Sunday, July 31, 2011

Achieving Righteousness: God’s Justification of Sinners - Part 3

This is the third and final installment of this series. You can read part one here and part two here.

As has been previously stated, man receives justification as a gift from God; righteousness is imputed, based upon faith in God’s promises, manifested by obedient living. This raises an important question: by what right does God impute righteousness to a sinful person? As Fr. Paul Tarazi states: “the verdict of condemnation has been issued not against us, but against someone else for our sake”. It is through Christ’s choice to be incarnated as a man, to live perfectly, to die on a cross, and to be raised that the way for man has been opened to return to God and to live in eternal communion with him. He took on a human body, fully participating in a human life, though he did not sin. When he allowed himself to die on the cross, he entered Hades, conquering death, for he is immortal and sinless, and rose again to life. It is that life, death, and resurrection to which we are joined, as stated in Romans 6:3-4. Since this is an affirmative look at what St. Paul teaches about justification, it is not an appropriate place to delve deeply into false teachings that have arisen in the “Christian” world, however, it is relevant to note that it was not God’s anger that lies behind Christ’s sacrifice, but rather God’s love. St Symeon the Theologian taught that Christ redeemed humanity through his sacrifice and then offered that redeemed humanity to God as a gift, releasing the redeemed from the power of the devil, able to live in eternal communion with God.

Finally, St. Paul elucidates the point that though he used imagery of slavery to make his point about being united with Christ (such as being slaves of righteousness), in fact, those who are justified in Christ are made a part of God’s family, adopted as children. Though we have focused on the Father’s and the Son’s roles in justification to this point, St. Paul indicates that it is the whole Trinity that is involved: “[t]he Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17). Furthermore, the Holy Spirit will help the faithful, both in prayer and living the obedient life. In this way, we see that we, as Christians, are justified by the will of God, through the sacrifice of Christ, and helped by the work of the Holy Spirit, who bears witness to our familial relationship. As a part of God’s family, we have security. “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). As God’s children, we have Christ as our advocate, interceding for us, and the Holy Spirit affirming our status as God’s children, so we have a secure, eternal relationship with God.

The strength of our justification allows St. Paul to declare that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8: 38-39). Our own past sinfulness has been forgiven, as well as any future failures, as long as we remain in Christ. Regardless of what happens to us, even to the point of being killed, nothing can separate us from God. He did not even hold back His own Son, but allowed Him to suffer a criminal’s death in order for us to receive His righteousness. Nothing that the world can throw at us could hinder that faith-based relationship, as long as we maintain our faith and live our obedient lives. For those who follow St. Paul’s instructions in this matter, the eternal relationship is assured, and we can positively say that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Achieving Righteousness: God’s Justification of Sinners - Part 2

This is part two of this series. Part one is here.

Since our righteousness, or justification, is accomplished by faith in Christ, the separation between God and man is removed and peace is achieved (Romans 5:1). For people of faith, there is no fear of judgment, because our righteousness has been imputed to us, through grace. St. Paul clearly states this in Ephesians 2:8, “[f]or by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” This is consistent with his message in Romans, as well: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Our “old man,” who tried to achieve justification by works of law, has been replaced by a “new man” who lives a life of faith. “[W]e were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). As Fr. Paul Tarazi beautifully states: “this graceful intervention [the gift of rightousness] on God’s part is done through..baptism…(which) functions as an invitation to the believer to trust in God’s power of vindicating the righteous just as he did Jesus Christ.”

It is evident that faith is putting our trust in God, yet it also has a tangible manifestation, seen by our works. This is not an act of work in order to RECEIVE justification, but a work ordained by God for those who are gifted with justification. Justification is an imputed righteousness, requiring a certain manner of living. We can see this from passages such as Roman 6:4, quoted above, where we are called to “walk in newness of life” and in Ephesians 2:10, were we read that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” In fact, justification is received when a man performs one of these “prepared” works: baptism (Romans 6:3). Man is presented with the option of serving God or serving sin. To be obedient to God is to receive the promised blessings, but to eschew obedience to God is to be condemned, eternally separated from God.

"Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:16-18). Therefore, God’s gift of righteousness must be acted upon, by placing faith in Christ and then being obedient to Him. This obedience is called “holiness” in Romans 6:19. The fruit of that holiness is eternal life in Christ – the ultimate gift from God (Romans 6:23).

