Values In Life

Below is a sermon delivered by Dr. Lewis Patsavos at our church on Cheesefare Sunday (the last day before Lent):

“VALUES IN LIFE”

SERMON FOR CHEESEFARE SUNDAY

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy (them), and where thieves dig through and steal. Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy (them), and where thieves do not dig through and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Mt. 6:19-21 In this excerpt from today’s Gospel reading, our Lord among other things warns against the pleasures which can be stolen away. All material things are like that. None of them is secure. And if we build our happiness on them, we are building on a most insecure foundation. Suppose we live life in such a way that our happiness depends upon material possessions and then we lose them. Life is filled with examples of the losses which people sustain either by theft, negligence, or natural disaster. If we have built our happiness on them and they have suddenly vanished, then with our material possessions happiness, too, has gone. If anyone is wise, that person will build happiness on things which cannot be lost, things which are independent of the chances and changes of life. The person whose treasure is in things is doomed to disappointment and bound to lose that treasure, for in things there is no permanence, and no thing lasts forever. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Here is a saying repeated time and again by our Lord throughout His ministry. It is a truth of which we should remind ourselves whenever we are not clear on our priorities. In the struggle for wealth and material things, we often lose more than dollars and cents. There’s a trade-off: we lose a direct sense of dealing with each other, and the most profound questions people raise within themselves. In that very struggle, we tend to crush out, or thrust aside, the things that are most important in life and that sustain all of us – love, faith, the need to hope and fulfill dreams. It is quite possible for a person in one sense to make a great success of life by amassing a fortune and achieving fame, and in another sense to be living a life that is not worth living. The question to be put to ourselves is: “Where do we put our values in life?” We may put values on the wrong things and discover it too late. We may gain all the things we ever set our heart upon, and then awaken suddenly one morning to the realization that we have missed the most important things of all. A person may sacrifice honor for profit. We may desire material things without having any scruples about the way we acquire them. The world is full of temptations towards profitable dishonesty. As used here, the world stands for material things as opposed to the things of God; and of all material things there is this to be said: We cannot take them with us at the end; we can take only ourselves; and if we degraded ourselves in order to get them, our remorse will be bitter. They cannot help us in the shattering days of life. Material things will never mend a broken, desolate heart or cheer a lonely soul. If by chance we gained our material possessions and wealth in a way that is dishonorable, the day will come when conscience will speak, and we will know the agony of guilt and condemnation. The world is full of voices crying out that he/she is a fool who seeks happiness in material things! We may sacrifice principle for popularity. It may very well be that the person who is always flexible, easy-going and agreeable will be spared much trouble and discomfort. It may also be that the person inflexibly devoted to principle will be disliked. The real question however, the question all of us will have to face in the end is not “What did people think?” but “What does God mandate?” It is not the verdict of public opinion but the verdict of God that determines our destiny. We may sacrifice the things in life which endure for what is trivial and of instant duration. Life always has a way of revealing the true values and condemning the false as the years go by, because something base never lasts. We must learn to spend our life, not hoard it. The whole range of the world’s standards must be changed. The questions we ask ourselves ought not to be: “How much can I get?” but “How much can I give?” Not “What is safe?” but “What is right?” Not “What can I get away with?” but “How much more can I give?” We must realize that we are given life, not to keep for ourselves but to spend for others; not to nurture its flame but to extinguish it for Christ and for our neighbor. We must always remember that what is selfishly hoarded is lost, but what is generously given away is richly rewarded. Such has always been the teaching of the Christian faith. The Early Church always lovingly cared for the poor, and the sick, and the distressed, and the helpless, and those for whom no one else cared. The Church has always taught that “what we keep, we lose, and what we spend, we gain.” To repeat what was said earlier: the only thing we can take out of this world into the world beyond is ourselves; and the finer the self we bring, the greater our reward will be. If everything we value and set our heart upon is on earth, then we will have no interest in any world beyond this one. If all through life we see things in the light of eternity, then we will hold lightly the things of this world. If everything we count valuable is here, then we will leave this life with great reluctance. If our thoughts have always been focused on the world beyond, then we will leave this life with spiritual joy, because we go to God. Our Lord never taught that this life was unimportant. But He said and implied over and over again that its importance is not in itself, but in that to which it leads. This world is not the end of life, it is but a stage on the way. We should therefore never lose our heart to this life and to the things of this world. Our eyes should be forever fixed on the world beyond. May our spiritual journey throughout the lenten season about to begin help us in this effort. AMEN. Dr. Lewis J. Patsavos Professor of Canon Law, Emeritus Holy Cross School of Theology

