Lenten Triodion

                                         How to Approach the Lenten Triodion

The Triodion is one of those dishes that is very rich meat. But it is best eaten inside the faith. It is easy to use the hymns to beat one self up, rather than to cleanse one self. It can be a satisfying meal, or it can be used to damage oneself. If that is the only way you can read it, it might be best to wait for a while. Many ills have been justified both against oneself and against others by those who have taken its hymns and not discerned the context

The Triodion assumes a certain level of self knowledge. We realize that we are capable of both extreme good, and extreme evil. We have the potential for both in us. By recognizing our potential for evil, we prevent ourselves from being blindsided by it.
Yes, given the right circumstances and opportunity, I can do just as bad, or worse, than any hitler. Give me enough adrenaline coupled with self justification and I can justify anything up unto and including the end of the world. The Triodion reminds me that I have that potential and points me in the direction of following Christ. It is not self abuse to acknowledge this; it is knowing myself well. Humility means feet on the earth, knowing how I am like the earth. Humility is not nose in the dirt.

The Great Canon will contrast these two. It will present the unrighteous Jew and how we are like that – it will present the righteous Jew and how we are called to that.
It is a bit like Peter, who enthusiastically confessed Christ, but at the courtyard of the high-priest denied him. We are like Peter: we carry in us the potential to be a great saint; we carry in us the potential to deny Christ.

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Parable of the Good Samaritan

Parable of the Good Samaritan

 

Once again we come to the story of the lawyer testing Jesus. Once again Jesus bounces the question back at the lawyer. Once again the Lawyer answers rightly “Love God; love your neighbour.” Once again Jesus tells him he is right, do this and he will live. Once again the Jesus turns back the attempt to ensnare Him.

But Luke continues the story where Matthew left it. The lawyer seems to sense that Jesus has pointed out to him especially the need to love his neighbour. And so he seeks to justify himself, and asks, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus answers with this well known parable of the Good Samaritan.

Samaritans were viewed as halfbreed New Age semi-believers; they believed a little bit of everything.  The Jews despised them. If Jesus were giving this parable to the Westboro Baptist, the Samaritan would be gay; if He were giving this parable to a racist,  he would be black. So we must ask ourselves, who do we despise? This is the person who is the Samaritan for us.

We all know this parable well, there is no point in me retelling it. But who are we in this parable?

First, in a very real sense, we are that lawyer in that question, “Who is my neighbour?”

Do we respond to need like the priest or the Levite? both of whom had legitimate reasons that they could use to justify not helping? Do we respond with questions, “what will happen to me if I help?” If they touched blood, or if the wounded man died on them, they would not be able to serve in the temple. Both priest and Levite put their own concerns above the needs of the wounded man. The Samaritan realized that the man could well die if he did not help, and so he helped him and bound up his wounds. This is a service that Jesus calls us all to in this parable, to bind up the wounds of others we come in contact with.

Sometimes the wounds are obvious; sometimes they are not. We must be the one who has mercy. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

So our neighbour is everyone. And in this day of internet and global communications, our neighbour may well be on another continent. We must be the one who has mercy. We must be the one who listens, who hears, who gives space for others who hide their wounds.

In another sense, we are the innkeeper. We have been given a stewardship for the care of others. We must attend to them, for the Lord has already made payment to us, and has promised to recompense us if we spend more. We also, as innkeeper, have a charge to keep our inn in good order. The inn was a hospital to the wounded man. Here we have this church that is a hospital for wounded souls. We must do our best to make sure this ministry is available for all.

Thirdly, we are the man who fell among thieves. During the 5th week of Great Lent the hymns of Vespers and Matins remind us of this; many of them are based on this very parable.  Thursday Vespers before the Great Canon has this hymn:

In my wretchedness, I have fallen among the the thieves of my own thoughts. My mind has been despoiled, and cruelly have I been beaten; all my soul is wounded, and stripped of the virtues, I lie naked upon the highway of life. Seeing me in bitter pain and thinking that my wounds could not be healed,  the priest neglected me and would not look at me. Unable to endure my soul-destroying agony, the levite when he saw me passed by on the other side. But Thou, O Christ my God, was pleased to come, not from Samaria, but incarnate from Mary: in Thy love for mankind, grant me healing and pour upon me Thy great mercy.

