Agents of Wholeness
By Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
Those who visit the sick, suffering or afflicted bring with them the spiritual unguent of wholeness. They are healers even when they can claim no apparent cure of the one they have visited. They are healers because they make a person whole by their prayers. The opposite of wholeness is separation, fragmentation and apartness. These are the symptoms of somebody who is not in touch with herself. Her body is not well, her mind is aware of it, and her soul is incapable of enjoying the presence of the Lord. The divine energy that flows through a believer at normal times is clogged up by the presence of illness.
How do we, or better stated how does God reintegrate the assorted parts of the whole person? He chooses to use the agents of grace who come in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. They go with God. They appear at the bedside of the afflicted one to pray through Christ’s power, which is the energy of the Holy Spirit. Their faith has made a difference. Even if nothing else happens—no change in the vital signs, no lowering of temperature or blood count, perhaps the pain is still there; however, their presence makes visible Christ’s invisible presence, and the patient is comforted by the “Comforter and Spirit of life, who is present everywhere and fills everything.”
Who doesn’t know the difference between survival and the fullness of life? Who has never experienced the powerful energy of life at its fullest—the thrill of skiing on newly fallen snow, or the exuberance of the child running wild through the rain, or the joy of greeting a loved one after a long absence? The one lying dormant in sick bed saying she wants to be left alone doesn’t mean it, but says it because her zest for life has become stale and stretched out. The agents of wholeness must not be dissuaded, even whe asked to leave. They can stand in the vestibule or corridor and continue calling on the ever-present Lord of love to touch the heart of the inert one, inspire her or him to remember happy times, and to open that shut chamber where the soul resides. Praise the Lord for everything He does, and praise Him three times because in His wisdom He prefers to act divinely using very human means.
"God Put You in my Way"
By Fr. Andrew Harmon
In the movie ―The Four Feathers‖ Harry Faversham leaves England in the 1880s to search for friends in the British army in Sudan, Africa. He gets lost and nearly dies in the vast wilderness deserts, but is rescued by an African, Abou, who stays with him for a time to nurse him back to good health.. Faversham is flabbergasted that a total stranger would take any time to rescue him and then take more time to nurse him. He asks Abou why he does this. Abou’s response was simple---―God put you in my way!"
As you drive around the Cleveland area it sometimes seems like there is a nursing home of some sort on just about every corner. Exaggerated, yes----but there are lots and, of course, lots and lots of residents. We could discuss economic, medical, and sociological reasons for so many facilities filled with so many people, but maybe Abou’s answer is best for us as Christians----God put these people in our way. The residents are there for us to help.
Some are Orthodox Christians who may (certainly not always) have been neglected, maybe even forgotten, by their Orthodox communities. And sometimes there are Orthodox in these facilities who have fallen ―through the cracks‖ somehow and actually no longer have a parish home at all. And there are plenty of other residents who could certainly use a prayer and some loving attention from us. God has put them in your way---right in that facility you drive by all the time. They are right there in your way and you could make a big difference in their lives.
A simple visit to them, a prayer said for them, some little gift left with them for a holiday or special occasion-----in their sometimes boring life this could be the highlight of a whole month. If you have contacts or can make them yourself, make a call at one of these facilities ―in your way‖. Or simply contact St. Panteleimon Orthodox Christian Outreach at the e-mail addresses or phone numbers in this newsletter and see how you can get started helping out with the ministry already being done.
The lovely folks in these many facilities aren’t there by chance----God put them in your way. Be like Abou..
Fasting, Repentance and Healing in the Orthodox Church
By Fr. Dennis Kristof
Though it is kept in various ways with varying lengths, the fast which precedes the feast of our Lord’s Birth traditionally begins in November and is forty days in duration. It is important to remember that in the Orthodox Church, fasting is not seen as suffering due to a self-imposed deprivation of food. Rather, it is an opportunity for repentance, and thereby healing of soul and body. Church Father Theodore of Mopsuestia, a friend and contemporary of St. John Chrysostom, wrote that we must first induce our conscience with all our power to make haste and repent of our sins, and not permit ourselves any other medicine . . . this is the medicine for sins, established by God Who cares greatly for us. He gave us penitence and showed us the medicine of repentance. During the Lenten seasons the Church puts special emphasis on repentance, the re-ordering of our lives and minds by reflecting on our sinful nature and inclinations. The important relationship between, physical, mental and spiritual healing was recognized and acted upon from the earliest times of the Church. This is a reality which we oftentimes either overlook or deny in our age of scientific sophistication.