 

 

 

 Go to post page

March 21st, 2018 by Fr. Greg

Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve

Tomorrow is February 2 – Groundhog Day!  But more importantly it is the feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple – basically, Jesus’s and Mary’s 40 day blessing.  Being the 40th day after Christmas it marks the true end of the Christmas season and, liturgically, we start looking ahead, ultimately, to Easter.  We will have service in the morning and, at the end of liturgy, bless the candles in the narthex.  This practice, which comes from the elder Simeon calling Jesus “a light to enlighten the Gentiles”, lends the alternate name “Candlemas” to the feast.  Some thoughts:

-You will notice in church tomorrow the Christmas colors and flowers are gone, which reflects the end of the Christmas season.

-With this turn toward looking to Easter, there are traditional practices of figuring out when the weather will start changing.  Groundhog Day comes from a German Candlemas tradition.

-In some Western Candlemas traditions there is a notion that bad luck will strike the house or church that leaves up Christmas decorations past February 2 (I personally believe it is prudent to leave up Christmas lights year round but that is me).  Since I am writing this on the eve of Candlemas, I thought I would share a favorite poem concerning the above tradition.  It is by Robert Herrick, a 17th century English Poet.

Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.

 Go to post page

February 1st, 2018 by Fr. Greg

The Many St. Gregorys

Last week I celebrated my name day/feast day – St. Gregory the Theologian – and yesterday was the feast of the Three Hierarchs, of which Gregory the Theologian is one of them. I received some wishes yesterday for what is sort of a secondary name day feast for me. In all cases I am very thankful for people remembering; it seems that we are slowly losing the name day tradition, and this is a sad thing. In addition to the greetings I also heard from a lot of people that they were confused about the many different St. Gregorys – there are indeed a lot of saints bearing this name! Here is a quick rundown on some of the more well known saints (all dates refer to the Orthodox feast – in some cases they have a different date in the Roman Catholic church):

-The vast majority of people with my name in the Greek Orthodox Church celebrate St. Gregory the Theologian (Jan. 25), who lived in the 4th century. He is sometimes known as Gregory of Nazianzus, but this more properly refers to his father, Gregory the Elder, who is also a saint.

-St. Gregory the Illuminator (Sep. 30), active in the 3rd and 4th century, is the patron saint of Armenia. He brought Christianity to that country, which was the first to adopt Christianity as its official religion. The Armenian version of Gregory is Krikor. Mike Connors, who passed away almost exactly a year ago, starred in Mannix and his real name was Krekor Ohanian. I always wondered why he didn’t just go by Gregory Ohanian, but apparently Hollywood changed his name because it was too close to George O’Hanlon, an old-time Hollywood actor who, most importantly to me, voiced George Jetson in The Jetsons.

-St. Gregory the Great (March 12) was active in the 6th century and is also knows as Gregory, Pope of Rome and Gregory the Dialogist. This latter term is how he is known in the Eastern church and refers to his authorship of The Dialogues. Some years back our Metropolitan distributed to us a translation of one of his works which argued that women should NOT refrain from receiving communion when they are menstruating. I blogged about this at the time and will try to repost.

-St. Gregory of Nyssa (Jan. 10) is hugely popular in Orthodox circles and really in many Christian jurisdictions for his theological writings. He was active in the 4th century. His brother was St. Basil, and the two of them, along with Gregory the Theologian, are known as the Cappadocian Fathers – a reference to where they were from and were active.

