. Yes, he died protecting his flock, praying for them even as he was bleeding.  He is an example of courage and bravery beyond that of a man who lays down his life so that others live.  He was a man who left home, the family he grew up with, left everything that was familiar to him; really, he sacrificed his life long before he was murdered.  He not only died a martyr’s death; he lived a martyr’s life, and he did all of this so that we can live in Christ's immeasurable love, His church, and the fullness of the Gospel.  His love of God, his love of the church, and all of his labor here in America are with us every day still. Whenever we need to talk to church administration, it is his labor that organized it.  Whenever we start a new mission, his zeal and energy go with those who labor.  When faced with denying God, he showed what those in Chicago already knew; he was one of the most courageous men ever to have walked this land. Let us pray that we have his love of Christ, his zeal, and his courage, not just as we commemorate him today, but in truly keeping with his example, even to our last breath just like Father John Kochurov.

Glory Be to Jesus Christ!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Church New Years Resolutions

September 1st is the start of the new Church Year, as it is every year, and for once, I plan on making some "New Year's Resolutions"  for my soul.

1)  I need to pray more at home.

2)  I need to pray more at church.

3)  I need to pray more when walking, whether any one realizes I am praying or not.

4)  I need to pray more at physical therapy and the doctor's.

5)  I need to pray more while driving.

I guess I am telling myself I need to pray more.

Should that come as a surprise?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

To the Anonymous Christian Martyrs

An open letter to the Martyrs of Christendom whose names are forgotten to history.

Dear Brothers and Sister in Christ-
It is with a heavy heart that I write this to you.  It seems that, as the years turned to decades, decades to centuries, and centuries to millennia, that many have forgotten you.  Certainly, it would be foolhardy to think that everyone who wears a martyr's crown would have their name written down anywhere on Earth, so I really shouldn't think that your individual names would be available.
 Actually, I don't think that at all.  When I say that many have forgotten you, I don't mean you as individuals.  Those who remember you as individuals have hopefully seen you adorned with your victorious crown granted to those who refuse to abandon Christ in the face of certain, painful, violent death.  When I say many have forgotten you, I don't mean all that you have left behind to those who survived you, and to those who weren't martyrs who lived to pass it on to us throughout history, bequeathing to us today the precious gift Christ left us through His Apostles.  I mean, we have forgotten you, how you had to live, what you had to go through just to worship, what technology you did not have.
In my comfort, I have forgotten how you toiled for hours throughout all seasons and weather conditions not for your living, but your survival.
In my comfort, I have forgotten how my struggles of fasting do not compare to your struggles with hunger.
In my knowledge, things I take for granted like reading and writing were unattainable goals to many of you.
When I took my freedom too far, I became a slave to my passions; when you were enslaved by evil overlords, Christ kept you free.
I write this letter to you because recent worldly events left historical records of new Martyrs, men who were murdered because they would not renounce Christ, even asking for His mercy and help when being tortuously murdered.   They did not waiver in their faith, even knowing that they would be killed just for believing that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God, and did not betray what I am certain is the terror they felt.  Then again, neither did you.
One difference is this; in at least one instance, we know the names of almost two dozen men martyred on the shores of the Mediterranean.  Their names are all over something we call the internet, which is a way to communicate globally in an instant.  If one knows how to look, and cares to, they can find those names; I did.
Two thousand years between Christ and today have changed little.  In many parts of the world, you are singled out for execution for professing Jesus. They were doing that in your time, also.  What bothers me now is how not even methods have changed.  They still crucify Christians in the lands where Christianity began.  Sometimes, like the pagans of old, they are beheaded.  Of course, the end result is the same.
We who do not suffer physical cruelty like you did and those new Martyrs today did likely do experience some mocking and marginalization.  One favorite line of some non believers is "So many Christians, not enough lions".  What's most sad to me is that if that they seem to forget that a lion will get hungry again, and if a Christian isn't around, a non believer will taste just fine.  Such is the nature of that beast.
In closing, I want to give you proper thanks both in my prayers, but more importantly, in my heart, because while some of your names have been forgotten, your sacrifice is not.  When we hear that bell on Sunday Morning calling us to the Kingdom, we need to remember just what you went through to properly worship Christ and remember His sacrifice, and how what you sacrificed to honor Christ would be unthinkable today.  That would be too uncomfortable for many of us.
Then again, who are we to know discomfort compared to you?  We are no one to know that; there are almost two dozen new martyrs who do.
Please pray for us, and know that we remember what you sacrificed for us, also.

