Monday, January 30, 2012

Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their Master's table

This past Sunday was the Sunday of the Canaanite Woman. 

Let us review the Gospel reading from Matthew 15:21-28

At that time, Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon." But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." And he answered, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.

The Canaanite religion was polytheistic and included Jewish beliefs, Egyptian and Mesopotamian, worshiping many gods including Baal.  It is in this understanding we must interpret the strong purposeful reaction of Christ. 

The Canaanite woman as a part of a polytheistic pagan religion was viewed very poorly by the Jews.  The very idea of appealing to Christ was just part of the plethora of Gods she would appeal to. 

So here she is asking the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to free her daughter from a severe possession.  She cries out and begs and Jesus’ first response is "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.".  This is direct statement by Christ because he needs to both demonstrate the universality of the salvation He offers, and also He needs to take the pagan faith of the woman and transform it into the correct way of thinking and being.  Christ is always concerned about the soul and the body. 

Saint John Chrysostom also makes a powerful point in his homily 52 on Matthew in describing the Canaanite woman’s response to Christ’s first statement,

St John Chrysostom says in his homily “What then did the woman, after she heard this? Was she silent, and did she desist? Or did she relax her earnestness? By no means, but she was the more instant. But it is not so with us; rather, when we fail to obtain, we desist; whereas it ought to make us the more urgent.” – from St. John Chrysostom Homily 52 on Matthew

The Canaanite woman responds by coming and kneeling before Christ and says "Lord, help me.”  This passionate appeal to Christ is how we ought to pray, and this is the beginning of the example of her faith.  She kneels before Christ, calling Him Lord and passionately pleas for His help.  In her compulsion to help her daughter to be cured she makes bold first steps into true faith.  Christ then wanting her to take the next giant step in faith and to further show the universality of Salvation says testing her publicly “It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.”  This was the view the Jews had of the polytheistic pagan faith of the Canaanites, that it was animalistic and a complete abomination.

The step Christ wanted her to take was the true step to the kingdom of God and her response shows clearly where Christ was taking her heart.  She responds, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table.”  The giant step in faith she takes is not only an acknowledgement of the truth of Christ as master, but an act of true humility before God when she accepts what was said and refers to herself as  ‘the dog that desires to eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table.’ 

Christ brings her body mind and soul to the true faith.  His response is a declaration of her journey and that all can accept and be with Christ to receive His blessings. Jesus responds “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." 

‘Great is your faith’ has an exclamation mark because of her journey and demonstration of true faith.  She demonstrates willingness to give up pagan ways and come to the truth.  This is in fact evidence of her great faith as Christ publicly proclaims.

St. Theophylact writes the following regarding Christ’s statement of the greatness of the woman’s faith in his explanation of the Gospel of Matthew.  He writes… “Now Jesus shows the reason why He put off healing her at the beginning. So that the faith and understanding of the woman might be made manifest, Christ did not immediately give His assent at the beginning and even drove her away. But now when her faith has been revealed she hears the words of praise, "Great is thy faith." By saying, "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt," Christ showed that if she had not had faith she would not have obtained her request. So, too, if we desire to obtain something, nothing prevents us from obtaining what we desire. … Therefore the Gentiles, who were besieged by evil in that the demons were among them hunting for souls, were also made ready by humility. For the righteous were made ready for the heights of the kingdom of God.”

We must listen and understand that all people can come to Christ.  It is a humble journey where we embrace Christ and depart from the darkness that has consumed us.  The journey of faith is often driven by our earthly needs, as the Canaanite woman needed her daughter to be cured and freed from demonic possession.  This Gospel shows that we all are able and already have the ability to truly turn to Christ.  It does not matter where we are from and what we have done, we must reject sinful ways humbly before God and live in the faith of Christ. We too can receive the blessing as did the daughter of the woman who received freedom.   


