Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Bible Study Series: Philippians (Introduction)

Map showing many of the sites where St. Paul ministered, including Philippi


First of all, let me belatedly wish you all a blessed Feast of the Nativity.  In other words, Merry Christmas!  For those of you on the Julian Calendar, may your feast be blessed when it comes! 

Things were very busy in the Early household during the week leading up to Christmas.  Now, the family and I are visiting my in-laws in Texarkana.  We return home tomorrow, and then I have a fairly busy schedule of services at St. Joseph's, beginning with Matins and Divine Liturgy for St. Basil on the evening of the 31st, and then our regular weekend services. 

This coming Sunday, I will be starting a new Bible study series, on St. Paul's letter to the Philippians.  This is one of my very favorite epistles, if not my favorite.  I thought I would post my notes here over the course of the study, with the hope that they might benefit you.  I also encourage you to listen to the podcasts with the classes recorded live.  You can access the podcast by clicking on the "Teach Me Thy Statutes" icon on the left side of this page.

Here are my introductory notes, which are very skeletal.  After this, they will be more "meaty" and readable.



Introduction to Philippians

Author:  St. Paul
Place of Writing: Rome (while in prison)
Date of Writing: c. 62 A. D.
Purpose:  To thank the church in Philippi for their financial gifts and to encourage them to remain faithful in the face of coming persecution.
Audience: the Church in Philippi, a Roman Colony in Macedonia


The Church in Philippi

·       First church founded by St. Paul in Europe
·       Founded after he had a vision
·       Jewish community was very small; had no synagogue but met by river
·       Church met in home of Lydia, a well-to-do merchant
·       There St. Paul drove a demon out of a slave girl and was later jailed
·       Brought the jailer’s family to Christ
·       Had generously given to support St. Paul’s ministry
·       One of St. Paul’s favorite churches (if not his very favorite)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Greetings from Floyd and Ancuta Frantz



Greetings!

Greetings, and I hope that this finds you well today, and in good spirits on this most blessed day of Christmas Eve. Here in Romania the people are preparing for the Feast. It has been snowing, so for most people here it will be a white Christmas.

Rather than write you a newsletter today, I only want to say that Ancuta and I are wishing for your a most blessed and Christ filled Christmas, full of love, peace, and joy with your loved ones.

In His Love,
Floyd & Ancuta

Monday, December 20, 2010

Update from James Hargrave in Tanzania




Dear friends,

Mungu yupo! God is with us!

And greetings from Mwanza, Tanzania, where we are in the midst of a blistering summer... it gets as hot as 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 C). A welcome relief from the wintertime, which in July and August can plummet down to 65 (18 C). The small rains are upon us, which means occasional downpours and strong wind that on occasion can feel almost chilly. While I miss friends and family in North America, especially as we approach the celebration of Christ's Nativity, I don't envy the weather y'all are surviving right now.

It's also mango season, and the markets are piled high with mangos of all colors, shapes and sizes. At the office we make fresh mango juice every morning, and with apologies to my beloved Florida oranges, this stuff is the best.

One reason I've been slow to write since October is that so many things are ongoing-- I don't have "accomplishments" to report. But of course this is to be expected, and in this multitasking culture it sometimes feels like everything is ongoing, and nothing is ever quite finished. It just morphs into something new, and keeps moving right along. All the good things that began in September or earlier... are continuing. And it is very, very good to be here.

I pray that your Advent concludes well, and that the fast-approaching Christmas season will be a joy for all of you.

Your love, prayers, friendship, communication and continued financial participation are a great encouragement to me. Thank you.

Mungu yupo! God is with us!

May Christ our God be continually born in our hearts,

James Hargrave

Monday, December 13, 2010

Farewell and Peace (1 Peter 5:12-14)

St. Silas, aka Silvanus



12 By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand. 13 She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus. Amen.


To conclude his letter, St. Peter adds a few final greetings. First, he gives credit to Silvanus, by whom he has written this letter.  This almost certainly means that Silvanus was St. Peter’s scribe.  The apostles generally did not write their letters themselves, but dictated them to scribes whose first language was Greek.  They seem to have allowed them considerable leeway in the exact words that they used, which explains (at least in part) why the Greek can vary so much from one epistle of St. Peter or Paul to another.  Silvanus is most likely the same person as Silas, who accompanied St. Paul on his second and third missionary journeys. 

In addition to writing the letter down, Silvanus may have also carried it to its destination(s).   So that the readers would have no doubt about Silvanus’ credibility (they may not have never met him before), St. Peter commends him as a “faithful brother.”