In Peace and Prayer-
Yours in Christ-

Friday, December 5, 2014

Suffering Through Hope

Normally when I take to this blog, I keep it very spiritual.  I certainly do comment about events in my life, especially if that event helps in my spiritual growth and understanding, and other times I do my best to sound a bit theological as if I knew what I was talking about.  I would like to think, however, that I do very little talking about my life as it is (it truly is boring anyhow, more so since I started this) and more about my soul and my spirit.  I may fail this time.
I have to admit that this calender year has been the most challenging to me in many, even as world events and forces beyond my control put me in some difficult circumstances from time to time.  I think I can honestly say that the only other year that was as tough physically and spiritually for me as an adult was 2000, the year my mother died.  The next year, 2001, was one mistake right after another for me.  Sure, I had some fun and felt some relief, especially physically, but I made too many mistakes that year, and some of them still have ripple effects to this day.
It all started last year, December 16 in fact, when I severely dislocated my elbow with several other fractures to the arm.  On December 24, I had surgery on that elbow, and spent the night in the hospital.  I started physical therapy the week after I got the cast off of my arm,  I still have yet to get back 50% of what a normal person can do with an arm.  The good news is that if this were 1914 instead of 2014, I wouldn't even have THAT much use of the arm.  Glory to God for All Things!
The last few weeks have been miserable also; I can not shake a sinus infection!  For some reason, this thing is hanging on for what seems an eternity!  Two weeks of antibiotics may be helping, but I sure have lost a lot of energy in this time.  Worse, it has severely and negatively effected my daily prayers; I am worse than inattentive.  I am lax!  Everything is disrupted by this, even fasting, as I have not even attempted to fast yet.
I have not played guitar at all this least not in the guitar player sense.  I can barely hold a pick, and strumming is clunky and self muting.  I really do want to play guitar again, but that is my will.  I have thought that somewhere in all this, God has opened a door for me to walk through, but all I do lately is blindly bump into walls.  Since I seem to be too busy playing spiritual human pinball instead of focusing on what I am supposed to learn here, I feel a darkness settling in that is rather unsettling.  That can not be good, at least until I find that door.
Have there been bright moments?  Sure.  This past August, my favorite band that still has all of its original members alive and playing performed their first full length concert in over twenty years!  Of course I went, and was very blessed to have met some great people, as well as the treatment by the band I was given that was quite humbling.  There was a time there when many people thought that I was instrumental in the concert happening.  I refuse that idea; the desire on the part of both the fans and the band was always there.  All I did was ask permission to open my big mouth, and got it.  From that act has flowed many, many blessings that I can never be grateful enough for.
I think I have also learned my place in the church.  It is not on the altar at all.  Yes, I was studying to be a deacon, but then the elbow interfered.  I missed many classes, and the ones I did attend I could not take notes at, as well as the fact I could not get comfortable in the classroom.  Now, I see my place in the choir, as the one thing I have done all of my life that makes me feel better than anything is singing.  I can usually do it well, and I know it is a gift from God, a gift I have abused in the past, but I hope to have a few years ahead of me to make up for.  So it might be very unlikely that I will ever help a priest on the altar again.  Those lucky priests!  Again, Glory to God for All Things!
As I reflect on the last twelve months, and as I look ahead (the doctor has said I need more surgery, and God be willing I will live to get it) I have to take time and reflect on some of our saints and what they have had to live through in their lives.  Was the life of St Seraphim of Sarov any more difficult than mine?  A man who was beaten, robbed, permanently disfigured, yet spent many nights in prayer regardless of his discomfort?  What about St Xenia of St. Petersberg, who was a young widow that gave away all she had, save for a few clothes, and willingly spent many hours wandering the streets of the city at night, in the cold, wind and snow, praying and doing things to help others while always being scorned and ridiculed?  What about St Maximos the Confessor, a man who had his tongue cut out so he could no longer preach and his hand cut off so he could no longer write?  Do my sufferings even come close to that?  Do they come close to any other saint in the Orthodox Church?
Perhaps I could write more often in this blog; writing IS why I started this.  Maybe that is something I am supposed to be doing.  My problem with that idea is the fear of leading anyone onto the wrong path.  As I have acknowledged a year of mistakes, so must I acknowledge that I can still make them, and in some small ways this year, indeed I have.  I could not bear the thought of giving someone a wrong instruction on the faith, or in anything else really, and that is why I try to keep this blog less instructional and more conversational.  It is also why I write infrequently.  In the words of Kris Kristofferson "So many wrong directions on that lonely way back home".  I have walked some, and I do not want to lead anyone to them.
Looking ahead, I see struggles.  Looking back, I see the struggles I have survived so far.  Through it all, it has been the Love of God, manifested in His only Begotten Son, that has been the most constant source of hope through my life.  All I can do is hope for the darkness I sense to be illuminated by every prayer of thanks I offer, should my offering be worthy.  Somehow, I have a sense I need to work on making such offerings worthy.
Glory To God For All Things!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Orthodoxy and the Internet

