Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Courage and Will to Live our Faith

2018 Sunday of Orthodoxy  - The courage and will to live our faith by Fr Ted Toppses

Dearest fathers, brothers and sisters and beloved family in the Lord.  Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you on this Sunday of Orthodoxy.  

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” - Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)

Do we want to change for the better? Do we want to live more fully by truly embracing our Orthodox Christian Faith? Do we want to have a closer relationship with God? Do we want to free ourselves from the bondage of sin?  If we go to almost any bookstore seeking a book on how to change or improve your life we will find rows and rows of books all promising self improvement.  The improvements they offer may seem good, but are often hollow and temporary.  This is because self improvement books are typically not dealing with the true method of real change.  This true method of real and meaningful change and improvement can only be accomplished by living our faith and thereby embracing and growing closer to God.  Through living our faith we are transformed by God’s real presence.    

We can seek improvement based on behavior and change of habit, and yet our real improvement is based on our will and courage to act on our faith in God.  We must be courageous in our faith to live the treasure of our Orthodox Christian faith.  Our Orthodox Faith is the ultimate path to transformation, the path to true fulfillment.  Our Orthodox faith is the everlasting and real path to God.

Through the courage of living our faith we are a living sacrifice and offering to God.  
Romans 12:1-2 writes:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)

Please realize my brothers and sisters,
We are changed through our prayer, because God changes us.
We are changed through our love and acts of charity, because God’s love transforms us.
We are changed through our faith because as we live a life with God, He is not only with us, but Our Lord fulfills our life.

Let us ask ourselves, can we have the will and courage to act on our faith?  We can claim many worldly distractions destroy our ability to follow our faith in its fullness. The ability to follow our faith is given to us by God.  The ability to follow our faith can not be taken away from us without our consent.  
Let us receive a lesson from St. John Maximovich on keeping our focus and having the will to change.

Saint John Maximovich writes...
There was a king who had a wicked son. Having no hope that he would change for the better,
the father condemned the son to death. He gave him a month to prepare.

The month went by, and the father summoned the son. To his surprise he saw that the
young man was noticeably changed: his face was thin and drawn, and his whole body
looked as if it had suffered.
"How is it that such a transformation has come over you, my son?" the father asked.

"My father and my lord," replied the son, "how could I not change when each passing
day brought me closer to death?"

"Good, my son," remarked the king. "Since you have evidently come to your senses,
I shall pardon you. However, you must maintain this vigilant disposition of soul for the
rest of your life."
"Father," replied the son, "that's impossible. How can I withstand the countless
seductions and temptations?"

Then the king ordered that a vessel be brought, full of oil, and he told his son:
"Take this vessel and carry it along all the streets of the city.
Following you will be two soldiers with sharp swords. If you spill so much as a single drop
they will cut off your head."
The son obeyed. With light, careful steps, he walked along all the streets,
the soldiers accompanying him, and he did not spill a drop.
When he returned to the castle, the father asked, "My son, what did you see as
you were walking through the city?"
"I saw nothing."
"What do you mean, 'nothing'?" said the king.
"Today is a holiday; you must have seen the booths with all kinds of trinkets,
many carriages, people, animals ..."
"I didn't notice any of that," said the son. "All my attention was focused on the oil
in the vessel. I was afraid to spill a drop and thereby lose my life."

"Quite right, my son," said the king. "Keep this lesson in mind for the rest of you life.
Be as vigilant over your soul as you were today over the oil in the vessel.
Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away, and keep them
focused on what is eternal. You will be followed not by armed soldiers
but by death to which we are brought closer by every day.
Be very careful to guard your soul from all ruinous temptations."
The son obeyed his father, and lived happily.

Saint John teaches us that the change we seek is actually possible when our desire will not allow the things of this world to take our heart from God. Our love for God must be a passionate love, always keeping us on guard and always having the courage to live our faith.

St. Porphyrios once said “Somebody who is Christ's must love Christ, and when he loves Christ he is delivered from the devil, from hell and from death.”

And In Scripture it is written in James 2:18: But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

My dearest family in Christ,
Live your faith! We are Christ’s worshipers, followers, servants and friends.  Our love for Christ will transform us by living constantly in His Holy Presence.  

