Give with cheer!

Even the Apostleship is called a ministry and every spiritual work is a ministry… It is not enough to give, but we must also do it with munificence for this always answers to the name of simplicity. It is not enough to show mercy, but it behooves us to do it with largesse and an ungrudging spirit… even with a cheerful and rejoicing one!

St. John ChrysostomChrists Mercy

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The words of St. John Chrysostom

Let us listen, as many are to receive Christ: for it is possible to receive Him even now. Let us hearken, and emulate and receive Him with as great a zeal, or indeed, when you receive a man who is hungry and naked, you have received and cherished Him.Chrysostom

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Plan your summer vacation around God!


The final bell rings marking the end of the school year—and the mad rush for the exits ensues. Many of us can remember that highly anticipated and energetic time of our youth. It is a time of hope for a new day, a time of planning on summer camps, a time of family vacations. And so often, we also think of it as a time to take vacation from Church…

 Interestingly, the Church offers a Fast at the beginning of this time of year—the Apostles’ Fast. It is a time that is so often neglected in our family life here in the United States and Canada. And yet, it is a time that can be the greatest blessing to recharge our spiritual batteries and prepare for the family vacation season.

 When we fast, we set aside the time to care for our relationship with God. When we fast, we take the time to deny the self, and thus strengthen our ability to say “YES” to God—uniting our will to His Will. When we fast, we remind ourselves that there is something more important than immediate gratification.

The question remains: How do we fast and still have a family vacation? Family time—including taking a vacation together—is vital to the health of our relationship with our loved ones. There is nothing more important than keeping the Gift of the Family healthy and whole and dedicated to God. That does not mean that to be a healthy family, an extravagant trip is needed. How healthy is it to take a “vacation” from the one thing that nourishes us as a family: Christ? How healthy can it be to remove ourselves from the one place where Jesus Christ is revealed in His Fullness: the Divine Liturgy? This week, as the summer planning sessions are beginning in earnest, let us take some time to prioritize our family life so that our summer vacations can reflect our values in Christ. When we set our family time priorities, it is important to list them in the same manner as our personal ones, keeping in mind the one thing needful: Our Relationship with Christ! Each family should take some time to determine what is truly important to them. Below is a suggested list of priorities for the top five of any list:

1)       Family Relationship to God.

The family should always take time to pray together in the home. Nothing can reinforce the value of caring for one’s relationship with God than taking the time to do so as a family. Where is your family altar/shrine in your house?

2)       Family Relationship to one another.

Communication is the key to love: How often do you sit and talk as a family? Do you have regular meals together? Prioritizing family time helps to develop strong relationships. It also enables parents and children alike to know that they matter.

3)       Family Relationship to the Church and parish life.

Participation as a family in the Divine Services and the life of the parish is an essential part of any family’s spiritual growth. Coming together in the Holy Eucharist unites the family in the strongest bond: the Body of Christ! And, lest we forget, we participate in this Thanksgiving Offering both by receiving it regularly, and by contributing our Time, Talents and Treasures to the Church.

4)       Finding a balance between working and providing for the family and loving the family relationally.

It is important to balance work and family life—especially in the compartmentalized lives we lead here in the United States. This is why it is sometimes necessary for families to take a vacation together so that those who work may have an opportunity to dedicate time—our most important Gift—to loved ones. This doesn’t mean that this time needs to be an extravagant expense—just dedicated to family.

What about planning the family vacation around all of the things we are to Care for in our lives as Orthodox Christians? What about while on a beach vacation, look up the closest Orthodox Church and be sure to attend? What about taking some time to volunteer at a FOCUS location or homeless shelter while enjoying said trip? What about taking a trip to help out in at the orphanages in Kosovo and Metohija, or if that’s too far, at Project Mexico and the St. Innocent Orphanage? Or, what about setting aside some time in our vacation schedule to visit a monastery to pray?