If this post stirs up controversy, good.
If it invites self-introspection, better.
If it gets me labeled names like "ecumenist" or "Ameridox", then I struck a nerve.
You see, I love the Orthodox faith, which is why I chose to join the Orthodox Church.  I left the Roman Catholic Church, but not because I was disgusted with a sex abuse cover up.  No, I left because I had serious doubts about a dogma called the Immaculate Conception.  I questioned the doctrine for years before officially deciding to leave Rome and become Orthodox.  I could not join a Western Protestant branch because of their refusal to acknowledge the importance of the Theotokos and the communion of the saints.  I might have joined the Orthodox Church earlier if I had been shown the faith, but as it was, my first experience in any Orthodox Church was in Red Square in Moscow at St Basil's.  I was so overwhelmed once inside that I knew I was home, but it still took me eight years of learning and praying to make the step to join.
Like any convert, I was full of zeal, and what better place to be zealous than the internet.  A place where I could find like minded people and show just how dedicated I was to the faith and a place to share my new found knowledge.
What I have seen recently online makes me so happy that there was no Facebook to participate in while I was a catechumen, for if there were, I might never have converted.  There is no lack of triumphalism, nationalism, and even malice among those who are on such pages.  One page recently had a man post a picture of a goat and ask is this was what America was trying to make Orthodoxy (it was apparently a story about bestiality).  Many other pages love to mock the Roman Catholic Church with meme's of the Pope with some horrific sayings that show no love for their fellow man.  Sure, I get it.  Rome and the East have a theological chasm that is at least as wide as the Grand Canyon and twice as deep.   No reunion is ever going to happen until Rome addresses and renounces its heresies, including the Immaculate Conception, the Filoque, Papal Supremacy, and other issues like proper communion, and many others.  In this, the Orthodox Church is correct.
What about the Orthodox faithful, however?  Why is it when Rome apologizes for a sin they committed against the East, many of the faithful, rather than accept the overture, point out other hurts caused by the Schism?  Why are many Orthodox faithful gleeful about the scandals of the Roman Church when the Orthodox church has their own sins to attend to?   In my opinion, do you know what the only difference between the sins of Rome and the sins of the Orthodox church is?   Press coverage.  Media outlets pick on Rome because the are an easy target.  What might happen if the media decided to focus on the Orthodox church for its sins, however?  How would the faithful have reacted if the OCA received the media scrutiny between 2002-2008 that Rome received for the priest sex abuse issue?  I wish I could answer that question, but as it is, since the media did not cover it to the lengths that they do Rome, we will never know and I refuse to speculate.
As I answer many people who question my loyalty to the Orthodox Church, I left the Roman church, but I did not leave its adherents.  I left Roman dogmas, I did not leave those who still hold them.  I did this of my own choice, and I do not regret that choice at all.  I know so many wonderful priests, all of whom have helped me in one way or another, and all of them, even in their firm rejection of Rome, never once showed ill will to anyone who was a Roman Catholic.  With some of the posts I have read about Rome from Orthodox Christians, I question not only what they are being taught, but by whom.
This brings us to nationalism.  Lately, I have seen many nationalist Orthodox who denounce the USA as trying to modernize the faith, and change it to America's liking.  Many confuse the secular politics engulfing the USA and the fights over them with the idea that America is trying to change the faith and allow such ideas to enter the Holy Church.  The saddest part is that nothing you say to them will change their minds, and even worse, their words show the hardness of heart I am trying to escape from by being Orthodox.
Another issue is should America have its own Patriarch.  This past winter, I had a debate with several people who think that my statement that the USA is not ready for its own Patriarch was an attempt to keep jurisdictions divided and that I was un-American.  Being un-American is nothing new for me, as I have been called worse names because of my tastes for ice hockey over any other sport, and a preference for the CFL (Canadian Football League) over the NFL.  To be called that by Orthodox Christians, however, because I stated the idea that the USA is not ready for its own Patriarchate was a punch that caught me by surprise.  In their own zeal, many of these people were showing that truly, it wasn't the USA they wanted to have their own Patriarch, but rather, their Patriarch presiding over the church in the USA.  Further, those that did not show that zeal did not ask such probing questions like "Since Metropolitan Tikhon is Metropolitan of all North America and Canada, do you think Canada will be willing to be under the umbrella of the US Patriarchate?".  The most popular answer to that question was "Who cares?".  Obviously, we didn't discuss Mexico.
The more I think about it, the more I am certain to have been blessed with several of the priests I have had since my catechumate.  Every one of them, to a man, has advised me to just pray for the unity of the Holy Churches and not worry about bureaucracy and politics.  They have advised me to pray to have Jesus enter my heart and cleanse me of my sins.  They have advised me to be faithful to Christ, His church, and to those in my community who need Christ as much as I do.
One piece of advise they didn't give me, however, was to leave those Facebook Orthodoxy pages.  They didn't have to.
God Bless.