-St. Gregory the Wonderworker (Nov. 17) was yet another saint active in the 3rd century and in Asia Minor. He is probably the coolest guy in this list because there is an air of mystery about him; few of his writings survive but his life is well attested and he was known for making miracles, hence his title.

-St. Gregory of Palamas (second Sunday of Lent). Gregory is the most recent saint on this list – he reposed in the mid-14th century. He was a key figure in the Hesycast controversy – a dispute in the Church about contemplative prayer (Hesycast comes from the Greek word for silence). We celebrate him on the second Sunday of Lent, which follows the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The idea is that his work was a continuation of the work of those who won the day in the Iconoclastic controversy.

There are many more saints who bear the name of Gregory. Like most if not all Greeks, I celebrate St. Gregory the Theologian, but I am thankful for name day wishes whenever any of these great saints are celebrated 🙂

 Go to post page

January 31st, 2018 by Fr. Greg

Haters Gonna Hate

I am in the stretch run of my doctorate, and in the process I have been going through old emails from the classroom portion of the program.  During the eight classes we were usually responsible for posting reflections on a weekly basis.  In the next few weeks I will post some of them; here is one, from a class called Ministry In A Secular World…

While the focus of this class is on ministering in a secular age or environment, this week’s readings from Mark – chapters 2 and 3 – deal with fanatical believers rather than secularists. This is good, because we have to deal with the problem of hateful fanatics as well as the secular culture. In fact, very often the fanatics keep people who have marinated in the secular culture away from the Church. A good example of this is on Facebook, where there are a bunch of Orthodox groups. Most of them are great. One very popular one is called, ominously, Traditional Orthodox (Canonical).

First of all, if you need to label yourself canonical you likely aren’t. In addition to this, the profile picture for the group is an icon of Jesus wielding a sword. I imagine this is in reference to the passage in Matthew about coming to bring the sword, but it is scary. The stuff that is posted is also scary. I was recently involved in a lengthy thread on the term “Papist”, which the people in the group were using. I explained that this is an offensive term, and their response was like “So? It is technically correct”. The discussion ended with people debating if I was a real priest because I don’t have a beard and I wear a “Roman dog collar”. The scariest part of this group is that non-clergy are part of it and many are new to Orthodoxy. Can you imagine investigating the faith and seeing these discussions? There is zero love in the group. I remain a part of it so I can keep an eye on what is going on and also to be a troublemaker with the haters.

Christianity’s destiny was set when Paul set his sights on the west (although we need to remember that for close to a thousand years the eastern church – the Church of the East – thrived and had missions all the way to Mongolia). But as the account in Mark reminds us, Christ had to deal with insiders who hated the truth. These people remain with us to this day, and they are an obstacle to ministering to our own people as well as to reaching out to the unchurched who live in a secular environment.

 Go to post page

January 29th, 2018 by Fr. Greg

Arlington Sermon

Last Sunday, after His Eminence visited our Sts. Anargyroi parish, he celebrated a vespers service at St. Athanasios in Arlington.  The Philoptochos chapter there is named for St. Barbara, so the vespers was for the eve of her feast.  Here is the sermon delivered by Fr. Manoussakis:

Sermon on the Feast of Saint Barbara

Delivered at the Church of St. Athanasius, Arlington

By the Very Reverend Fr. Panteleimon Manoussakis

(on the 3rd of December 2017)

Your Eminence, Metropolitan Methodios of Boston;

Reverend Fathers;

My beloved Brothers and Sisters—those of you who stayed within the Arc of the Church and, in particular, those of you who chose to remained outside the walls of the Church;

We have gathered this evening here in order to commemorate Saint Barbara. Every saint in the Church’s calendar is like the icons on either side of the icon of Christ in the iconstasis. If you look at the icon of the Virgin Mary on the one side and at the icon of St. John the Baptist on the other, you will notice that both of them point away from themselves and towards Christ. It is as if they were saying “pay no attention to us, but direct your gaze to Him.” If this is the case for the Theotokos and St. John how much more, then, it should be the case for each of us priests.