It would appear that justification is both the placement of trust in the promises of God, manifested in the person of Christ, followed by a lifetime commitment to live in obedience. For those that live in Christ, there is no condemnation, but rather a guarantee of eternal life. It requires an eternal perspective, as those who are baptized into Christ will also live in Christ. “[W]e look both behind and ahead [of baptism]: behind toward the death of Christ and ahead toward the life eternal in which he reigns and which shall be bestowed upon us should we follow in a path of righteousness”. Yet this eternal life is not magically transmitted, based upon a one-time event. Rather, baptism serves as the invitation into the life of Christ, which is promised, though the person’s own life continues. St. Paul “makes clear that God’s justification of us in Christ Jesus is not so much a past, and thus consummated, action; rather it is a secure matter should we continue on the path of righteousness until the end”. The evidence of the veracity of the person’s faith is seen in the obedience to God’s will. To solidify this truth, St. Paul reminds his readers that “the wages of sin is death [continued separation from God], but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

To be continued...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Achieving Righteousness: God’s Justification of Sinners - Part 1

This is part one of this series.

“The aim of the Christian religion is to reach the fullness of communion with God where we become united with him”. This need for reunification of God and man is necessitated because mankind is fallen. This is not to say that people “inherit” the guilt from our predecessors’ sins, but simply that we live in a fallen world, where death and separation from God exist. In order to remove this separation, thereby promoting an eternal communion with God, something had to be done to bridge the gap and restore the God-human relationship. According to Clark Carlton, God Himself came (in the person of the God-man Jesus Christ) to achieve this goal, overcoming man’s self-centeredness and enslavement to death. Jesus Christ encouraged his followers to “be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Yet, as St. Paul pointed out, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So God intervened into the world, in order to overcome this shortcoming, and “once again [opening] the possibility for our growth into the likeness of God. In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, this God-ordained path to righteousness is clearly presented and explained.

The Jews of St. Paul’s day sought this justification by observing the works of the Mosaic Law. Yet, this is insufficient, as St. Paul points out in Romans 3:21-22: “the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed… even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” Rather, Christians are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness” (Romans 3:24-25). He goes on to say that it is not works of law that lead to justification, but rather faith in Christ Jesus. In fact, righteousness “shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:24-25). St. Paul makes it plain that this is not a new teaching, but receives testimony from the Old Testament Law and Prophets. In the aforementioned verses, St. Paul uses the patriarch, Abraham, as the quintessential example of one who received this imputed justification based on faith. All of the benefits of being a Jew were based upon Abraham’s reception (by faith) of the promises of God. It was always based upon faith. As applied to Christians, both the original recipients of the letter as well as all who came after, St. Paul teaches that the Gospel of Christ is the righteousness granted to people through Christ Jesus and cannot be gained through pious observance of the Law.

Further, St. Paul instructs his Roman readers that the promises made to Abraham are applicable to all Christians, as they are the recipients of the promises. So God’s plan for justification was planned from the beginning of the world and worked out through His interaction with Abraham and other faithful Old Testament characters, and “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). If one places his or her faith in Christ, then they are the recipients of the promise of God, which is the promise of righteousness. If one is lacking that faith, then they are obligated to keep perfect observance of the law, which does not happen, bringing a curse upon those who fail to do so. So God’s promises are faith-based, available to anyone who would put his or her trust in Christ. “We are to trust (believe) in the message of God delivered through his prophets and consigned in the scriptures…[and] in the teaching found in the Law…[and thus] the righteousness of God is revealed in scripture…(beginning with trust[as described in the Law] and ending in trust [as required in the Prophets.”

To be continued...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

St. Pitirim - commemorated today (July 28)

I enjoy learning about "new" saints. Not that they are really new, just new to me. It is a privilege to be able to learn about the lives they lived and the deaths the endured. Here is one that I found in my readings today.

Taken from the OCA Lives of the Saints page on their website.

Saint Pitirim, Bishop of Tambov, in the world Procopius, was born 27 February 1645 (or 1644) in the city of Vyazma. From his youth, the Lord prepared Procopius for high spiritual service. While still a child, he learned reading and writing, attended church services, and acquired the habit of prayer. Procopius loved to read the writings of the holy Fathers and the Lives of the Saints. This furthered the future hierarch's spiritual growth. The boy was remarkable for his overall love of work, broad knowledge and mature judgment. He was endowed with artistic talent, and he successfully occupied himself with the painting of icons and church singing. A sublime spiritual disposition led Procopius onto the pathway of monastic life. Having resolved to dedicate himself completely to God, he entered into the Vyazma's monastery of St John the Baptist, known for its strict rule. When he was twenty-one, he was tonsured with the name of Pitirim.