Monday, February 10, 2014

In Response to "Why I Can't Pray to the New Martyrs"

Link to article I respond to:

I am going to start this entry with a few statements which need to be remembered as this is read.  I do not wish to attack the author of the article that prompts this response, for we all have levels of comfort for who we feel we can pray to and who we can not.  For example, I have a very difficult time praying to any of the patristic fathers, as I am so uneducated and indeed am almost anti-formal education, as I feel my desire to liaise with them would fall far short of what is expected of me in terms of knowledge of the faith and their teachings as well.  I also have a hard time praying to any saint who I deem controversial in this day, so Blessed Seraphim Rose makes me very uncomfortable to talk to.  I find it much easier to pray through saints who may not have had much knowledge, but had experienced God in ways unfathomable to both many believers and unbelievers alike.  These Saints include St Mary of Egypt, St Xenia of St Petersburg, and even with his better education, St Seraphim of Sarov.  However, none of these saints can truly be considered martyrs.
If you have read my blog in the past, or know me personally, then you are very well aware of my closeness to one of the New Martyrs; in fact, he may be called the FIRST new martyr, and indeed is described as the First Hieromartyr of the Bloshevik Yoke, St John Kochurov. I feel indeed that, without my knowledge and with skillful prayer, he guided me back to the Orthodox Church when I had never attended one until I was in my late 30's.  When you read the history of his work in Chicago, with his work in bringing Roman Catholics back to the Orthodox Church, I feel he was always at work on me to bring me where I belonged.  I certainly can not prove this empirically, but I do remember, just before I was admitted to the Orthodox Church in August 2010, praying through my patron, St Lawrence of Rome (also a martyr, by the way), to guide me to a saint with connections to North America that would protect me and whose life I could be inspired by.  There was no hesitancy in the answer I received; St John of Chicago.  Being a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan myself seemed to "seal the deal" as it were, for until this prayer was answered for me, I  never had known anything about him.
One point the author mentions in his article is quite accurate and can not be countered; that is a martyr is always alone leaving nothing behind behind for disciples (St John Kochurov, however, did oversee the construction of a cathedral in Chicago that is still used to this day, so that isn't always the case, though to find writings of his is near impossible).  What the author may fail to realize, however, is that as we walk this spectral existence, in many instances, many of us do indeed walk without the benefit of our fellow man, having only God as our strength to carry on when those who do not trust in Him may well have given up.  As a young man, I had few acquaintances, less friends, and was constantly picked on for being different than many in my school and my age. God never did this to me, though.  God was always there for me, even after many times I wasn't there for Him.  Christ's arms were always open to me.  He understood.  He understands.  He always will, for who else in history truly changed the entire world, alone, but Him?