This connection is made in the Orthodox Service of Holy Anointing, in the very the first prayer over the Holy Oil: Master, sanctify also this oil that it may prove effective for those who are anointed with it for healing, for relief from every passion, from defilement of flesh and spirit, and from every illness . . . The link between the passions and physical sickness is repeated throughout the service. What is best medicine for harnessing and destroying the passions? Fasting! St. John of Kronstadt taught: Fasting is a good teacher. It makes one understand that human beings need very little food and drink, and that in general we are greedy and eat a great deal more than is necessary. Secondly fasting clearly discloses all sins and defects, all weaknesses and diseases of our soul, just as when one begins to clean out muddy stagnant water, reptiles and dirt which lurk in it are revealed.
Fasting leads to the cleansing of the soul from sins, to peace of heart, to union with God, to devotion and kinship, and full confidence before God. Though the idea of a wounded healer comes from ancient Greek philosophy and not Christianity per se, we are all wounded healers insofar as we are stewards of the healing mission and work of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. We not only proclaim His mercy and healing, we also bring to bear it in this world by our works of mercy which reflect His saving work. In his Gospel account St. Matthew proclaimed our Lord Jesus Christ the fulfillment of the Suffering Servant figure in the Prophecy of Isaiah: “He was a man in suffering, and acquainted with the bearing of sickness, for his face is turned from us: he was dishonored, and not esteemed. He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed. All we as sheep have gone astray; every one has gone astray in his way; and the Lord gave him up for our sins.” (Isaiah 53:3-6, Matthew: 8:16-17) Let us embark on this season of Philip’s Fast with a renewed appreciation of the link between physical and spiritual illness so that we may spread His healing to everyone and everything we encounter. It was no accident that St. Matthew identified the physical suffering of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy with the physical healing brought by our Lord.
People Are Not Always What They Seem to Be!
By Archimandrite Gregory (Valentine)
“At that time Jesus was passing through Jericho. And behold, a man called Zacchaeus; and he was a chief publican, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the crowd; because he was little of stature. And he ran on before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him for he was to pass that way And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down, for to-day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, lie is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wrongfully exacted more tax of any man, I restore it fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Zacchaeus, the outcast, the publican, the Jew who had become a contract tax collector for the Roman occupying army, who not only served the foreign enemy but who also collected taxes and handled gentile pagan money, Zacchaeus was a man who learned to take satisfaction in what it was that he had, but he mourned all that he didn’t have His life was centered around the assignment of assessment, of levies and taxes, to various citizens so that the Roman government would be placated, so he could hand over what he had collected to the governor and then take out his share. And he lived in comfort, probably clothed in soft clothing and eating very well, but he found himself both out of communion with God and with his own people, both a traitor to his faith and to his nation, we would say a pretty deplorable person. But that’s not the way that he appears in the gospel.
In fact he is a man of Faith. He is short of stature, which can also mean he was a humble man, capable of being taught. Later on he will become one of the 70 disciples of the Lord. He climbs up the sycamore tree, in order to get a better view of this man who many claim is the Messiah. it was not enough to have Faith in the Lord, but he had to act upon this faith, which we call a lively faith. As Jesus passes by he notices Zacchaeus up in the tree, and bids him to come down onto level ground. The friendship begins by being on level ground, seeing eye to eye. Jesus does not begin the dialogue with Zacchaeus by asking about his hated profession as a tax collector. Rather he tells him that he wishes to abide at his house and dine with him. In middle eastern cultures, much like the Slavic ones, that is a call to great intimacy and friendship. What joy Zacchaeus must have felt as he heard this request of Christ. He was accepted by the Lord and not judged on merely human appearances. Herein Jesus is teaching the people of his time and us today not to judge on external appearances. It is then that Zacchaeus explains his moral values as expressed in the Gospel lesson, not to excuse himself but rather to show forth his vision being in union with the vision of Christ and His Gospel.
