Tag Archives: love

Is This the End of the World?

Fr. John Dresko

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?

Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?

Surely you know.
Or who stretched the line upon it?

To what were its foundations fastened,
Or who laid its cornerstone,

When the stars were made
And all My angels praised Me in a loud voice?”

“Will anyone pervert judgment with the Mighty One?

He who rebukes God will answer for it.”
(Job 38:4-7, 40:1, NKJV)

Recently, we have endured a rather traumatic and lengthy series of catastrophes. At a glance, one could look at a map and see the Western United States on fire; Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean were flooded and destroyed by hurricanes with such friendly names: Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Mexico suffered the strongest earthquake in over 100 years, followed by another large one in Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world.

On top of that, we have continued war in the Middle East, genocide of Christians in that same area, and North Korea has now joined the club of nations with nuclear weapons pointed at us. And now my town, Las Vegas, suffered the worst mass shooting in US history.

Is this the end of the world? All the things happening are described by the Lord Himself as having to happen before He comes again at the end of time. The answer, of course, is yes, it is the end of the world…and no. Since the coming of Jesus Christ and through His death and resurrection, the world has ended.

Nothing new will come, because He has done everything. But all the calamities have happened and will continue to happen and God will use them all to either bring us closer to Him or to the realization that we do not want Him.

Every person ever born into this world, even if alive for but one day, knows suffering. Hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes all are but what happens to every single person, only on a grand scale. We have our own hurricanes spiritually, even when we are standing in sunshine. All suffering is a result of sin and weakness. But suffering is not necessarily given by God as a punishment.

Job was the most righteous servant of God, but God allowed Satan to take everything from him as a temptation. Then we spend 36 chapters trying to figure out why He allowed this. The verses quoted above essentially say, “I am God. I know what I’m doing. Trust me.”

Our world is “death- and suffering-denying.” We do everything we can to avoid suffering and death, which, in a human sense, is rational and right. No one, even a faithful Christian, is called to be a masochist, seeking out pain, suffering and death. But a Christian can, and must, find meaning in suffering.

And the meaning can only be found in the Cross, and in the Kingdom of Heaven.

If we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, then we know from His own words that we will suffer. Because He suffered. We are called to share in those very same sufferings. But His suffering was redemptive — it was for the salvation of the world. When we suffer, or are assailed by the images of those around us suffering, we can do one of two things. It is the same choice offered to Job.

We can curse God and die, or we can keep our eyes fixed on the Lord and heaven. If we trust God, we are purified in our suffering. If we are purified, we are ready not for the restoration of “good things” in my life, but are ready to leave this life for the Kingdom. If we are ready to leave this life right now, when we do leave, even if many, many years from now, we will find only what we have been waiting for: Paradise.

Why does the Lord give Himself to us in the Church? Isn’t it precisely because it is in the Church that we know Him, see Him, and can then receive Him into ourselves in the Sacraments?

Isn’t it because in the community of the Church we can hold onto each other, support each other, and in that mutual care and love find the strength to seek Him and trust Him? Only by keeping our eyes on Him and trusting in Him, and not the “solutions” of the world, can we see through the tragedies of life and hope in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Witnessing the events of the past weeks should inspire me to look deeply into my own life and ask myself what I really think is important.

How can I just go about my life, thinking all the things I see as important are truly important?

How can I blow off the Church and the Lord, treating Him as a simple bystander in my life?

How can I live to eat, and drink, and procreate, acting like nothing will ever touch me, when I can see how quickly others have been touched?

There is a purpose to every single event in every single person’s life. We do not, and cannot, see the whole tapestry of God’s plan for the world, including my life.

But I do have to let Him into my life.

St. Paul said that no one is ever tempted beyond his strength. So why am I surprised when temptation or suffering enters my life?

Sometimes the biggest cross I have to carry is to actually decide that God has the right to allow a cross to come into my life and expect me to carry it.

If it’s a big cross, it’s because God knows I can carry it (and, surprise, surprise, God helps me carry it!).

Where was I when God laid the foundations of the earth? Not even in my mother’s womb. So who am I to question Him?


Fr. John Dresko is the Rector of St. Paul Church, Las Vegas, Nevada.

What Role Does God Play in Your Life?

A homily on Mark 8:34 on the Sunday after the Elevation of the Cross¹
By Deacon Jason Ketz – September 17, 2017

I was recently reading a research report, the National Study of Youth and Religion², where a few pastors interviewed several hundred Christian teenagers about their faith, hoping to see if they could link attitudes, feelings or thought patterns with behavior patterns.

Connections such as: do teens who go to church more often describe God differently.

Overwhelmingly, the teens surveyed described a nice faith.  God is nice; churches are nice. Churches help us learn important social, moral values; God is kind and loving, helps people when they really need it, and certainly thinking about God can help us through tough times.

That was the prevailing sentiment in this survey.  Nice. Maybe even “Minnesota nice.”

But when the study asked whether the students’ faith in Christ, their belief in God, actually weighs in on serious decisions or situations in their lives, nearly 80% of these students admitted that, no, they do not consult God when making decisions.

God is not involved in decisions about future college or career choices, about where they want to live, who they date or marry, how they vote, or any significant, but positive life event.

