Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Wifely < tag >

This comes with a disclaimer: I don't like planning too much. It assumes I have more control over life than I actually do. So take my 'things I plan' as 'things I would like to do.'

Five things I plan to do before I die:
- Visit Mount Athos
- 'Give' the Holy Eucharist to my family
- Coach a soccer team
- Sleep
- Get another degree (just kidding)

Five things I can do:
- Play sports
- Sing
- Math
- Computer stuff
- Study

Five things I cannot do:
- Draw
- Dance
- Tolerate a lack of effort
- Abstain from puns
- Maintain a paper correspondence

Five things that attract me to the opposite sex:
- Willingness to work in order to improve (self, relationship, etc.)
- Charity
- Sense of humor
- Intelligence
- Voice

Five things I say most often:
- Doamne ajuta (loose translation - "May the Lord help us")
- "What would you like to eat?"
- La-la-la-la-LAH :)
- Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us and save us.
- I've been in school for too long

Five Celebrity Crushes:
- None.

< /tag >

Monday, October 17, 2005


Yesterday I gave my first sermon, at St. Vasilios in Peabody, MA. This is the approximate text - it is what I had on paper, which isn't quite what I said since I wasn't actually reading, but it should be close enough.

To Whom Does the Gospel Speak?
He who has ears to hear, let him hear

A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold. The Lord often spoke in parables and he often concluded them with the somewhat mysterious "he who has ears to hear, let him hear." But who has the ears to hear and what does it mean to hear?

I love playing basketball and last year I played on the Holy Cross team in the Boston Metropolis YAL. My wife came to a number of our games and was our most ardent supporter. I was told that she was cheering extremely hard at each of these games. After a particular game, she came and asked whether it did any good to cheer for me (everyone else had thanked her for cheering for them). I, rather incredulously, asked "Were you shouting my name?" You see, when I started playing, my sight and my hearing stopped at the edge of the court. Presumably I "heard" my wife cheering (everyone else in the building did), but I did not truly "hear" her; I concentrated so hard on the game, that I became oblivious to everything else.

In much the same way, we come to Church on Sundays and can easily be oblivious to what happens during the worship service. We hear the hymns - maybe we even sing them - but often do not realize what we say through them. We hear the Gospel and promptly forget what it was about, even though the Evangelist speaks directly to each one of us through the Gospel. Human nature has not changed in two thousand years: we still worry about tomorrow, we still wrestle with anger, sexual desire, and envy, we still search for happiness. Then, now, and forever, God speaks to each of us through the Scriptures, promising us eternal life. In return, we need to open up our hearts to Him, to listen in the deepest sense of the word, and to respond to that offer with love.

Thus, when each of us hears the parable of the sower, each is called to sincerely look into his heart and answer the question "What sort of soil am I?" Do I hear God's word but not take it to heart? Do I rejoice while I am here, but forget about God as soon as I exit the church building? Do I try to hold on to the word, but get overwhelmed by life? Or do I hold on to God's word as the pearl of great price?

These are difficult questions to answer sincerely, because we live in a society in which everything tends to be compartmentalized. We are our true selves when we are in Church, but we feel pressured to become actors playing many parts: parent, child, businessman, doctor, Christian believer and so forth. However, as Orthodox, this compartmentalization is not natural. God created us whole; He united body and soul, and man became a living being. To oppose the soul to the body creates a division which was not placed there by God. If body and soul are separated, the fullness of man is lost. This premise is also true in terms of our lives: fragmenting our lives, we lose the fullness of life, which Christ brought to us and which the Church presents to us.

The Church sows the seeds of God's love in our hearts with every service and with every prayer. She comes to us and offers us living water for these seeds so that they can grow and bear good fruit in our lives. We come to her to receive that water, to be fed by the Pure Body and Blood of our Savior. And when we are fed we grow until we can share in the work of the sower. For this is part of our calling - layman and clergy alike - to sow the seeds of faith in the world. We are not all called to be ordained priests, we are not all called to be preachers, but we, each one of us individually, are called to be holy and to shine Christ's light into the world.

If we love our fellow man even when he cuts us off in traffic, if we can say a prayer for the neighbor who is chatting next to us during the Liturgy, if we can put our children to sleep with an "Our Father" then we are shining God's light in the world and we are co-sowers with God. Before we can do that, however, we have to prepare ourselves to receive God's word. We have to open our hearts and let God's word take root in them firmly.

Opening our hearts to God and keeping them open is not easy, but Christ did not give us the easy way. He gave us Himself: the Way, the Truth, and the Life and He promised us that through Him we have eternal life. In response, He asks us to listen to His words and put them to work in our lives as much as we are able to. He assured us that He would be with us until the end of the age and told us that if we knock, the door will be opened to us. So let us knock by placing God before us a little more each day.