To walk this world alone requires a courage that many will see as an eccentricity.  I didn't always like the same music as my peers, or the same sports as my fellow classmates.  In fact, I was always more interested in religion and faith than I was math and science.  Those interests are hard for an academic to deal with when their job is to guide me to academia.  It is even more difficult for a young person whose family does not share that same interest in God, the faith, and spirituality.  It is difficult for a teenager to go to church, even thirty years ago, but it is even more difficult for that teenager to attend services alone without the presence of his or her parents and siblings.  Yet, this is exactly what I did.  If it were not for the best friend I had growing up and his family, there is a good chance I would NEVER have gone to church at all.
As the culture is changing in the USA now, Christians are being marginalized at best, and softly persecuted now at worst (try being a service worker and telling a prospective employer you need Sunday mornings off for services, for unless you are applying to Hobby Lobby or Chic-Fil-A, you have almost no chance of getting hired).  Your peers will tell you not to say these things (even some who profess the faith) and get the job first, or even tell you to give up services.  If we make that choice, are we truly witnessing to the faith?  Are we truly living the faith?  Are we trusting God in the manner we should?.  Forgive me for being judgemental, but to me, the answer is a resounding NO.  I can bear witness to this trust; every time I have refused a job that will not allow me my religious freedom as guaranteed by the US Constitution, God has guided me elsewhere and I have found everything I need.  Those times in between are indeed difficult, but why does God provide for me, someone who is so wretched that I deserve nothing from Him other than a good scolding?
Some Americans believe that the persecution of Christians is coming to America in a manner similar to what happened under the Bolsheviks and is currently happening in the Middle East.  The signs are there that it is indeed possible, and the hostility towards Christians is indeed growing in the USA.  It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future, but if history is any indicator, it is indeed on its way.  What is one of the first things that you do to someone who you want to punish, or persecute, or bully?  You isolate them.  You make them feel like they are alone.  You make them feel like no one else cares about them, that they are a waste of oxygen, and that they should just disappear.  Are Christians going to be treated any different if persecution comes to pass in the USA?   No, they won't.  They won't have jobs, they won't have defenders, and they won't have protections.  They will be taken from family and friends, they will be isolated, and they will be made to despair so that they will, hopefully, eventually conform to the state.  If you don't believe me, read a book called "The Gulag Archipelago".
Again, I wish not to criticise the author of the article I respond to.  I only wish to respond why I find such comfort in the martyrs.  You see, a common misconception about martyrdom is that to be a martyr, we die for the faith.  On the contrary, martyrdom is not dying for the faith, but bearing witness to it, and if need be, bearing it alone when nobody around you cares enough about you to stand up for your God-given right to live and worship Him.  I don't want to die like a martyr; like the author of the article, I hope to die of old age surrounded by people who love me.  I have no fear, however, of living like one, for God, Christ, His Saints, and ALL the martyrs of the faith, are there praying for me and working on my behalf to insure my spectral needs are met.  I need nothing, and no one, else in this struggle.