St. Peter is writing this epistle from Rome, which the early Church often referred to as “Bablyon” because of the great wickedness present there.  “She who is in Babylon” refers to the Church of Rome, which sent its greetings along with Peter.  Also greeting them is Mark, St. Peter’s spiritual son, who was in Rome with St. Peter for the last several years of his life and would later use Peter’s teaching about Jesus as the basis of the Gospel According to Mark.

Finally, St. Peter urges his audience to greet one another with a kiss of love. This is a gesture of friendship and love to be used in both daily life and in liturgical services.  He closes his epistle with the same blessing that Jesus had given and the other apostles in the upper room many years ago:  “Peace to you all.”  May this same peace be on all that read this.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Be Sober, Be Vigilant (1 Peter 5:8-11)




8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. 10 But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. 11 To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

For a third time, St. Peter warns his readers to be “sober” (from the Gk. nepho, which he had also used in 1:13 and 4:7).  The reason he gives here for the need to be sober is a very serious one.  The devil and his demons do not sit idly by and wait for us to decide to sin.  Instead, they actively tempt us and eagerly seek our downfall.  St. Peter uses a very picturesque image to describe the situation, comparing the devil to a lion on the prowl, ravenous with hunger, seeking to devour whomever he can.

(In passing, I recommend the book The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis.  Although Lewis was not Orthodox, much of his teaching was.  I think that the way he portrays the demons actively seeking to tempt us and turn us away from Christ may well be more or less what is really happening.)

The good news is that we do not have to fall prey to the demons’ scheming.  Because we have the Holy Spirit within us, we have the strength to resist the temptations.  This is why St. Peter urges his readers to “Resist him,” or in FF’s translation, “withstand.”  He elaborates on this passage thus:  “The word rendered withstand is the Gr. anthistemi; it is the word used for Paul’s vigorous confrontation of Peter at Antioch (Gal. 2:11).  It describes not a passive resistance, but an active opposition.  Christians are to withstand Satan during times of persecution by boldly confessing Christ before all men, glad to suffer and die for Him” (105).

St. Peter then assures his audience that they are not alone in their sufferings.  They are not being singled out by God or men.  They can take comfort in the fact that all of Christ’s disciples face similar trials at one time or another.  And so can we!

The apostle concludes this section with a prayer of blessing and a doxology.  His prayer is more than a wish for his audience; it rings with the tone of assurance.  For God promises that after we have suffered “a little” in this life (and all suffering in this life is really only a little in the context of eternity), he will one day “perfect” (Gk. karartizo, better translated as “restore”, a word used in Mark 1:19 for the mending of nets) us.  He will also establish us, strengthen us, and “settle” (Gk. themelioo, better translated as “found”, since this word is cognate with the word for a foundation) us.  God will one day wipe every tear from our eye and fix all the damage that the world and the devil have done to us.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Casting All Your Cares Upon Him (1 Peter 5:5-7)

On Palm Sunday, the disciples cast their garments upon the donkey that Christ was to ride.  What does this have to do with 1 Peter?  Read on!



5 Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”  6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

Having spoken at some length to the elders of the churches, St. Peter now turns to younger Christians.  It seems that many of the young people in the churches to whom St. Peter is writing were tempted to reject the authority of the elders (Young people rejecting authority?  Hard to imagine…).  St. Peter urges them to submit to their elders.  And not only should young people submit to their elders, but all Christians should submit to one another in love (see also Eph. 5:21), being “clothed with humility.”

Along with love, humility is the chief Christian virtue.  When St. Peter tells his audience to be “clothed with” it, he uses a vivid verbal picture, which FF explains well:  “The word translated clothe is a rare word in Greek, egkomboomai, and it is used to describe a vestment that is tied on, such as a servant’s apron.  All are thus encouraged to put on humility over their other virtues, as an apron is tied on over a tunic.  Only thus can they work and stay clean” (103-104).  God will give grace to all who so do.

Because God gives special grace to the humble, St. Peter urges his audience to humble themselves under God’s mighty hand (Note that St. James had said almost the same thing in James 4:10). In this case, “humble yourselves” most likely specifically means voluntarily accepting persecution without railing against God or denying him.  St. Peter also promises his followers that if they will so humble themselves, God will exalt them at the Last Judgment (the Greek phrase translated “in due time” can also mean “at the appointed time”).  In FF’s words, “…now they may be victims, but then they will be victors” (104).