The young monk earned the respect of his brethren by his ascetic life, and was chosen igumen. In 1684 he was raised to the dignity of archimandrite. St Pitirim, following the decree of the Tsar and the Patriarch, was diligent in removing "poorly executed," westernized icons from churches, and from private use. During a procession he confiscated such an icon painted by an unskilled iconographer. Those who had brought the icon grumbled and cursed, and many people were stirred up against the saint. The affair became known to Patriarch Joachim, who praised the courage and zeal of Archimandrite Pitirim and approved of his actions, and summoned him to Moscow for higher service to the Church.

On September 1, 1684 St Pitirim was nominated to be a bishop, and on February 15, 1685 Patriarch Joachim consecrated him Bishop of Tambov. St Pitirim did not leave immediately, but remained in Moscow for a year to prepare himself for his new responsibilities.

organized in 1682, the Tambov diocese suffered from the frontier poverty and the illiteracy of its inhabitants. Pagans comprised the greater part of the settlers: the Mordovians, the Cheremysi, the Mereschi. On the territory of the diocese lived also many Moslem Tatars, bitter opponents of Christianity. Among the Christian settlers of the diocese were many schismatics, fugitives from justice, or banished criminals.

The saint zealously devoted himself to the tasks set before him. On the site of the old wooden church at Tambov he began to build a two-story stone cathedral in honor of the Transfiguration of the Lord with a chapel named for St Nicholas. St Pitirim not only supervised the construction of the temple, but even participated in the building work himself. The saint devoted great effort to the spiritual enlightenment of his flock. He built a special school for clergy, where worthy Church pastors were trained under his guidance. In his home the saint had collected a library of spiritual literature (in the inventory of the Moscow's Dormition cathedral there are mentioned "two books of Dionysius the Areopagite, leather bound, one in red, the other in black, with gilt edges," belonging to St Pitirim). The saint continually instructed his flock, preaching the Word of God. He often made trips throughout the diocese, in order to familiarize himself with the needs of the communities.

The holy archpastor was constantly concerned with the return of schismatics and dissenters to the Orthodox Church. His deep piety, active compassion towards neighbor, and wise patience in conversations with the schismatics and dissenters disposed them to trust his word. By the fine example of his holy life and by the power of grace-filled discourse, the saint led many to the true Faith. The saint's sister, Katherine, became the first abbess of the Ascension women's monastery, which he founded in 1690.

Being a bold man of prayer and intercessor before God, St Pitirim never lost his Christian humility. Not relying on his own human strength, the archpastor shielded the city of Tambov entrusted him by God with icons of the Savior and the Kazan Mother of God, placing them at the two chief gates.

St Pitirim prayed much and taught his flock about prayer. He was present at divine services every day and often served them himself. On those days when the saint did not serve, he sang in the kliros (choir), teaching the choir proper church singing and reading. In his cell the saint very often prayed before icons of the Devpeteruv Mother of God (February 29) and St Nicholas.

St Pitirim loved the beauty of nature in his land, which roused in him a feeling of prayerful thanksgiving to the All-Holy Trinity for the visible world. In the forest, near the place where he went for solitary prayer, he built the Tregulaev monastery of St John the Baptist. He founded it together with his spiritual friend, St Metrophanes of Voronezh (November 23 and August 7). There the saint set up a large wooden cross with an image of the Savior.

Like the great ascetics, St Pitirim allotted much time to physical work. The wells he dug with his own hands at the Tregulaev Monastery of St John the Baptist, near the Tambov Cathedral, and in the forest thicket where he withdrew for silence and prayer, are evidence of this.

St Pitirim died in 1698 at age fifty-three. The body of the saint was buried in the lower level of the Tambov Savior-Transfiguration cathedral, at the south wall of the right side chapel dedicated to St Nicholas.

The death of St Pitirim did not dissolve his spiritual ties with his flock. People came to his tomb to seek his intercession, and soon obtained healing from God. With each year the number of pilgrims grew. On July 28, the anniversary of the saint's blessed repose, they would attend services at the Tambov cathedral. Each new sign of God's mercy, obtained by prayers to St Pitirim, inspired assurance for the people that the bishop they venerated was truly a man of God. From the year 1819 a record of miracles and personal testimonies began to be kept, and the veneration of St Pitirim extended far beyond the Tambov diocese. On July 28, 1914 the holy wonderworker Pitirim, Bishop of Tambov, was numbered among the saints.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Update from James Hargrave in Tanzania

A mwanza view from the Lake
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Mwanza at Last!

Dear friends,

Furaha na amani! Joy and peace!

And greetings from Tanzanian winter. It's hovering around 18 degrees- 65 Fahrenheit- and although it's the dry season we have had some small rainshowers. I've been reading about the extreme heat waves in North America. If you're pitying me for having to endure Africa's supposedly harsh and unforgiving climate, don't!

