Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous Pastoral Thoughts’ Category

Moments of clarity.

Monday, January 12th, 2009








The mindless man and the witless shall perish together, and they shall leave their riches to others. And their graves shall be their houses unto eternity, their dwelling places unto generation and generation, thought they have called their lands after their own names. (Psalm48:10-11 Boston)

 

It is wonderful to read the Psalter daily. Just about every time I read it, there is something that “jumps out” – a truth that I already knew, but feel with special power at a particular moment. It is times like these that the poetry illuminates the soul and we apprehend, and believe, and desire with great desire – absolute truth. It is a pity that these moments subside rapidly.

 

How many such moments do we need to be saved? Is it ten, a hundred, a hundred thousand? If I truly believed with all of my being what I read, I would not have discrete moments of clarity and zeal, but my entire life would be a moment in the Spirit.

 

It is an occupational hazard of a pastor that everything he reads makes him think of his beloved flock. Since I am merely a sinner tasked by God to help others not to sin, and share the same human condition, when moments of clarity come, it is always my fervent desire that my flock have such moments also. 

 

During many such moments, there is a peculiar phenomenon in which I think of many things at the same time, each with great clarity, and none of the thoughts interfering with each other. 

 

One of these thoughts is usually a sense of melancholy that I must hear holy things so many times, and yet I still do not live completely in accordance with them. With this melancholy comes a practical idea – I must read as often as I can, pray more regularly, really listen at the services. I do not know how much more time I have, and the days remaining for each in my flock are unknown to me.

 


To my beloved flock, I ask, how much do you need to pray to be saved? How many services should you attend? How many times will you need to hear about love to truly love? I do not know the answers to these things. 

 

Time is short, and precious. Resolve today to apply yourself more sincerely to the living of the Christian life. Although the Psalter tells us that “all men are liars”, let us attempt to make our lies to be truth! Let us pursue holy moments of clarity when we “make our vows”, and let the shear volume of our promises compel us to change! 

 

These “moments of clarity” occur in times of prayer, the reading of the scriptures, and during long vigils, and other times, since the Spirit “bloweth where it listeth”. (John 3:8) That is why I continually stress such things over and over. We cannot have enough of them, we will never have too many of them, until we die, and then comes the judgment. 

 

This particular verse struck me today, and as I thought of its profound meaning, I thought also of my flock and desired to share my thoughts. 

 

How foolish we are! We do temporal things as if they were eternal things. The foolish man names lands after himself, and then he perishes. The very dirt on the land he has named will someday pass away, and his name will not even be a memory long before that. Everything goes away, except what we become. How many “lands” do we pursue in order to name? Why do we not live like we really believe this?

 

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New Year’s Resolutions.

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Warning, this post may ramble a little bit

 

It seems to be an American custom to have resolutions at the New Year: I will lose weight, I will quit smoking, I will exercise “more”, etc. Most of the time these are all good things to try to do, and may even be within the realm of possibility of accomplishment.

 

I, being a stubborn and a little bit odd person who always seems to be different than everyone else in so many things in life, have never placed much stock in New Year’s resolutions. From the time I was a young boy, I hated temporary things. My heart always told me that it was not supposed to be this way. Resolutions always had a temporary, ephemeral feel to them. The weight loss plan would end by the end of January, exercise habits would not change for very long, and life would go on. This never seemed right to me. I wanted everything I did to be eternal and permanent. The very acts of making resolutions every year just underscored that we are in an impermanent and fallen world, of which I was fully a part, an unwilling and willing participant.

 

In college, I pursued a path to take me to medical school, in order to become a surgeon. I knew Dr Christian Bernard had some limited success in transplanting hearts, and I thought that if I became a heart surgeon, I could do something good – help a person to live instead of die. However, if I were to extend a man’s life a few years, then he would die. In less than a hundred years, all those who loved him would be dead. In five hundred years, perhaps nobody would even remember that he had lived. This realization was heavy on my soul, causing a great existential sadness.

 

When, by the grace of God, I found the church, my soul felt the possibility of permanence for the first time. As part of the church, I learned that EVERYTHING I would do should be, and can be, permanent. Good deeds would be forgotten, those I helped would suffer from something else later, and would die, but in some tangible way, everything I would do in the name of Christ would be permanent. It is not the actions that are permanent. The results are not permanent. I learned that what I become is permanent, and if, I had the privilege of helping, enlightening, cajoling, praying for, rebuking, encouraging – anyone else in such a way that they became something permanent, I would be literally being part of the economy of God. I would be, so to say, “speaking” His words, which would never pass away.

 

This revelation and revolution in my soul has always been a great comfort to me. It has guided everything I have done that is good. It is the reason I became a priest. It has been a distinct privilege to attempt to educate, encourage and help people to learn of, desire, and do those things which really matter – which are permanent.

 

I have always felt, however, the intense impermanence of my flesh, my tendency towards doing things and expending energy on things that will not last. As I have gotten older, I have become slightly more efficient, and I daresay more that I do today is permanent compared to how I was as a young energetic (and entropic) man in his twenties. I have learned that the major source of impermanence in the world, for me, is precisely me.

 

It is not what we do that is permanent; it is how we “do” that makes us become permanent. I think this is well expressed by our Lord’s promise:   

 

“For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:41), “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.” (Mat 10:42)

 

It is a daunting task to do everything, for every “little one”, in the name of the Lord. How can this be accomplished? There is only one way, and let this be our only abiding and continual resolution, to, in the words of St Herman:

 

Let us give a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this minute, we shall strive above all else to love God and to do His Holy Will!" (http://orthodox.net/redeemingthetime/2008/12/25/from-this-day-forward-st-hermans-day-dec-12-2008/)

 

 

I wish to tell my flock that this is all that I want for you, this is the reason I do everything as a pastor for you. If in any way, any one of you loves God and strives to do His holy will, and my poor ministrations have played some small role in helping you attain this state, then at least that part of my life will not have been lived in vain.