But the teaching here need not be limited to those undergoing persecution.  One of the greatest needs for every Christian is to humble himself continuously, for pride is a beast that constantly rears its ugly head each day of our lives.  If we humble ourselves continually, God will one day exalt us.  But if we exalt ourselves, God will most certainly humble us, for as the Lord himself said, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

Humble endurance of persecution is not a matter of just gritting your teeth, “sucking it up,” or “toughing it out.”  We have a great resource: the Lord himself.  We do not have to keep all of our concerns and cares ourselves but can rather cast them on the Lord, knowing that he cares for us.  The Greek word translated “casting” is a vivid one.  It could also be translated as “throwing.”  Listen to what FF has to say about it:

“…(the Gr. is epiripto, used in Luke 19:35 for the disciples throwing their garments upon the donkey on which Christ was to ride), and Peter here cites Psalm 55:22 LXX.  Rather than clutching onto their anxiety over themselves and their families in times of persecution, they can throw it away, giving it to God.  He is not indifferent to their pains and sorrows.  He who marks the fall of every sparrow (Matt. 10:29) will care for them too.

What a joy to know that when we go through trying times, our Lord, through his Holy Spirit, is there for us to comfort us.  No matter what happens to us, he loves us!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Update on Floyd and Ancuta Frantz in Romania

19th century icon of Christ found at the "Oblation Table" of the Church of St. John, in Romania

Greetings!

Greetings, and I hope that this finds you well today, and in good spirits on this most blessed feast day of the holy apostle St. Andrew. He is acutally the patron saint of Romania, so it is a very nice holiday over here.

In my last newsletter I mentioned that I was going to Alaska, to teach a course at St. Herman Orthodox Seminary about spirituality and healing from addictions from the perspective of traditional Orthodox spirituality. We essentially used the same course that we wrote for the faculty seminaries here in Romania. It went very well, and I am invited back for next year. The seminarian's were very nice to work with, as were all of the faculty and staff members.

The extent of the problem of alcoholism in Alaska was something that I was quite unprepared for. The reports from all of the people I spoke with were fairly consistant in saying that the Native Alaskan people are losing the fight with alcoholism and addiction. Well, it is not only the natives. The non-native population also have very high rates of alcohol abuse, and related to this high rates of suicide, murder and domestic violence issues in the family. But it is especially acute with the native populations, and most especially in the rural villages. In many villages even the children are drinking openly. They have little hope if things do not change, soon.

I believe this to be 99% related to a higher than normal genitic predisposition to alcoholism. A much higher predisposition to alcoholism and addiction than is experienced by most of us. The native American population in the lower 48 experience the same problem, but I am now convinced that in Alaska it is worse. They simply get addicted to the drug alcohol after even moderate use. Now, alcohol abuse and addiction is fast becoming a part of their modern culture. Those who are resisting the addiction are having a very difficult time getting it out of the villages, and out of their traditional culture.

One of the first things that the seminarians told me was, "Alcohol is not a part of who we are! It is not a part of our true culture!" Now, please note that 80% of the seminarians that I worked with were Native American's, and they want to do something about this real and genuine disaster that is happening in their society.

We are going to start our work in Alaska by developing a prevention program which is specific to the culture and which can be used in the established parishes. This will be for all age groups, from pre-teen to teenagers. Hopefully we can have it prepared by early next summer. I plan on going back in the summer time to teach how to use the prevention program to the seminarians, and to assist priests in the rural areas to impliment it in the parishes. If any of you have expertise in the area of prevention, and would like to participate in the development of this program, please contact me personally at floydfrantz@gmail.com.

I have committed to doing this work in Alaska, and will continue my work here in Romania and Moldova, but I need your prayers, and your financial support. All of the expenses related to our work, and also our personal support must come through your donations. If you have not donated lately, please consider doing so now, it would be of great help to us at this time.

If you send a check, please mark it "Frantz/Romania" and send it to

OCMC
220 Mason Manatee Way
St. Augustine, FL 32086

To set up an online donation, please call the Orthodox Christian Mission Center at 904 829-5132 and they will help you to do this. Even a small monthy donation would be greatly appriciated.
I'll close for now by thanking you in advance for your prayers and support. Please know that when you support our efforts you are indeed our partner, in prayer, and in our work.
You may now click here, www.stdimitrie.org, and it will take you to our web page. I believe that you will find it interesting if you have not already been over there. It is not yet updated on Alaska, but I hope to do that this week.
I am just now getting over my jet lag and caught up with my work here in Cluj. Next week I go back to the Republic of Moldova, and will also do a training for a group of priests in Botosani, Romania. I will write about it in my next newsletter.

Thank you for your support, for your good words, and most of all for your prayers.

In His Love,
One day at a time,
Floyd & Ancuta




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You can visit the St. Dimitrie Programs web page at www.stdimitrie.org

If you would like to make an online donation in support of our work in Romania please go to the Orthodox Christian Mission Center web site at www.ocmc.org After finding the Frantz Family page, you will need to log in, but it is a simple process and it is very important to us.