Here in Mwanza we are making final preparations for receiving volunteers from the Finnish Orthodox Mission and OCMC who will participate in a rural youth seminar in Muleba District of Kagera Region. This is an annual event, taking place in a different deanery each year, and currently our major ministry with youth at an Archdiocesan level. Event planning in rural Tanzania is a little different from event planning in North America. It's been fun.

In June, I was pleased to welcome two newcomers to the Archdiocese of Mwanza. OCMC Missionary Maria Roeber, a maternity nurse from Georgetown, arrived last month after more than two years of preparation. Maria hopes to help the Archdiocese of Mwanza develop its health care ministry, possibly by working at Resurrection Hospital in Bukoba or through other means. She is also helping OCMC to develop regional long-term health-care strategy elsewhere in East Africa. Maria is currently stationed in Bukoba town for her time of language and culture acquisition, and I have thoroughly enjoyed catching up with her in the past two weeks.

Meg Engelbach, an Intercultural Studies/ Linguistics student at Biola University in Southern California, is serving a summer internship here in the Archdiocese of Mwanza. She is living with a local family in Mwanza city, sharing in their life and learning from them. Meg is also learning Kiswahili and using her experience to help improve language-learning materials to better address East African linguaculture. God willing, Meg's notes and suggestions will be of benefit to future OCMC missionaries as they learn language in this part of the world. I've enjoyed having Meg around, and am very impressed with her dedication and adaptability. It is my hope to continue to play a role in welcoming students and interns to share life with us here in Western Tanzania as they broaden their own experiences and make decisions about possible long-term missionary service in the future.

It's been a good winter, and I'm looking forward to what lies ahead. I am grateful to each of you for your prayers, encouragement, and long-term commitment to financial support. I am here because of you. Stay in touch!

By your prayers in Christ,

James Hargrave

Friday, July 22, 2011

You are what you eat

A few years ago, when Debbie (my wife) finally decided that I wasn't crazy about this Orthodoxy stuff, we started visiting each Saturday at Holy Cross Mission Parish (OCA) in the Greensboro, NC area, where Fr. Christopher Foley serves as priest. Fr. Christopher took much time and effort to help us in our journey, even driving an hour (one way) to our home to both bless our house, as well as to begin our catechumenate.

While we were blessed in many ways by Fr. Christopher (and still are), one of the best things he did for me was to loan me a copy of Fr. Alexander Schmemann's For the Life of the World. As I began to peruse this little book, my world was rocked!

Of course there are many things in that book worthy of talking about, but the thing that jumped out to me was Fr. Schmemann's comment about people absorbing what they ate and becoming what they ate. No doubt, many of you remember the old saying that "you are what you eat." This is common knowledge. Our grandmothers told us that. If you eat junk, your health becomes junk. If you eat healthy food, your health is improved.

For Orthodox Christians, it is even more important. We are able to consume the Holy Mysteries, which are the true body and blood of Christ. We are what we eat. We become imbued with Christ. He is absorbed into our very selves. How? I don't know - that is why we call it a mystery.

I do know that as we moved closer and closer to Orthodoxy, I was almost beside myself with anxiety. I just almost couldn't wait to receive my first communion. It literally hurt to attend the Divine Liturgy each week and not be able to consume the Eucharist. Talking with a close friend during that time, I mentioned to him that I was so excited that in a few weeks, I would be able to finally eat. I would be able to taste and see. I would become what I ate.

I won't lie and say that my attention doesn't waver on occasion. After hundreds of Divine Liturgies since our being received into Orthodoxy, some Sundays I am more focused than others. But the truth is that I am still excited to receive the body and blood each week.

Some days, I think I see progress in my becoming what I eat. Some days, I realize that I am failing miserably. But regardless, I trust the promise of God that I will become what I eat.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

God is the God of the Living, Part 2 - by Clint

This is the second (and last) installment of this discussion. The first installment can be read here.

Here the main point is brought to the forefront. “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (I Thessalonians 5:8-10). Christians must prepare for the promised return of Christ. Whether we are living at the time, or we depart from this life via death beforehand, we must live our lives in such as way as to be prepared. “Let grace come and let this world pass away…If any man be holy, let him come! If any man be not, let him repent…”. So St. Paul, here in 1 Thessalonians 5, turns his attention to life and doctrine. It is a call to put on the breastplate of faith and love in order to “surround thy soul with faith and love, [so that] none of the fiery darts of the devil can ever be fixed in it” (St. John Chrysostom). The helmet of the hope of salvation is put in place to protect the Christian, keeping his or her attention focused on the ultimate goal – salvation – no matter whether we are asleep in the Lord or remain. Regardless of what the world or the devil throws against us, we should not despair, because we have a “strong security."