No-one among us priests, regardless of how pious, saintly, successful, or kind we may be, could consider the Church as his personal estate or the priesthood as his personal accomplishment. We clergy ought to resist the temptation of personality cult—to avoid that is, to make ourselves the center of people’s attention so that we can allow Christ to shine through us, as if it were through some transparent material. When our devotion is centered on the person of the priest instead on Christ, of whom the priest is only a sign and reminder, then that priest has failed. Such a priest becomes an obstruction that hides Christ from his parishioners. In short, he becomes a “Christ” instead of Christ, that is, an “anti-Christ.”

The same secular mentality that gives rise to the temptation of a personality cult leads also astray those among our faithful who behave as if the Church belongs to them, instead of them belonging to the Church. We often meet people who seem to understand their communities as a self-regulated, semi-autonomous church, over which they demand to have the first and final word. This, however, is not the structure of the Church. The Church is hierarchical, a term that has become particularly detestable to our democratic ears. To our modern minds “hierarchical order” conjures up negative associations of forceful submission, inequality, and domination. Yet, an authentic understanding of order belongs to a worldview of a cosmos in which every single thing has its place and is allowed to be the kind of thing it is. Without hierarchy, there is nothing to protect us from the tyranny of sameness masquerading as equality. Under such equality, however, all degrees of difference are lost and with them the proportionality that ascribes to each of us our proper place. St. Paul writes, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Corinthians 12:21). Nor can any part of the body demand that every other part be equal. A human body whose every member is a foot is not more tolerant or democratic; it is simply monstrous. Without difference, order, and proportion there can be no beauty, goodness, and truth—and above all, that characteristic that pertains uniquely to the Church, namely, unity.

How is this unity to be achieved? Is it perhaps by confessing the same faith? That alone does not suffice, for faith alone becomes abstract and thus it degenerates into an ideology. Is it perhaps by a common rite of worship? Yet, aren’t there schismatic who followed the same rubrics in their worship as we do? Then, where from could we derive that much desired unity, that oneness for which we pray in our liturgies? Oneness, my dear brothers and sisters, is a characteristic of the One, but we are many and for as long as we remain many we cannot become the One Church unless we are in communion with the One of our Eucharist, namely our Bishop. This is the salvific role of the Bishop: to gather the scattered members of the Church into the unity of the one bread and the one chalice of the Eucharist which he has the right to celebrate. He alone is the celebrant. He alone is the unifying principle. He alone can establish a holy altar around which we, the many, can gather in order to form the one body of the Church. He alone can make the many one by bestowing on each and every one, through and by the holy sacraments, the dignity that belongs to the citizens of God’s kingdom. Without the Bishop, there is no Church. Without the Bishop, we are merely a number of people unrelated to each other. As twenty students in a classroom don’t make up a class unless they have a professor, and as fifty musicians cannot make an orchestra without their conductor, so too five or five hundred Christians in a room by themselves could never become the Church without their Bishop. Take, if you wish, the most beautiful building, adorned with splendid icons and iconography—without the Bishop, it can never become a church, but it would remain bricks and stones. The Bishop alone has the prerogative to consecrate the buildings of our churches where our salvation is wrought. And only the Bishop can consecrate the holy altar from which our sanctification flows. Even though we, priests, perform the sacraments and celebrate the Eucharist, we can do so only in the Bishop’s absence and on his behalf. In every local church there is in fact only one priest, the Bishop. He unities us to each other and, through him, we are united with the faithful of other local churches, with all the churches across the world. If, for a moment, a parish were to consider itself independent, then there would be nothing to unite it with the faithful across the world and throughout history—that is, with the Church as a whole. Such a parish would inevitably end up in self-isolation.