A good rule of thumb would be the tithe of our time…set aside at least one tenth 1/10 of the vacation time to dedicate it to giving thanks to God. Our Father expects us to enjoy the fruit of creation—after all, He proclaimed it to be very good. Let us just not forget to honor and give thanks for all of His blessings through it.

5)       Family relationship toward the community.

It is important to for the family to also keep in mind how we interact with the least—those placed in our lives as opportunities to reach out in Christian Love. Are we involved in our Diocesan Events and Church Camps? Are we planning our annual budgets around caring for our Thanksgiving to God (and our Stewardship Commitments)? Are we involved in helping to feed the hungry in our community? Do we visit the sick, shut-in, or imprisoned? Are we dedicated to helping in the community?

This week at the beginning of summer, let us decide if we are living for this temporary life, or if our focus and attention remains on our eternal Life in Christ. This week, let us embrace the Fast with joy, so that we might offer ourselves to Christ. This week—let us plan for a Summer Vacation that helps our Salvation!

By Father Christopher Rocknage

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From Hiermonk Philotheos of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios, Mouth Athos

In his book,  The Struggle In Christ In The Apostasy Of Our Times…Orthodox Candles Hiermonk Philotheos reflects:

However, the Christian prays not only for himself, but also for his fellow-men. He prays for the whole world – the living and the dead – knowing that this constitutes the best example of charity and pious work of love from which he spiritually benefits.

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Today’s Epistle – Acts 20:7-12 – Do we have the fervor of faith?

EutychusToday’s Epistle is about Eutychus and how he was brought back to life. Although this miracle is the focal point, I reflected upon the activities of the day. Paul “spoke to them and continued his message until midnight!” There were “many lamps in the upper room where they all gathered.” Some, including Eutychus, even occupied windows in order to be able to listen to the word of God and learn from Paul’s teachings. St. John Chrysostom reflects… “Picture to yourself, I beseech you, that house with its lights, with its crowd, with Paul in their midst, discoursing with even the windows occupied by many. What a thing to see!

Yes, what a thing to see! And today, it is so hard to gather a handful of people to listen to the word of God. Our schedules are full, we are too busy, we just can’t find the time to sit through a religious education class. I myself, am struggling with a situation. One of our local parish priests is beginning a religious education class on Sunday’s. What a blessing – a class that will go through the duration of summer (a rarity as we always assume nobody will be around because it’s vacation.) Also, that it’s on Sunday, the day we are supposed to rest and reflect on the Lord. But the first thought in my mind was “it’s Sunday.”

I thought about it again and said it’s Sunday, and what a great way to spend the day. With all of the errands and tasks on my to do list, it is important for me and my family to reflect on the Lord during His day. Now one asks, how is this related to Stewardship? It emphasizes the use of our Time, Talents and Treasures. Here, Time is the most critical. Will we have the fervor of the faith to take the time to learn about Orthodoxy as Eutychus did? Will we take the time to attend Church services (especially during summer)? Will we make the time to do good works as Christ did, with our family? Will we prioritize prayer and scriptural readings each day?

We must take advantage of every opportunity to strengthen our faith. Christ, on many occasions, discussed how we will be judged by the works that we do. St. Gregory reflects:

Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become God’s for His sake, since He for us became Man. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich He took upon Him the form of a servant that we might receive back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we might conquer; He was dishonoured that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low in the Fall of sin.


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Stewardship of Christ’s Life-Giving Spring

“Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The Gift of Life-giving Water—a well-spring bubbling up with eternal life—is a beautiful and recurring theme during this Paschal Season.  Our Risen Lord continuously reminds us of the need to participate in His Water to inherit eternal life.  Jesus calls us to Him through the Life-giving font of Baptism so that we might continue to live in Him eternally.

The Church reinforces this theme of water during Paschatide in the Gospel readings each Sunday.  Last week, we heard about the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda—who couldn’t enter into the waters by himself, but needed Christ’s healing.  This week, the Samaritan woman is confronted by Christ at Jacob’s Well.  Next week, we will hear about the washing at the Pool of Siloam.  Let us take a moment to examine just what is necessary to partake of Christ’s Life-Giving Spring.