 

 

 

 

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What then may be done?

Friday, May 9th, 2008
I hear many say, “While we are here, and enjoying the privilege of hearing, we are awed, but when we are gone out, we become altered men again, and the flame of zeal is quenched.” What then may be done, that this may not come to pass?
Let us observe whence it arises. Whence then doth so great a change in us arise? From the unbecoming employment of our time, and from the company of evil men.


For we ought not as soon as we retire from the Communion to plunge into business unsuited to the Communion, but as soon as ever we get home, to take our Bible into our hands, and call our wife and children to join us in putting together what we have heard, and then, not before, engage in the business of life.

NPNF1-10. St. Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Homily V., Matt. I. 22, 23 – http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf110.V_1.html


As I read things from St John’s homilies on St Matthew, I intend to share certain “golden nuggets” with you. This is actually quite difficult, because I am often sore tempted to send you most of the homily I am reading! That would defeat my purpose, which is to make the readings of the Holy Fathers more accessible to my flock, and to encourage you to read the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers.

St John wrote a very long time ago, before Ipods and television and the Internet, but not evidently, before human nature was very resistant to holding on to holy zeal. We may kid ourselves and tell ourselves that we have more distractions and that living a holy life is more difficult now, but even a cursory reading of St John’s golden words belies that fiction.

Who among us can honestly say that St Johns words, above, do not apply to themselves? How many times are we inspired by a phrase from the Holy Scriptures, or a part of one of our hymns, or even by the preaching of the pastor, and then this zeal and clarity, like a tiny candle flame, is snuffed out as we exit the doors! Most of the time, we cannot remember what it was the inspired us!

St John is giving us the solution to our dilemma. It is not a solution that will work today, or tomorrow, but over time, our poor memories will recall holy things easily, and we will be changed. I hope that any of you who have heard more than three of my sermons knows that this is a constant theme for me.

Here is how we “get there from here”. St John lays is out for us so it is plain to see (which, to be honest, is not always the case for him; many times I must reread a passage many times to get the gist of what he is trying to teach us).

He offers two solutions to our vexing spiritual dilemmas.

1. Watch our behavior, and the company we keep. In the words of his great mentor, St Paul, “… Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

2. Do not rush back into the world after assembling in worship.

We, the people of God, should EXPECT something when we assemble together. We should expect to receive the grace of God, and then hold it close to our breast. After the assembly, our worship should not end. Why should we rush back into the world? Let us take St John’s advice, and take time with our loved ones in contemplation of the holy texts we have just heard read and expounded upon.

I want to be obedient to St John’s admonition, and as a pastor, would like to benefit all of you, and not just my extended family. Shall we begin again to have spiritual talks after the liturgy? I am not sure what form these will take, and to be perfectly honest, it is hard for me to present something every Sunday as I once did in the past, because the environment is often a distracting one, and it does not appear that many are very interested.

I am thinking out loud here, and I invite you to also join in, by commenting on the BLOG, or the mailing list. Shall we have a group discussion about the scripture of the day, or the service texts, or something else?

Let us, as a community, become stronger. We are already doing something to this end, by having more regularly scheduled services. This is critically important to our spiritual growth, and I will endeavor to increase this schedule as I am able.

An important parallel step to our growth as a parish family is our individual emphasis on our inner lives. St John is describing a way to affect our inner lives, by engaging in spiritual discussion together. Will we heed his advice?

Please, let us discuss this.
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To feel good, you must do good.

Friday, January 11th, 2008

I know so many of you have heard this from me a million times: “To feel good you must do good” I will never tire of saying it, because it is true, and to understand this is a key to happiness and a fruitful life. Just maybe, some of you tire of hearing the same thing so many times, so I present to you today, the SAME THING said DIFFERENTLY:

“What means, ‘that they be careful to maintain good works?’ That they wait not for those who are in want to come to them, but that they seek out those who need their assistance. Thus the considerate man shows his concern, and with great zeal will he perform this duty. For in doing good actions, it is not those who receive the kindness that are benefited, so much as those who do it that make gain and profit, for it gives them confidence towards God.”

St. John Chrysostom.

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WHAT IS THE SCOPE OF PARISH MINISTRY?

Saturday, December 29th, 2007
Many of our readers know that we are attempting to build a new temple in Dallas, and we are very small, with limited reserves and income.
The proper approach that all of us must us use in such a difficult situation is to reach OUT, and not IN. By this I mean, that if we are to be a light on the candlestand, and a proper, healthy parish, we must think of others as well as ourselves. It is not right to say we are poor, and cannot give, or that we are undermanned, and cannot help. The more we think of others, the more healthy we we become.
That is why I consider an important part of our PARISH ministry to be the prison visits I do twice a month (others are planning to become involved), and pastoral visits to places in need, such as Ft Hood. These things are not my ministry; they are our ministry, because the support I receive in many different ways enables me to help others. In the same way, any of our efforts to minister to others from within our parish, such as visiting the sick, those in prison, the “fatherless” (as we just read this week in St James!), parish or privately organized alms giving, etc, ALL contribute to the welfare of our parish.
If anybody has any ideas that they think I can help them with, please contact me.
Parish ministry can be with the priest, guided by the priest, helped by the priest, but it must never be ONLY by the priest!
I am very proud of our little parish. We are gaining momentum, and many are becoming involved in many ways. May God bless us to live the life in Christ together.
Your fellow co-minister,
Priest Seraphim
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