To this twofold secularization of the Church that manifests itself both though a narcissistic personality cult and through a divisive autonomy we respond by commemorating our saints—men and women with genuine ecclesiastical ethos. Neither did they claim their rights, nor did they allow others to claim them as their right, but rather they “sought God’s righteousness” (Ps. 118:94). “When they were cursed, they blessed; when they were persecuted, they endured it; when they were slandered, they responded with kindness” (cf., 1 Cor. 4:12-13), so that they may receive abundantly the grace of the only God. To Him belongs all glory, amen.

 Go to post page

December 7th, 2017 by Fr. Greg

Christian Unity 2017

Last Saturday a bunch of us from the Metropolis joined our Catholic brethren as well as representatives from other Christian traditions – our Coptic friends, the Black Mission Alliance, Congregacion Leon de Juda, the Mass. Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, and many others – for a day of Christian unity.  There were workshops and fellowship culminating with a worship service at the beautiful Holy Name parish in West Roxbury.  There is an account on the Metropolis site here and some remarks from Cardinal Sean here.  It was a great day – the worship service was beautiful, with hymns from different choirs and an inspiring homily from Cardinal Sean – and a nice gathering of different Christians from across the Christian spectrum.  Let’s pray for and plan more such events!

 Go to post page

January 30th, 2017 by Fr. Greg

Christmas Reflection From His Eminence

Below is the Christmas message from Metropolitan Methodios.  You can find the original – in both languages – here.

We live in a world of constant turmoil, of financial crisis, of poverty and unemployment, of disillusionment and uncertainty, of confusion and unrest, of pain and suffering. War rages in that part of the world where Christianity flourished for centuries but now is inhabited by only a handful of faithful. Thousands of refugees continue to flee their homelands for far-away countries that are not always welcoming. On a daily basis, we are inundated with news of one crisis after another, of one suicide bomber after another. It is to such a world that the newborn Savior comes this Christmas to bring “Peace on Earth and goodwill among men.”

Christ comes into the world to reconcile man with his Creator, “to lead us up to heaven and grant us his Kingdom which is to come” (Prayer of the Anaphora). He comes in an age of unbridled consumerism — in an age of plenty — where poor and abandoned brethren suffer and die of hunger and thirst, victimized by our indifference. He comes this Christmas to free those enslaved by tyrants. He comes to console those exploited and stripped of their dignity. He comes to heal the wounds of victims of racial and religious hatred and those victimized by all forms of intolerance and discrimination.

It is to such a world that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords comes. The Son of God lowers himself – He stoops down to our limitations, to our weak and sinful states. St. Paul writes, “though he was in the form of God he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7.) He lays in a manger so that we may understand that the power of God appears in our midst without any of the trappings of what we define as power and might.

The infant Savior comes this Christmas to re-ignite our souls. To instill in our hearts the same joy and hope felt by the Magi and the Shepherds that “Silent and Holy Night” in Bethlehem. He invites us to cultivate the virtues of humility and simplicity, of self-sacrifice and love. He comes to encourage us to be more aware of, and sensitive to, our neighbors. Not just those who live in our neighborhoods. Not just Christians of Orthodox faith, but men and women of ALL faiths. Not just those whom we know, but especially those whom we know as “NONES.”

Brethren,

The feast of the Nativity of the Lord who “emptied Himself taking the form of a servant” is an opportunity for us to be more humble. To be more sensitive to the needs of the poor and of the sick, of orphans and of strangers, of the homeless and hungry. The Son of Almighty God chose humility to reveal to us who He is. He was born in humility. He lived in humility. He humbled Himself even unto death. It is only in humility that we can comprehend the meaning of His Birth.

I pray that our hearts be transfigured into mangers of humility worthy to become the birthplace of the Incarnate Lord. May His presence radiate in our lives every day of the New Year 2017.
Metropolitan Methodios of Boston

December 2016

 Go to post page

January 3rd, 2017 by Fr. Greg