When we meet the Risen Lord at the pool of Bethesda, we learn that we must first desire to be healed by Christ.  That desire is confronted by a healing that is life-changing and foundation shaking—changing how we encounter the world.   When we meet the Risen Lord at Jacob’s Well, we are confronted, in the person of the Samaritan Woman, by our sinfulness.  Christ gently confronts her sinfulness by asking about her husband—just as He gently confronts our sinfulness by asking about how we are living our lives during Holy Confession/Repentance.  She responds by confessing her sins—and repenting of them.  It is only through turning from our sinfulness through Holy Repentance that we can ever hope to embody Christ’s Life-Giving Spring!

This embodiment of the Well-Spring of Eternal life is a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  We are called to Him through repentance and Baptism so that we might partake of Him and never be hungry or thirsty again!  As our Lord reminds us, we have only to put on Christ through Holy Baptism, deny ourselves and take up our Cross through Holy Repentance, and relate to Him through the Holy Eucharist to participate in His Resurrection.  “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54). 

When our first priority is a relationship with the Resurrected Lord, nothing else can take His place in our lives.  He becomes our reason for being—our reason for living.  Loving Him becomes both life-affirming and life-changing.  We are being changed by His Love, and freely give that love to all we encounter.  This loving relationship is reinforced every time we partake of Him through Holy Communion.

His Holy Eucharist is our source of Joy, Hope and Love.  By continuously partaking of Him, we continuously must prepare ourselves for Him.  No longer do we choose grudges—for love is not anger in our hearts when we come to Christ.  No longer do we choose to hold onto sinful habits—for we are embraced by a life of Love in the Risen Lord.  No longer do we choose the weakness of sin and death—for our Lord is there to strengthen us!

May the love of the Risen Lord become a well-spring in all of our hearts, minds and souls, enabling us to live a Life in Him, glorifying His Saving Resurrection on the third day!


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Stewardship of Christ’s Healing

The Joy of the Risen Lord changes everything about us.  His transforming presence transfigures all of our sadness into Joy, all of our grief into comfort, all of our disappointment into fulfillment.  Yet many times, we choose to reject this ever offered healing in Jesus Christ’s resurrected presence.  Thus, our Lord intentionally asks the paralytic, “Do you want to be healed?”. 

The question is a valid one.  We, as human beings, are creatures of habit.  Even if the path we walk is a painful one–do we not still maintain it?  Better the known evil than the unknown, right?  Better to walk in sickness than to run into a healthy unknown.

While this might sound rather silly to many of us, the healing offered by our Lord is not one without consequence.  Christ’s healing is freely given… but it requires us to relinquish our control.  It is a healing that requires us to allow Him to change and transform our very core.  It is a healing that enables a spiritual earthquake shaking up the very foundation of our sinful nature.  It is a healing that shatters our weakness like a potter’s vessel and rebuilds it into a strong and new one.

The healing presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ requires us to leave everything else that is of the world to unite ourselves to Him.  The paralytic lying beside the pool of Bethesda did just that.  Christ confronts him with the question, “do you want to be healed?”… And he resoundingly answers yes!

He turns from his way of looking out only for himself, and begins to live for his neighbor.  No longer is he focused on his infirmity, but on taking it up (in the form of his bed) and going home.  No longer does he identify himself as his sickness/sinfulness.

And we are called to this very healing!  We are called to this shattering and core shaking love through a relationship with the Risen Lord.  We are called to identify ourselves as Christ’s–not as our infirmities. 

Now is the time for us to join our Lord.  Now is the time for us to say, ” Yes! ” to his healing presence in our lives.  Now is the time for us to make our relationship with Christ our primary priority!

May the Joy of our Risen Lord grant us a fuller understanding of His Healing Presence in our lives, enabling us to live in a deeper awareness of His love for us, uniting us to His Eternal Father and His Life-giving Spirit for all time!


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