If we forget about God between Monday and Saturday, let us put in our planners five minutes of prayer each day. If we pray for five minutes, let us read the Scriptures of the day. If we read the Scriptures, let us think of what our Lord says to each of us individually through them. Who has ears to hear? Each one of us, if we allow ourselves. What does it mean to hear? To listen to the Lord's words as He speaks to us in the Scriptures, to take them into our hearts and apply them in our daily lives. May we do this in patience and humility and to the glory of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Requesting the pleasure of ... whose company?

Our latest campus directory has a couple of interesting entries. One such item reads:

D., S. and Wife

To this, my lovely wife replied "Maybe they'll name their first baby "Guest" so invitations can be addressed to: 'S. D., Wife, and Guest.'"

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

On foul language

Wikipedia defines foul language as "Profanity is a word choice or usage which its audience considers to be offensive" (The Profanity page is a redirect from Foul Language.). My first reaction was to think that it was a very lax and ambiguous definition, making profanity dependent upon the values and reaction of the audience. Thinking about it some more, I realized that it may not be that far from the truth. There are, however, two questions that I would raise.

The first question that needs to be asked is "Who is our audience?" We acknowledge in our moments of spiritual reflection the existence of a reality which extends beyond the limits of our senses. In my previous post I talked about demonic possession. Within our faith we acknowledge the existence of angels and demons, and, most importantly that of an omnipresent God. Do we consider the God and the angels as part of our audience? Hebrews 4:12,13 says "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." God is there, by our side and nothing we do, say, or think is hidden from Him. He is in our audience at all times. Do we remember?

The other question regards the term offensive. It is here that I have some difficulties with the Wikipedia definition. What is offensive is relative to people. Some have become desensitized to language, violence, immorality, and many other things. Others either have never become desensitized, or they have come back to realizing the problems that exist in each of these areas. So it seems to me that we need another standard by which to judge the foulness of language, one which is not based on the instability of human sensibilities. As far as I can tell, the only true criterion we have to satisfy that condition is that of divine love. Christ said "Love your neighbor as yourself." It is with this in mind that I see foul language and profanity not merely encompassing the obvious (messages of hatred, "four-letter" words, etc.), but in fact everything that is said with a lack of love for the other.

I mentioned in my previous post that I had an aversion to foul language and that it had a negative effect on me. I can say the same thing about anger, lack of compassion, and other passions. They affect me personally even when they are not directed at me. I can get through them, but I can see the disturbance that they cause in my soul, so I cannot help but have this sense that they are related. St. John Chrysostom's assertion that "foul speech defiles and invites devils" makes sense to me in the context that, when we say things without love for our neighbor, we close ourselves off from God (even momentarily) and open ourselves up to attacks against which we would otherwise have been ready to defend.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Tired musings

As expected, this is turning out to be my most demanding semester yet in terms of workload. Thus, the reduced frequency of the posts. That being said...

In one of our classes we discussed demonic possession in its various forms. It is a tricky and difficult subject to approach. From my notes:

"Demonic possession is not an every day event. More often evil subverts and seduces
us not through a ferocious attack, but by luring us into complacency - we see ourselves as good, the vigilance is disarmed, etc. More often evil wins not through direct attack, but through stealth, through the most ordinary and mundane. Evil undermines us subtly."

"We live in a society that tends to trivialize and marginalize evil is seen as an irrelevant abstraction. A concrete understanding of evil is seen as anachronism, unworthy of rational people. This way we are forced to ignore the daily experiences which show us the evil around us. [...] we ignore evil, but see more of it around us (wars, etc.)"

"The Church provides a ministry of sacrament and prayer in conjunction with modern medicine" - as a wholistic approach to man, trying to heal both physically and spiritually.

I thought the class was interesting not only because specific cases of demonic possession were presented to us, but because it put these cases in a different type of light. Yes, these exist, yes they can be as 'spectacular' as seen in movies. However, the biggest fight that we face, as members of Christ's body, is in the daily life and in avoiding its temptations.

Another thing that I found this week in reading some of St. John Chrysostom's homilies for my exegesis class was this quote:

"For if foul speech defiles and invites devils, it is clear that spiritual reading sanctifies and draws down the grace of the Spirit."

For a few years now I have had this aversion to foul language that I could not explain. I did not have the spiritual insight to see what it was that provoked that aversion, that made me feel restless and ill-at-ease, but reading St. John, I think I understand.

Final thought for this evening. In our Ethics class we looked at the question "What is good?" Our professor's assertion is that 'what is good' is fundamentally the wrong question to ask, because good is an attribute of God, so good is not a 'what' but a 'who.' Without that framework, trying to find out 'what is good' does not lead anywhere (good). I'm still working out the practical implications of changing the way we look at ethics - probably will be for a while.