Going back to the original concern, regarding those who had died, St. Paul (as echoed by St. John Chrysostom) indicates that it is “a matter of indifference: it is no concern of mine, whether I live or die; for we shall live with Him." Of course, those who have fallen asleep in the Lord will spend eternity with him. What matters is how life is lived. We must do everything we can for that life, with our works indicating our devotion. We must be focused and disciplined, being careful about our “sobriety” in following Christ. In fact, the great fear of the Thessalonians – eternal separation from their deceased brethren – is only a danger for those who are still living. Those who have already “fallen asleep” are present with the Lord. So it is incumbent upon those who remain to continue steadfastly, following the example of those who have gone before, in order for the great reunion to take place.

This is an encouragement. There is no fear for those who are already with the Lord. They have realized their hope, and upon Christ’s return, they will enter into the eternal rest. For those who remain, it is imperative that they avoid vice, and live a Christian lifestyle, in order to participate in that eternal rest, as well. Reunion with loved ones will happen when Christ returns. The dead will be with him at that return. “We who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we [both those who had remained, as well as those who had gone before] shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17). This is another great example of the Orthodox truth that whether living or dead, Christians are in community with one another.

One previously mentioned point bears elaboration. It has been pointed out that some are in danger of wrath, while others are destined for salvation. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “there is a Judgment, there is a Punishment, there is a Resurrection, there is an Inquisition into what we have done!” This certainty is a prime motivation for living the “sober” and “awake” life. To live with the Christ who conquered death is the very definition of salvation. It is not God’s intention for us to face damnation, but to obtain the “salvation secured for us by Jesus Christ." St. Paul’s exhortation that we shall be with the Lord is further explained by Fr. Tarazi as an emphasis on the reality that the “Lord’s death happened for us all, whether we wake or sleep…so that we all live together with Him." In our creed, we recite that Christ “will come to judge the quick and the dead." The reality is that all men will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. At that judgment, those who are found virtuous will be ushered into the eternal bliss of the Kingdom of Heaven, while those who are not virtuous will be found unworthy to enter the Kingdom. The virtuous will be defined as having lived lives of love, righteousness, gentleness, and humility. The non-virtuous will have lived lives lacking in those characteristics.

Fr. Tarazi presents this as a “party." It is a victory party, celebrating Christ’s ultimate victory over death, with His faithful followers as honored guests. However, Fr. Tarazi’s use of the word “party” is not really being used to signify a joyous gathering, though it is certainly that. Rather, the word is used to describe the two groups of people who are joined with him: those who had previously died, and those who had remained living at his return. This party of the righteous deceased will be with Christ, not only at his return, but throughout eternity. So there is no need to grieve for the Christians who had “fallen asleep in the Lord.”

Ultimately, St. Paul is encouraging his readers to realize that Christ will come again. When he comes, there will be a great judgment of humanity. Some will be welcomed into his Heavenly Kindgom, while others will face his wrath. The status of whether one is alive at his return or has died previously to it is irrelevant. What matters is that while living, one lived a Christian life, wearing the breastplate of faith and love, along with the helmet of the hope of salvation. If one’s life is characterized by those things, then eternity will be spent in the presence of Christ. Those who had previously died will be resurrected, soul rejoining body, to stand together with those who had not tasted death. Both groups will be transformed and transfigured, to share in Christ’s salvation – that for which they were intended. Being alive or dead is irrelevant, as both groups are “in the same position in regard to the coming of the Lord Jesus." Both are alive in Christ, as God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

Monday, July 18, 2011

God is the God of the Living, Part 1 - by Clint

It was 15 years ago today that my father, Buck Hale, died. I was sitting next to him, speaking with him, and he passed away so quietly that I didn't even realize it for a few moments. I was blessed to have him in my life, on a regular basis, for nearly 27 years. In the past 15, I have learned that I wish he had stayed around for many more. I could use his wisdom on many occasions. However, I do not despair, as one without hope. So, on this 15th anniversary of his death, I offer the first installment of a discussion on death and the Return of the Lord.

“But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:31-32; NKJV). These words of Jesus indicate a fundamental difference in the view of death that Christians are to hold, compared with the view of non-Christians. Just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been dead for many years when Moses (and later Jesus) referred to them in the present tense, so all Christians are to be considered “alive” in Christ, as evidenced by his statement that “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). However, physical death is a reality that is common to all people, including the Christians in Thessalonica. The Apostles’ teaching that death had no power over the Christian seemed contrary to the experience of these Christians, who saw their beloved brethren succumb to physical death. Therefore, doubt entered their thinking, and they were concerned about the Christians who had died. This is understandable, as “the hour of death is terrible for everyone." St. Paul addresses their concern by reminding the Thessalonians that Christians still had the hope promised, regardless of the death that had been experienced. In fact, he chose to refer to physical death as “sleep,” indicating that there would be an “awakening” from that state of sleep. Those who had “fallen asleep” would precede those who were still alive, when the Lord returns! Truly, St. Paul presents God as the God of the living, not the dead, for those who have been joined with Christ can never truly die.