I am the man who fell among thieves, even my own thoughts; they have covered all my body with wounds, and I lie beaten and bruised. But come to me, O Christ my Saviour and heal me.

   Jesus is the Good Samaritan Who binds up our self-inflicted wounds. We are our own enemy. We inflicted upon ourselves grievous wounds. But Christ comes to us to bind up and heal those wounds.

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

It is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. Time to look at Pride and humility. Time to get ready for that time that we spend getting ready.

So, . . a tax collector and a Pharisee walk into a temple. . .

The phrase that leaps out to me this year is a warning in the words of the Pharisee.

“O Lord, I thank Thee…” and words of madness, as we will hear St. Andrew declare to us in just a few weeks.

Who are those people for us? For the Pharisee it was the Publican

O Lord I thank Thee that I am not like that Publican.

Who do we hold as people we might thank God we are not like?

We could reverse it: “O Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like that Pharisee.”

We could find some person to look down on: “O Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like that homeless man.”

We could ascribe it to our enemies: “O Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like that bad person.”

We could choose a supervisor, a fellow-worker, a politician,

We can even choose a member of the clergy: “O Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like that priest/bishop/preacher/deacon.”

Whoever we pick, it is pride, deadly pride.

For whatever person we might choose, we have to own that the very things that annoy us to no end are in someway within us, and we are just as capable of doing and being that person we may thank God we are not.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

An Invitation to Fast (Fasting 101)

An Invitation to Fast

I invite all who will to join in with the choirs of other Christians and spend the following days in some form of fasting in preparation to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.

All those who are able please join us in this fast.

For those who are not able I invite you to simplify your lives.

Fasting is not about giving up things it is about simplifying. We try to eat as we did in Paradise.

What fasting does spiritually

Fasting helps turn down the volume of the noise of the world. It helps us focus on God. It gives us an opportunity to worship God in how we consume food. Fasting should not be done without an increase of prayer and alms giving. Fasting without prayer and alms is just a diet, and a bad one at that. If we do not pray then we are no better than the demons who also do not eat.

Fasting done with prayer and alms helps us defeat the passions in ourselves. It is much like being an athlete in training.

Who Should NOT fast.

1.  People who feel they “should” or “ought” to fast. Fasting is not a “gotta do” it is a “get to do”

2. People who think God might be impressed with our fasting. Our fasting is for our sakes, not for God’s.

3. People who are grieving should modify their fasting.

4. People who are recovering from a medical/surgical procedure should not fast.

5. People who have medical conditions that would make fasting dangerous should not fast. Such people must fast from fasting.

6. People who are working through Step 4 in a 12-step fellowship should not fast or should modify their fasting.

Tips on fasting.

Let us begin the Fast with Joy. Let us begin the Fast by asking each other’s forgiveness. For if we fast in rancour and unforgiveness we fast in vain. So let us be of light heart and before we begin, ask each other to forgive whatever offenses we may have committed.

Choose a fasting rule that works and do your best to stick to it, praying to God for help. Fasting does not mean total abstinence from food in this case. It means abstinence from certain food. Again, simplicity is the key. If you go through extreme effort to prepare and eat vegan food, you are better off eating a hotdog that you can zap in the microwave.

If it is your first time fasting find someONE to fast with –  just ONE person who can be a support in fasting. This is not someone to compare your efforts with, just someone who will remind you and be walking with you through it. Aside from this one person, tell NO ONE else you are fasting.

If you are experienced at fasting keep your fasting to yourself, telling no one how well or badly your are keeping the fast.