In Christ’s Love,
Fr Ted Toppses 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Excuses that keep us from God

Excuses that keep us from God

It is possible to think of reasons why a person should not need an education, yet it is very important for us to work hard, study and receive a degree.  It is possible to think of excuses not to save, not to eat healthy, or not to exercise, and yet if we choose not to do these things, there are clear consequences to our quality of life.  Spiritual matters have an even greater weight in our life than all of these things, and yet they seem to be the easiest to put aside with excuses.

The Lord said this parable: "A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time of the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for all is now ready.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.' And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I must go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.' And another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.' So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.' And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and there is still room.' And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet. For many are called, but few are chosen.'" (Luke 14:16-24; Matthew 22:14),

In the Parable of the Great Banquet, many were invited to come and partake freely of a superb banquet.  They were invited and called; yet each one had an excuse as to why they could not come.  It is interesting to consider how many times in our life God calls us, invites us, and yet there are many things that still get in our way.  Excuses are reasons we convince ourselves not to do something that we really should do.  Often it involves the idea that what we should be doing is uncomfortable. 

God has an amazing way in our life to reach out to us.  Every Sunday and Feast Day, we are invited to the “Banquet” of the Divine Liturgy and to partake.  Sometimes we forget to fast, or are too tired to prepare properly.  Sometimes we choose not to come to Church at all.  Sometimes our own desires and wants leave God in the background of our life, waiting for a convenient time when we will respond to His call, His invitation.

God will call those who will want hear.  He has reached out in His generosity and kindness to all who will listen, to the sinner, to the poor and maimed, to all people compelling them to come in. 

Imagine for a moment, that Christ were standing right in front of you.  Right here, you could see Him, and hear Him and touch Him.  And with a warm loving smile He looked you right in the eyes and invited you to partake of a Banquet that is so amazing and so incredible it could not be fully understood. Everyday, He invites you to come to Him, to give your life to Him, to fulfill your life through Him. 

Our Banquet is Paradise, a place that knows no suffering, a place where we are together as a family, knowing love on levels we never knew existed. Being in God’s presence, is an incredible Banquet where life is eternal.

What excuses would you let get in the way of this Banquet?

Your invitation has been sent! Christ is here, now! Right here with us!  Here and now He is looking into your eyes with love, and reaching out to touch your heart.  It is now up to you to respond.  Up to you to take steps forward.  Up to you to let Christ take your hand and lead you to this incredible Banquet, that only He can give.  Won’t you RSVP? Won't you prepare? Say Yes! And NEVER let any excuses come between you and God! As the Gospel says “Come; for all things are now ready.”

In Christ’s Love,
Fr Ted Toppses

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture...

Dear Family in Christ,
I have been reading and come to know the book Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives by Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, a Serbian Elder of blessed memory and very likely a saint.  Here is an excerpt from the first part of his teachings on thoughts...I also have included at the end a link to a six part video of him with English subtitles.

Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

"1. Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.

2. Everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality. Even today we can see that all of creation, everything that exists on the earth and in the cosmos, is nothing but Divine thought made material in time and space. We humans were created in the image of God. Mankind was given a great gift, but we hardly understand that. God’s energy and life is in us, but we do not realize it. Neither do we understand that we greatly influence others with our thoughts. We can be very good or very evil, depending on the kind of thoughts and desires we breed. If our thoughts are kind, peaceful, and quiet, turned only toward good, then we also influence ourselves and radiate peace all around us—in our family, in the whole country, everywhere. This is true not only here on earth, but in the cosmos as well. When we labor in the fields of the Lord, we create harmony. Divine harmony, peace, and quiet spread everywhere. However, when we breed negative thoughts, that is a great evil.

     When there is evil in us, we radiate it among our family members and wherever we go. So you see, we can be very good or very evil. If that’s the way it is, it is certainly better to choose good! Destructive thoughts destroy the stillness within, and then we have no peace. Our starting point is always wrong. Instead of beginning with ourselves, we always want to change others first and ourselves last. If everyone were to begin first with themselves, then there would be peace all around! St. John Chrysostom said that no one can harm the man who does not injure himself—not even the devil.25 You see, we are the sole architects of our future. By his thoughts man often disturbs the order of creation. That is how the first people were destroyed—in a flood—because of their evil thoughts and intentions.