While it is apparent that in this life each person will face death, unless the Lord returns before that death occurs, the ultimate perspective must be focused upon the eschatological reality that Christ will return. This is not to say that Christians can know the exact time of that return, as Elder Cleopa clearly pointed out: “the true Church teaches, equally with the Apostle Paul, that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night and that no one knows the day or hour…" Yet that return will happen, as promised by both Christ and St. Paul. In fact, St. Paul’s words are based upon the foundation of the words of Christ. The Church has “faithfully awaited the return of her Lord," based upon the promise of the Angels in Acts 1:11. When that day occurs, all will be transformed, transfigured by the holiness of the Trinity. That is the reality that St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to keep in mind.

Humanity was created for eternity and Christians should not view death as an end, but the beginning of that eternal life. In fact, the Church teaches that though the spirit leaves the body at death, leaving the visible world, it does not depart from the Church. Rather, the person goes to “be with the Lord” (Philippians 1:23), as St. Paul himself desired to do. So St. Paul instructs the Thessalonians to not despair for their departed loved ones, but to focus on the Lord’s Return. The departed would return with the Lord, having already begun their participation in his eternal glory, to share that glory with those who remained. These words were intended as a comfort for those who had lost loved ones, realizing that the separation was only temporary, with the view to an eternal reunion.

St. Paul uses the opportunity provided by the doubt and fear of the Thessalonians to move the discussion to the more detailed topic of that ultimate Return of Christ. He begins this portion of the discussion with the aforementioned description of the unknown quality of the timing of the return. The imagery of a “thief in the night” is used, just as it had been by Christ Himself, and the Apostle John. Carrying the image further, he warns against complacency. After a period of time, some might begin to waver in focus, not keeping the eventual return in mind. It would be easy to think that Christ might never return. Yet St. Paul cautions against this mentality with his reference to “peace and security,” which is an indication that nothing is happening. The truth is that the day will come suddenly, without warning.

Yet for all the terminology referring to a thief and the warning-less appearing, St. Paul reminds his readers that they are not to be caught unaware. That unexpected Return of Christ is only in reference to the heathen, as Christians are prepared, regardless of when that return occurs. They are Children of the Light, and not of darkness, indicating that they can see what is coming (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6). In this, St. Paul makes an interesting and important comparison with the idea of being “asleep”: There are those who are “asleep in the Lord,” who are not truly dead, though their spirits are separated from their bodies. They are present with Christ and participate in his Glory and will return with him when he comes. However, there are many who are still living in the flesh, but who are “asleep,” not recognizing the Glory of Christ, and destined for “wrath” at his return (1 Thessalonians 5: 6-7). Christians are reminded to be of those who are “awake,” destined for salvation. Interestingly, St. Paul says that whether “we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10). So the two types of “sleep” are compared and juxtaposed. To be “asleep,” yet alive in the Lord, is a place of honor, while to be spiritually “asleep” is a precursor to wrath.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fr. James Update

"On the road again..."

First of all, let me apologize for the fact that other than an occasional video, I have posted almost nothing on the blog for the last two or three months.  To say that life has been busy would be a gross understatement.  I'm thankful to Clint for keeping the blog going almost single-handedly.  Without his posts, this blog would be virtually inactive.

Like Clint, I have felt much like the proverbial hamster in the spinning wheel these past few months.  Beginning in early June, my work schedule shifted to four 10-hour days with Fridays off.  This is truly a mixed blessing.  Yes, it's great to have Fridays off, but the long days on Monday through Thursday leave me with little time or energy to do anything but work, eat, and sleep.  And on Fridays and Saturdays, I end up mostly doing a lot of errands that I don't have time to do during the week (or watching kids while Jennifer does some).  I also try to spend extra time with the kids, whom I barely see on Monday-Thursday.  This is a satisfying and worthwhile endeavor (the kids, not the chores!), but one that leaves little time for blogging.

Another thing I have been busy with is preparing for my karate brown belt test, which will be the week of August 8.  To prepare for this test takes a great deal of time.  I have to practice and perfect everything I've learned in karate over the last two and a half years.  Plus, I have to get to the point where I can do 200 situps (four sets of 50 with only a minute's rest in between sets).  This is something that I think I can achieve, but it has taken much work...and time.