If someone presents you with food that is outside your fasting rule, eat it. For such is the fast that we should not display it to others, for that would be a defilement of the fast. As Jesus said “WHEN you fast ( not IF you fast ) do not be as the hypocrites who are gloomy, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to fast. Amen I tell you, they have their reward. But when Thou dost fast anoint the head and face of thee and wash so that thou appearest NOT to men to be fasting…”

Tips for ending the fast.

Be gentile about reintroducing the foods that you have been fasting from back into your diet. The original Pascha baskets were not about chocolate eggs and bunnies but rather it was a feast prepared from the very foods that we have been fasting from. And before we break the fast we ask God’s blessing on that food that we have been abstaining from. (I recommend some active culture yogurt be consumed first).

If you get off your rule before the fast is ended, do not beat yourself up for it. Just get back on your fasting rule. We are not bad or wrong if we don’t fast. We just miss the opportunity that is there in fasting.

Again I invite all to join in this time of Fasting, in whatever way we can, as an opportunity to draw closer to God.

Some Hymns and Prayers on Fasting, Prayer, and Alms

Knowing the commandments of the Lord, let this be our way of life: let us feed the hungry, let us give the thirsty drink, let us clothe the naked, let us welcome strangers, let us visit those in prison and the sick.  Then the Judge of all the earth will say even to us: Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you

O Word, supreme in love, Who with the Father and the Spirit hast created all things visible and invisible in Thy wisdom past speech, grant in Thy compassion that we may spend the season of the joyful Fast in profound peace. Destroy the beguilement of bitter sin, granting us contrition, tears of healing and forgiveness of our trespasses, that fasting with a fervent spirit and undoubting soul, we may join the angels to sing the praises of Thy power.

This should be the manner of our fasting; not in hatred and contention, not in envy and strife, not in self-glory and with hidden deceit, but like Christ in humble-mindedness. —  St. Joseph the Studite

Stretching out Thy divine hands upon the Cross, Thou hast joined together that which before was divided, and by Thy mediation Thou hast offered as a gift to the Father the nature of mortal man, that was under condemnation. Therefore we sing the praises of Thy sinless Crucifixion. —  St. Joseph the Studite

If thou dost fast from food, O my soul, yet dost not cleanse thyself from passions, thou dost rejoice in vain over thy abstinence. For if thy purpose is not turned towards amendment of life, as a liar thou art hateful in God’s sight, and thou doest resemble the evil demons who never eat at all. Do not by sinning make the fast worthless, but firmly resist all wicked impulses. Picture to thyself that thou art standing beside the crucified Saviour, or rather, that thou art thyself crucified with Him Who was crucified for thee; and cry out to Him: “Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom.”

O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the sprit of laziness, despair, lust of power and idle talk. † but give rather the spirit of sobriety, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. † Yeah O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother: for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen † — Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

Sunday of the Prodigal Son. (Personal reflection)

There are several sermon ideas one can pull out of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. One would be to examine how I have estranged myself from God by my actions, like the prodigal. A valuable endeavor, but not where I want to go today. Another would be to look at how unforgiveness hurts my relationship with the Father like the elder son. Again a valuable exercise but also not what I want to ruminate about today. Still one could meditate on how the Father went out to both of his sons rather than expecting them to come to him; again, good spiritual food — not today’s meditation.

What I focused on this year as I read the hymns of Vespers and Matins is. . . . the wealth.. the wealth that was squandered.

We were created in the Image and likeness of God to fellowship with Him in His Kingdom.

The wealth we squander is the likeness of God in us. We squander it when we run away from fellowship with God.

When I run from God, I squander the wealth of His likeness in foreign countries. I take His treasure, and my inheritance and treat it like trash. When I refuse to pray I starve myself of spiritual food.

It is upon me to return to the Father and eat the spiritual banquet. Lent is soon upon us. An excellent time for that.

Do you want to be healed?

 

Jesus asks me a bizarre question: Do I want to be healed?

 

Do I want to be healed?

A very good question Jesus asks the Paralytic at the pool, “Do you want to be healed?”