This is true even today; our thoughts are evil, and therefore we do not bear good fruit. We must change. Each individual must change, but it is unfortunate that we do not have examples to guide us, either in our families or in society. (copied from the Kindle edition) - Brotherhood, St. Herman (2011-12-19). Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: the Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica (Kindle Locations 615-622). St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. Kindle Edition. 

***CLICK HERE for an excellent Six part youtube video of him speaking on these subjects with English subtitles.

I pray through this understanding you will be on the path to the peace and joy of Christ.
In Christ's Love,
Fr Ted Toppses

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fr Dragas' talk on the Divine Liturgy 2010

Please enjoy these high quality videos of Fr George Dragas' talk on the Divine Liturgy in 2010 at our Fall Parish Retreat.

Fr George Dragas on the Divine Liturgy.
In Christ’s Love,
Fr Ted Toppses

Monday, January 16, 2012

People are like springs – How to reach the ones we love

People are like springs – How to reach the ones we love

Often in our lives we try to encourage people whom we love to come to Christ. We do this out of the best of intentions and desires that we have for other people.   We need to understand how we are influenced even from childhood.  We should understand also the various Christly techniques that lead to the best possible success in reaching people’s hearts.

When we were children there was a direct influence on us by our parents and by the use of their example.  As we got older, each step we took in this life was more and more a personal choice driven by upbringing, desire and conscious choice.  By the time we are adults we may still be submissive to other adults.  This can be a positive or negative influence on us.  Our own personal changes can still be influenced through a request from someone important to us.  We as human beings are given our freedom by God.  Because of this, in order to be influenced, we must allow the influence on us.  In allowing this influence we make the requested desire or intention our own.  

This may seem strange considering that many influences in our lives or socializations are delivered to our subconscious.  People subtly seem to be able to influence others by using a hidden, step by step process.  This appears to contradict the truth that our permission is needed in order to be influenced.  The truth is however, we must capitulate or give in subconsciously to the subtle influences in some way in order to be influenced by them.  This can be demonstrated by understanding that if the subtle influence we receive go against what we believe or want in our hearts, it will be received like acid, a cold bath or rough sandpaper.

Similar to the parable of the sower, there are various reactions to influences or suggestions we receive.  When someone gives us an obvious suggestion that we are hesitant about, we might openly or privately disagree.  We may also agree to the suggestion, and afterwards not do it in order to avoid conflict.  We may temporarily do the suggestion to pacify the person desiring us to change.  We may do the suggestion given to us, but inwardly be in disagreement with it and never actually change “Just going through the motions.” Or we may, to the joy of the person desiring to help us, truly reflect and weigh the suggestion in our hearts. 
When speaking to people about Christ, I realized in my priestly work that people are like springs.  If I push people push back. Our wills can be like the donkey who when pushed resists vehemently to the suggestion no matter how good the suggestion may be.  However when the donkey is encouraged positively and very gently pulled in a direction, he starts to move on his own making the direction his own idea. 

Here are some suggestions on how we can influence others in a Godly way

First:  We must pray for them.  This is first because true change must come from within and only the Holy Spirit can create the spark that becomes a burning desire from within.  What we seek for the person in prayer must truly be for their salvation and sanctification.  This is not a violation of human freedom, but the action of freeing the soul which naturally desires God. 

1 Corinthians 12.3: Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. - NRSV

Second:  The door must remain open.  Our pride would like to shut the door if the person does not do what we ask the first time or the tenth time.  We may even not give the person a way out of a bad situation because of our pride.  We must however always give them an out, give them an opportunity to save face, show them that we respect their freedom in deciding what they want to do.  After all, God gave them freedom and it is not our right at all to take it away.  God even allows people to reject and despise Him.  We must demonstrate a true willingness to be there for them in support when they are ready for the first steps.