Finally, there is the big thing.  I'm about to embark on an undertaking that some (including myself) think is a bit insane.  At the end of August, I will begin work on a Master of Arts in History.  "Why history?" you say.  For most of my life, History has been my favorite might even say my passion.  20 years ago, I actually applied to some Masters' programs in History, with the intention of eventually becoming a college history professor.  But I ended up going to seminary instead, and the rest is (if you will pardon the pun) history.  But since then, I have read dozens of history books each year for fun.  My life has settled down a bit, and I finally decided that if I am going to do all this reading anyway, I might as well get some credit for it!  If I finish the program, I may try to teach one or two classes a week at a local community college.  And if I REALLY lose it...maybe I'll do PhD work.  But one thing at a time...

The MA program is 100% online, so at least I won't have to go anywhere to attend lectures.  But it will still take lots of time.  I will, of course, continue to work my "day job" with the school district, and I will continue serving as the second priest at St. Joseph.  I'll do my work for the MA during the evenings and on weekends.  Needless to say, I'm going to be VERY busy...possibly busier than I have ever been before.  Fortunately, the professor of one of the classes I will be taking this fall let me see the reading list for the course. I ordered all of the books and have been busting my tail trying to get through most or all of the reading before the semester starts.  I figure this will give me a fighting chance to get at least a few hours of sleep a night!  All of this reading, of course, takes time.  That's another reason I have been so slack about posting on the blog.

I always have grand plans for the blog.  I think of idea after idea for not just posts, but series of posts.  But then life gets in the way.  No offense, but for me at least, church, family, karate and school trump the blog.  My family and I are about to go on vacation for a couple of weeks.  I hope to share some photos and info about our vacation like I did two years ago when we went to the Smokies.  This fall, I hope to share some insights from my reading and from my classes in general.  I hope...I hope...I hope...

But realistically speaking...

Clint, do you have anything to post this week?

Please forgive me.  May God bless you all.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Coming September 10: Orthodox Christian Parenting in the 21st Century

Fr. John A. Peck is the priest in charge of St. George Orthodox Church in Prescott, AZ. Fr. John founded the Incarnation Broadcast Network, the first 24 hour Orthodox Christian internet radio broadcast in the world. He is the creator and webmaster of the popular websites "Preachers Institute", "Journeys to Orthodoxy", and "Good Guys Wear Black".

Fr. John has written several workbooks and manuals for instruction: Called To Serve, Student and Leader’s Manuals, Divine Liturgy: A Student Study Text, the Bible Drill/Bible Divas Field Manuals, and S.W.A.T. (Spiritual Warfare And Training). He has written articles for, the American Orthodox Institute, The Handmaiden magazine, the Interior Strength blog, the St. Katherine College website, and others. Fr. John and his wife Presvytera Deborah are the parents of three grown children.

For More information, contact St. Joseph Orthodox Church at:
10644 Hammerly Blvd
Houston, TX 77043

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cannes Short Film Winner

Very short. Worth the watch.

This summer, the renowned director/producer Ridley Scott launched a global filmmaker competition dubbed “Tell It Your Way” following its Cannes Lions award-winning short-film project “Parallel Lines.” The entrants were given freedom of expression and could take up any theme they wanted; still there were two strict rules—there had to be the exact six-line dialogue as it was in the Parallel Lines films, plus the entries could last no longer than three minutes.

Here’s the prize-winning entry in the “Tell It Your Way” competition.

Watch it here:

Monday, July 11, 2011

New Icons - Old Friends

Our icon corner at home. The two newest icons here are the Righteous Noah and Jonah, found at the far left and right, respectively.

My wife and I have a friend that writes icons. He lives in Pennsylvania, and we have never met in person. However, we have several of his icons in our home. We recently purchased three more to add to our growing collection.

This time, we received these:

1. Christ the Bridegroom.
2. The Righteous Noah.
3. The Prophet Jonah.

Each of them are absolutely beautiful. As we opened the package in which they were shipped and saw them with our own eyes for the first time, we were just overwhelmed by them. We truly are blessed!

They are now hanging in our home, amongst the other icons that we have. Each icon has one or more holy forerunners in the faith. We are "surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses" (See Hebrews 12). It is a wonderful reality that we have in the Orthodox Church, where those saintly people who have lived and died for their faith are remembered not only in name, but in physical representation. I don't want to go into an apology for icons.

Today, I just want to marvel at the beauty that they teach and proclaim. God is good. He is holy and righteous. He makes his people that same way. These icons are a reminder of that.

Yeah... we truly are blessed.

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Life on the Hamster Wheel...