I must admit that while most of me wants to be healed, there are parts of me that do not. Repentance is an on-going lifestyle. Great Lent is upon us. Perhaps with God’s grace those parts of me that do not want to be healed will become less.

Healing is what the Church is to be about. We are all in need of healing. We are all broken. Part of our problem is  that we try so hard to keep up an appearance that we are “OK”. We are not OK. We are all suffering from insanity to one degree or another. God restores our mind to sanity. We have to let Him, and cooperate with Him.

This healing does not happen in isolation; it happens in COMMUNION with others, in COMMUNION with Christ (Communion – Koinonia has been translated by some as “fellowship”) and His Church. It requires humility, rigorous honesty. The Orthodox Church presents us with several icons of humility in preparation for Great Lent: Zacchaeus, the Publican, the Prodigal Son. While we assume that we are not in need of healing, God will not heal us. When we humble ourselves and own our brokenness, then God will work with us to transform our darkened NOUS (mind) into the mind of His anointed.

O Word, supreme in love, Who with the Father and the Spirit hast created all things visible and invisible in Thy wisdom past speech, grant in Thy compassion that we may spend the season of the joyful Fast in profound peace. Destroy the beguilement of bitter sin, granting us contrition, tears of healing and forgiveness of our trespasses, that fasting with a fervent spirit and undoubting soul, we may join the angels to sing the praises of Thy power.

We have made a Covenant with Death

 

We have made a covenant with Death, and with hell we have an agreement; when the rushing storm shall pass through, it shall not come unto us. For we have made lies our refuge and under falsehood we have hidden ourselves.

Therefore, thus saith the Lord, the Lord: Behold I lay for the foundation of Sion a costly stone, a choice, a corner-stone, a precious one for its foundations and he that believes shall by no means be ashamed. And I will cause judgement for hope, and my compassion shall be for measures, and ye that trust vainly in falsehood, the storm shall by no means pass you by. except that it also take away your covenant of death and your trust in hell shall by no means stand. If the rushing storm should come upon you, ye shall be beaten down by it. — Isaiah 28:15-18

skull Isaiah EE

We have chosen death, from the very beginning. Daily we chose death. We choose distractions of gadgets and things. We become more self centered and narcissistic. We look for new toys, new distractions, new ways of quieting down the noise that comes from within, that comes from the myriad assaults from media, politics, and commercials. We choose the noise over being present to the moment, to the people around us. We choose death in ignoring the people right in front of us. We choose death in ignoring our own hungry souls. The Lenten Triodion has a hymn for the last week of Lent that says, “I see my mind, O Lord, lying always like Lazarus before the gates of repentance, but with indifference I pass it by, and leave it hungry, sick and wounded by the passions. “ (St. Joseph the Studite, Triodion 6th week Monday Vespers)

While we are distracted, our world nears crisis, our countries move towards decay, our economies move to the brink of disaster. Right wing idealogues assure us that everything will be fine so long as we continue our covenant with death, and liberals are too co-opted by the same covenant to raise the alarm (except that they want to disagree on how the details of that death will be executed). We have “made lies our refuge and under falsehood we have hidden ourselves.”

Our covenant with death shall lead us to perdition.

But it is not how it must be. Behold the corner-stone; behold hope and compassion. How do we get there? By ending our cooperation with death; by ending our escape from each other.

We are in this together. We will either cooperate together to end our march towards destruction, or we shall have that destruction be a rushing storm. Can we accomplish this own our own? NO. We can accomplish it through the precious cornerstone, the CHOICE.

We end it by ceasing our war on the sick, the poor, the hungry. We end it by ending our war on the planet. We end it meeting those around us instead of retreating into the temporary pleasures of our gadgets. We end it by ceasing to blame those people over there for what is going on. We end it by repenting. We end it by loving the Image of God in all people, even those we hate. We end it by loving God in the least of these. We end it by nourishing our starving minds (Nous) in encounter with God through communion, through prayer, and through communication with our fellow humans.