Thursday, September 1, 2011

Glory to You, for every step of my life

Dear Parish Faithful,

Glory to You, for our tireless thirst for You …

Glory to You, Who have inspired in us dissatisfaction with earthly things …

Glory to You, Who clearly abide where there is kindness and generosity of heart …

Glory to You, Who send failures and sorrows to us so that we might be sensitive to the sufferings of others …

Glory to You, Who have raised love higher than anything on earth or in heaven …

Glory to You, Who destroy our useless plans…

Glory to You, Who humble pride of heart to save us …

Glory to You, Who have raised up Your Church as a refuge of peace for an exhausted world …

Glory to You, all Holy Father, Who have willed us Your Kingdom,
Glory to You, all Holy Son, the Way, the Truth, and the Life,
Glory to You, all Holy Spirit and life-giving sun of the future age,
Glory to You for everything, O Divine Trinity, all bountiful,
Glory to You, O God, unto ages of ages.

From the Akathist Hymn “Glory to God for All Things!”

A small group of the parish faithful were able to hear, absorb and perhaps assimilate these wonderful praises of God – and the entire akathist hymn – that we sang and chanted yesterday evening in the church. To glorify God is the best way to greet the Church New Year and begin our own spiritual renewal. I was recently informed that the actual author of the hymn was a Bishop Trifon Turkestanov, who perished during the Red Terror unleashed by Stalin in the 1930’s. What a gift he has left the Church! For the bishop to articulate his indomitable faith through a kind of lyrical and poetic theology seems to be a certain sign of the grace of the Holy Spirit working in him amidst his sufferings. The height, the depth, the breadth and the width of his glorification of God is overwhelming in its all-inclusiveness. The few who made the effort yesterday evening were richly rewarded.

Although hardly acknowledged in our fast-paced contemporary world, I hope that the Church New Year will bear fruit for each and all on a personal and parish level. Our “resolutions” from the secular new year last January are probably long broken if not totally forgotten. Perhaps, then, we can practice the “self-examination” that the Apostle Paul speaks of, and commit ourselves to follow Christ – not according to our selective and subjective “likes” and “dislikes”of what we find in the Gospel and in the Church – but in a spirit of obedience to the One who is the crucified and risen Lord of the Church, the world, the historical process and the cosmos:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.
(MATT. 22:37-40)

Our discussion of the Church New Year raises the issue of time and our stewardship of the time that God has allotted to us. We all know that we have a finite and not infinite amount of time in that allotment. Aware of our finite nature, and the fact that we do not have an endless amount of time ahead of us, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to “redeem the time.” He is basically saying that Christ must be at the center of our endeavors and desires to properly benefit from the time given to us as a gift from God. We may plead that we are “too busy” to place God first in our lives. I cannot resist to respond by saying that if you are “too busy” for God, then you are simply “too busy!” This implies making the changes necessary to leave room and time for God. What will you have to “sacrifice” in the process? Probably not a whole lot when you recall the words of Christ: "For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (MK. 8:36) It may be as “simple” as replacing certain ingrained patterns of living with others that at least potentially draw you closer to God.

What can we do on a practical level that would deepen our experience of God and bring us deeper into the life of the Church? We exist as Christians on the personal and parish levels. In both areas there is room to expand our hearts as we expand the amount of time necessary to fulfill the words of Christ to make God and neighbor our first priority. At home, we can:

+ Be regular in daily prayer by devising and adhering to a “Rule of Prayer.” This means that everyone needs a good Orthodox Prayer Book. This Rule needs to be practiced with consistency and attention – in both the morning and the evening. The Prayer of the Hours could punctuate your days with the remembrance of God while at work or home. (I can provide you with that prayer if you do not have it). The Jesus Prayer can be on your lips at any time during the day.

+ Read the Scriptures with some consistency. Becoming “scripturally literate” is essential for a Christian.

+ Make a point of even a short prayer or blessing before sitting down to a meal – alone or with the family. All that you have is ultimately from God. We need to recognize this in a concrete manner.

+ Honor and observe the fasting days of the liturgical year.

+ Offer the Prayers of Preparation for Communion before the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. These are found in any good Orthodox Prayer Book.

+ Respond to those in need of your help and assistance when the opportunity arises.

On the parish level, here are some items to consider:

+ Become more than a “Sunday morning only” participant in worship. Incorporate the Saturday evening Great Vespers into your life with some kind of pattern: once-a-month, for example. Honor the Feast Days by making room on your personal calendars so as to be present.

+ Become more aware of being a steward of your time, talent and treasure. Is there a parish ministry that you feel drawn toward? Please speak with me if that is the case. Be responsible in the ministry that you are already committed to. Be a “cheerful giver” of your treasure for the upbuilding of the church. Trusting in God’s love, overcome any reluctance to share of your material and financial blessings by pledging generously to the church.

+ Become more aware of the diversity of persons that you worship together with. Everyone who walks through the door is your neighbor. We are members of the Body of Christ, not mere “individuals” who accidentally worship in the same church. Meet those that you do not know. Avoid judging others by appearance. No one is “better” than the next person, regardless of social status or other worldly considerations. We are all sinners seeking salvation from the “Physician of our souls and bodies.”

Rejoice in being an Orthodox Christian! Rejoice in being able to come to church and worship the living God! Rejoice in the people that you have providentially met in the Church! Rejoice in Christ our Savior!

Glory to You, for every sigh of my sadness,
Glory to You, for every step of my life, for every moment of joy,
Glory to You, O God, unto ages of ages.

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