What is most significant in this lesson is the fact Jesus is calling Zacchaeus into a relationship, a friendship. If we go to St. John’s Gospel, recalling the words 9f Jesus at the Mystical Supper, we hear him say: I no longer call you servants but rather friends. No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from my Father, I have made known unto you (John 15:15). The servant does what he is told by the master, while the friend listens to the vision and goals expressed by the Lord. Since Zacchaeus has the same vision of truth and honesty he can become a friend. CS Lewis tells us the nature of friendship is based upon a common vision and goal.
How about ourselves? Do we have the same vision as Christ and thereby have a friendship with him? Do we risk ridicule by others in order to be in communion with Christ? Do we live our lives according to the moral imperatives of the gospel? Do we doubt or worse yet deny the sacred tenets of our Faith? Is the house of our soul a worthy place in order for Christ to dwell with us? Have we become small, that is humble in order to see Christ eye to eye?
How we answer these questions will reflect who we are and how deep is our friendship with Christ. I pray that each of us today draws a lesson of hope and clarity of vision so that we can see Christ face to face. And may the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be ever with us. Amen.
Am I Ready?
When will the world end? This is a question has been asked for at least 2000 years. Some people even try and give a specific date and time. For example, the ancient Mayans allegedly predicted that the world would end on December 21, 2012. Obviously that did’nt happen..
In Matthew 24:34-44 Jesus teaches that we do not know the time of His glorious Second Coming, at which He will “judge the living and the dead” (as we profess in the Nicene Creed). It is perfectly fine that we do not know this information, for that is the will of God in this matter. Christ Himself in His Human Nature did not know! As stated in St. Matthew's Gospel: Only God the Father knows the hour that these things will take place. But one fact remains rather constant for each of us, each person has a date with his repose. When we don’t know but in a relatively short period of time each of us will face our own particular judgement.
Is there something for us to take away from this passage of Sacred Scripture? Absolutely! The message for us is that we are to be ready always, for our Lord will come at an hour we do not expect.
Christians should not be procrastinators, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. There is no reason to put off to tomorrow what we can do today, for today may be our last here on this earth. We know neither when Christ will come again, nor when He will call us home through biological death. Whether we are among the living or the departed when Christ returns, let us remember that we are in this world temporarily. (This is actually a blessing, because in God's mercy He cannot bear for us to be subject to this fallen and sinful world for all of eternity.)
How might we prepare for the Second Coming?
There are many things that we can do, beginning with prayer. We are called to pray for those who love us, those who hate us, those who have no one to pray for them, and those who have asked us to remember them in our prayers. Additionally, we should offer prayers of thanksgiving to God for the many blessings He has bestowed on us throughout our lives, be they large blessings or small ones.
Furthermore let us pray for the gift of repentance, that God will soften our hearts and enable us to turn from our sinful ways. Let us make a spiritual U-Turn (for lack of a better term) and return home to Him. We must sincerely ask God to forgive us our sins, and pray for the grace to be able to forgive others. In the Lord's Prayer we say: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."
If we expect to receive forgiveness from God it is necessary that we forgive others.
It is necessary to leave grudges in the past.
It is necessary to forgive those who have offended us, even if they do not ask our forgiveness. Sometimes others are unaware that they have offended us. Misunderstandings are sadly quite common in this world.
It may sound like we have a lot of work to do, and in fact this is the case. Thankfully, God offers us the grace to draw closer to Him in the sacraments—especially in Confession, Holy Communion and Holy Unction (Anointing of the Sick). If we are unable to regularly attend services at a local parish let us not hesitate to call our priest and ask him to bring us the Holy Mysteries. They are gifts from God Himself; spiritual medicines to heal our souls and bodies.
The question before us today should be one that we ask ourselves each and every day—“Am I ready?” Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ does not want to frighten us. Rather, like any good teacher, He wants us to be prepared. Though the trip home may be long and oftentimes difficult, we must not lose heart. We are not alone. God is always with us! He is always ready, willing, and able to help us on our journey. It is now up to us to ask Him for His assistance.
May God grant us the grace and the strength to draw closer to Him in the time that we have left on this earth. Whether we have hours, days, weeks, months or years remaining, let our primary focus be on being faithful sons and daughters of God. May we prepare ourselves as best we can for the glorious Day of His Coming.
May we always worship and glorify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, our Good and Loving God. Amen.