Luke 11.10: For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. - NRSV

Third: Respect their freedom.  We must never push or demand, don’t use guilt or fear.  Guilt and fear must be replaced with love, desire and passion for God.  If we remain in guilt and fear we will soon believe that we are in the hands of a maniacal God, and not the Loving God that really exists.

"The goal of human freedom is not in freedom itself, nor it is in man, but in God. By giving man freedom, God has yielded to man a piece of His Divine authority, but with the intention that man himself would voluntarily bring it as a sacrifice to God, a most perfect offering. " –St Theophan the Recluse

Fourth: Positive Occasional encouragement.  We should show that the door is still open and encourage the person positively towards Christ every so often in various ways led through our own prayerful discernment.  This must be only used occasionally or we risk a “push backwards” and against the goal. Our prayerful connection to Christ will help immensely with our timing and frequency of these encouragements.  We must always encourage others all the while honestly respecting their freedom.

Fifth: Tie in something enjoyable if possible.  Many people start coming to church when people say “come to church with us and we will go out for lunch afterwards” or “we are having a pizza party for the kids at church this Friday, you are welcome to come.” or even “Our church is holding this great event (not a fund raiser) won’t you come as my guest?”.  Our faith is a faith of joy, love and peace and is logically pleasurable for the follower to be fulfilled by Christ.

Sixth: Always be a true role model in Christ through your example in humility and faith.  Hypocrisy and arrogance is never respected.  Always strive to be a good example and your efforts will be THE example.  We all struggle and it’s ok for others to see our imperfections as long as we continue in our efforts to be living in Christ.

Seventh:  Pray more!  The seed of prayer implanted by the Holy Spirit will come from within them.  Pray in process of your own sanctification and you will affect all those around you.  Pray in your own connection and purity before Christ and in turn you will deal with the speck in your brother’s eye. 

I pray these ideas will be helpful to you and guide you to give a proper approach with respect and love to those you are help. I pray these ideas bring the desire of Christ to your love one.  They are not meant to be complete; I pray that they are only helpful.

In Christ’s Love,
Fr Ted Toppses

Sunday, January 15, 2012

God's Real Presence

This is from the book Wounded by Love, The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, page 113 on Prayer.  Each part gives an ocean of wisdom comprehended and simple in its execution.  This will begin the banishment of temptation, give peace in ones life, drive all demonic forces away and envelop you in the light of Christ.  It is that powerful. It's powerful if we can just put each piece into practice which starts with an impassioned love (divine eros) for Christ.  It reads [I added the numbers]...

1- Pray to God with fervor and love in a calm state of mind, with meekness and gentleness, without  forcing yourself.
2- The Lord Himself will teach us how to pray.
3- Man seeks joy and happiness in heaven.  He seeks what is eternal far from everyone and everything.  He seeks to find joy in God.  
4- God is a mystery.  He is silence.  He is infinite.  He is everything.  
5- Everyone possesses this inclination of the soul for heaven.  All people seek something heavenly.  All beings turn towards Him, albeit unconsciously.
6- Turn your mind towards Him continually.
7- Learn to love prayer, familiar converse with the Lord.
8- What counts above all is love, passionate love for the Lord, for Christ the Bridegroom.
9- Become worthy of Christ's Love.
10-In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that the divine light may flood your soul.
Christ will appear in the depths of your being.
11- There, in the deepest and most inward part, is the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is within you.
12- Prayer is made only with the Holy Spirit.  It teaches the soul how to pray.

-- page 113 Wounded by Love, The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios

Each part is needed and often just a portion is quoted by others.  This small section from above changes everything in our lives if understood. It transforms you if it is practiced.  This is a plan of action for our fulfillment as human beings.  We are too often stuck into a mode of looking for the golden carrot of salvation when Heaven begins now, living in God's presence begins now.