One of the perks of teaching college is that I get pretty long summer breaks. Honestly, how can I complain about having a long break from mid-May until late August? Starting in March, I begin planning all the things I will get done during the Summer. You know what I mean: all those little tasks that get put off because I am too busy during the school year.

Inevitably, summer rolls around and I find myself busier than I did during the school year. Sometimes it is planned stuff, like vacation or this years Parish Life Conference in Shreveport. But most of the time, it is just the little day to day events that pop up and keep me busy. I look at the clock and realize that although it seems I just rolled out of bed, it is actually time to turn in. I have been doing stuff for 14 or 15 hours and just let time slip away.

One great example is that my latest round of St. Stephen's papers are due on August 1. I have had them for more than two weeks. I have a total of 5 papers to write. I have completed a grand total of one of them. I do have another about 60% done. It seems that I just can't find time to squeeze in these papers, although I really don't have much to do.

I think that it also shows up on the blog recently. Not much has been posted. While Fr. James is toiling away (he has a real job that makes him work in the summer), I am running errands, goofing off, etc. Nothing gets posted. Perhaps my harried life (with the majority of it being of little to no consequence) is keeping me distracted from the important things.

I suppose that is a good lesson to learn. It is easy to be distracted from what needs to get done. There is always SOMETHING to do, if one wants. It takes discipline to do what needs to be done and to put off the unimportant things. I hope that the last half of the summer goes better than the first, as far as focus goes.

I don't know about you, but I just feel like I have been running in circles the past couple of weeks, but not really going anywhere. I think that needs to change. Maybe I need to get back onto the St. Stephen's papers and get that second one finished and get started on #3.

I guess I'll start tomorrow. Today, I have some important things to do like watch TV and surf the 'net...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Another Update from Floyd and Ancuta Frantz in Romania

Greetings, and I hope that this finds you well today, and in good spirits on this most beautiful and blessed of days.

These past few days have gone past rather quickly, and have been most interesting. I'll share about them quickly, and the continue on with the articles about the St. Dimitrie Programs "Activity Report" for 2010-11.

Remember my last email, about the funeral and the alcoholics? Well, guess who showed up at Casa Alba yesterday? One of the guys I wrote about, Mircea. They don't usually come around the day-center as we won't let them in if they are drinking. We had already served the meal and the AA meeting was over. We were actually closed for the day. I had stayed a little later as I need to go to Moldova on Monday. By chance I had left the gate open. In he came, asking for food. Well, we fixed him up with a couple of sandwiches, and some things to take with him. We also spent a few minutes talking to him, to encourage him to come back on Monday so that we could help him. He hardly has shoes on his feet, he is sleeping rough, no regular food, and drinks any and every thing he can find, including rubbing alcohol. This will eventually fry his brain, as seen on the TV commercials.

This kid is only 29 years old, and is simply a beautiful person. I believe that the Lord sent him to us yesterday. I don't know if he will respond, or even if he can respond to our offer for helping him. It is very hard to evaluate someone if you only see them when they are under the influence of alcohol. Only God knows how much of Mircea's brain is still functioning. But I know about God that he listens to prayers. Please pray for Mircea. We have helped worse cases that his, and I do have hope for him. I tried to share that hope with him yesterday, and a little love along with it.

Related to our "Activity Report" a part of it had to do with funding. The break down was something like 60% of our support came through private donors in the United States via OCMC, 20% coming from grants or the local government, and 20% from our fund raising activities here in Cluj. Our goal is to be 100% funded from inside Romania. I believe that it will be possible, given time and if we avoid another economic downturn. European funds are hard for us to obtain these days as most grants are no longer available. We are looking for new ones daily, with one staff member pretty much dedicated to this activity.

Well, tomorrow I am off to assist a priest in Bacau who wants to start a counseling center. From Bacau I will travel to the Republic of Moldova and do a training with a group of priests. Moldova is a special place, I'll try to write about it in time.

Thank you for reading all this, I really don't mean to be so wordy in my newsletters, but my work in meaningful to me and I believe that it is meaningful to you as well. And please do keep us in your prayers, we all need them.

Speaking of prayers, while I am traveling these next few days I will be stopping to visit a monastery or two. If you send me names of both living and fallen asleep, I'll give them to the monks and they will pray for them. It is a great blessing.

In His Love,

One Day at a Time,

Floyd & Ancuta Frantz, OCMC Missionaries to Romania

And please feel free to pass along our email to others who you believe might be interested in our work here in Romania.

If you would like to contact us through email, please use: for myself and the St. Dimitrie Program, or for Anca and the Protection Center.

Please also go to the Orthodox Christian Mission Center web site at to read online about our missionary activities here in Romania.