Do we want to change, to be better Christians, to have a closer relationship with God, to free ourselves from the bondage of sin?  We must have the courage and will to live our faith through our actions. We must not be satisfied with how far we have come in faith, but we should always be striving for a deeper and closer relationship with the Living God.  We must be persistent and tenacious in our life of faith and our love for God.  We must pray daily and often together in Church and quietly at home in private and God’s Holy Presence will change us, will grow us and will transform us into who we are truly meant to be.

God Bless you and be with you, and God give us all the courage and will to live our faith for our true fulfillment now and with Christ in Life Everlasting.
Amen

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Keeping Your Focus

St. John Maximovich-Watchfulness: Keeping Your Focus




St. John Maximovich-Watchfulness: Keeping Your Focus

There was a king who had a wicked son. Having no hope that he would change for the better, 
the father condemned the son to death. He gave him a month to prepare. 

The month went by, and the father summoned the son. To his surprise he saw that the 
young man was noticeably changed: his face was thin and drawn, and his whole body 
looked as if it had suffered. 
"How is it that such a transformation has come over you, my son?" the father asked. 

"My father and my lord," replied the son, "how could I not change when each passing 
day brought me closer to death?" 

"Good, my son," remarked the king. "Since you have evidently come to your senses,
 I shall pardon you. However, you must maintain this vigilant disposition of soul for the 
rest of your life." 
"Father," replied the son, "that's impossible. How can I withstand the countless 
seductions and temptations?" 

Then the king ordered that a vessel be brought, full of oil, and he told his son: 
"Take this vessel and carry it along all the streets of the city. 
Following you will be two soldiers with sharp swords. If you spill so much as a single drop 
they will cut off your head." 
The son obeyed. With light, careful steps, he walked along all the streets, 
the soldiers accompanying him, and he did not spill a drop. 
When he returned to the castle, the father asked, "My son, what did you see as
 you were walking through the city?" 
"I saw nothing." 
"What do you mean, 'nothing'?" said the king. 
"Today is a holiday; you must have seen the booths with all kinds of trinkets, 
many carriages, people, animals ..." 
"I didn't notice any of that," said the son. "All my attention was focused on the oil 
in the vessel. I was afraid to spill a drop and thereby lose my life." 

"Quite right, my son," said the king. "Keep this lesson in mind for the rest of you life. 
Be as vigilant over your soul as you were today over the oil in the vessel. 
Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away, and keep them 
focused on what is eternal. You will be followed not by armed soldiers 
but by death to which we are brought closer by every day. Be very 
careful to guard your soul from all ruinous temptations." 
The son obeyed his father, and lived happily. 

Focus on the Eternal 

Just as a basic concern is to be careful of anything that might be harmful to 
our physical health, so our spiritual concern should watch out for anything that
 might harm our spiritual life and the work of faith and salvation. 

Therefore, carefully and attentively assess your inner impulses: are they 
from God or from the spirit of evil? Beware of temptations from this 
world and from worldly people; beware of hidden inner temptations 
that come from the spirit of indifference and carelessness in prayer, from 
the waning of Christian love. 

If we turn our attention to our mind, we notice a torrent of successive 
thoughts and ideas. This torrent is uninterrupted; it is racing everywhere 
and at all times: at home, in church, at work, when we read, when we converse. 

"It is usually called thinking," writes Bishop Theophan the Recluse, 
"But in fact it is a disturbance of the mind, a scattering, a lack of concentration and attention." 

The same happens with the heart. Have you ever observed the life of the heart? 
Try it even for a short time and see what you find. Something unpleasant 
happens, and you get irritated; some misfortune occurs, and you pity 
yourself; you see someone whom you dislike, and animosity wells up 
within you; you meet one of your equals who has now outdistanced you 
on the social scale, and you begin to envy him; you think of your talents 
and capabilities, and you begin to grow proud. 

And all of this can pass through the heart in a matter of minutes. For this reason 
one ascetic, who was extremely attentive to himself, was quite right in saying 
that "man's heart is filled with poisonous serpents. Only the hearts of saints are 
free from these serpents, the passions." 

But such freedom is attained only through a long and difficult process of 
self-knowledge, working on oneself and being vigilant towards one's inner life, i.e., the soul. 

Be careful. Watch out for your soul! Turn your thoughts away from what 
will soon pass away and turn them toward what is eternal. Here you will 
find the happiness that your soul seeks, that your heart thirsts for. 


SOURCE: Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus and
 taken from Orthodox America, Vol. XIV, No. 2-3. Sept – Oct. 1993