Jesus is there when they are struggling; ready to boost their self-image, assure them of a better tomorrow, but when life is clicking along, the students happily imagine that God is elsewhere, helping those who really need him. So God and Church are nice, it seems, but usually absent and largely irrelevant.

Now, I suspect that this faith the teenagers describe is largely the faith that they see around them; their faith is a rough imitation of the faith we portray to them.  To a greater or lesser extent, we are all guilty of seeing God as nice, but not always relevant or present.

I know we’re constantly guilty of trying to manage our lives ourselves; guilty of compartmentalizing our faith, so that we conduct ourselves with good morals and ethics, we live wholesome, charitable lives, but we save our big prayers for ‘emergency use only.’  And this strategy works very well to get along in 21st century America.  Very well, in fact.

There’s just this one little problem: it’s lukewarm; neither hot nor cold. Such a passive, lukewarm, nice faith is entirely the opposite of what God expects. God hates lukewarm. It’s useless and gross, like cold chicken noodle soup.

In fact, God spat out the church of Laodicea (Rev 3:16), whose works were lukewarm. And he will spit out this 21st century polite Christian piety for the same reason: Lukewarm, pragmatic, convenient faith it is not what is taught, exemplified, and requested by the crucified and risen Christ.

Not even close!

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”  (Mk 8:34-35)

He doesn’t say “check in every once in a while” and he doesn’t say “I’m there if you need me; otherwise, I’ll keep out of the way.”  And why doesn’t he say either of those messages?

Because those ways of thinking place not God, but us, at the center of our own universe. This light, lukewarm Christianity that I suspect we’re all guilty of at least once in a while, and that came out in the study of American teens is very ego-centric at the end of the day.

It hinges completely on our own belief that “I can handle it.” I will decide if and when I need help, and then I’ll ask for it.

That’s really very self-centered.  Well intended, of course, but self-centered.

But authentic faith in Christ is exactly the opposite of that – it is a decentralizing experience, and today’s gospel is a decentralizing message.  “Deny yourself, take of your cross and follow me.

For whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

Or maybe a better translation: “whoever wastes his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

What a curious phrase that is – to waste our lives for the sake of Christ and the gospel.

Christ never expected our faith in him to be a mark of pedigree, to be a sign of good citizenship or social maturity, and if we feel our Christianity is entirely compatible with our daily experiences, then either we’ve achieved real holiness, or we aren’t quite sure who it is we claim to worship.

We aren’t quite hearing our Lord’s decentralizing message.  Right now, we’re just sort of smiling and nodding along.

So what, then, is the solution?

How can we hear and process our Lord’s decentralizing call to discipleship, his call for us to deny ourselves and follow him?  The way forward begins with a serious reflection on the significance of the cross.

Because the cross is the perfect expression of God’s love for the world.

The faith I described earlier, that lukewarm Christianity, is very measured, and pragmatic, and rational.

But the faith of Christ in the Gospels is driven by love. True love. Young love. Heart on fire, head-over-heels, Romeo-and-Juliet kind of love. It’s combustible, passionate, dangerously spontaneous, maybe even reckless.

What do we see in the scriptures?
Christ dining with prostitutes or tax collectors – bad optics;
The shepherd leaving 99 sheep alone to find just one who is lost – risky;
The man who sells all he has to buy a field with a buried treasure – foolhardy;
The father who rushes to embrace his son who just came home from the pigsty – messy.

And that perfect expression of God’s reckless, passionate, burning love is in the cross.
Christ gave up everything to come and find us; to save us.

Not even death could stop God’s love for us.

What incredible, overwhelmingly passionate, and incendiary love!
For us.
For me.
For you.

And it’s this passionate love of Christ that is decentralizing.  None of us want to share the spotlight with somebody else for no good reason.

But any of us who have felt our hearts burn for another, or break for another, know exactly how to move out of the way and let somebody else, somebody we truly love more than anything, be the most important person in our lives.

Lovers, parents, long-time friends.

Deep down, we get it; we know that feeling.

And what we’re hearing today is that our God is moved, driven, by that burning love for us.  And he’s assuming we feel that way about him as well.  So do we? Do you?  Do I?  Maybe we think that we don’t know him well enough yet to make that decision.  But falling in love isn’t a rational act anyway.

is a leap of faith. Can we make such a leap of faith for Christ? Can we take a big chance on his love?

That’s the choice that is set before us today.

We have again been shown Christ’s love for each of us, God’s burning love for the world. Now it’s on us to take that fire, and kindle it within our own hearts, to carry the flame within us, to let Christ’s warmth into all the cold, dark corners of our lives; to not save Christ’s love for emergency use only, but invite him into the mundane, daily events, and especially bring his love to bear in the positive, significant life choices we make, so that we can then bring this incendiary love of Christ out to the world, where it will catch fire!

Our Lord makes no promises about our well-being either, but when you’re in love, who cares?!

All Christ promises is the one thing that a lover would want to hear: I’ll never stop loving you.

So may we all feel the heat of this burning love of Christ today. May it set ablaze our lukewarm faith, and drive us forth into the world as Christ’s disciples, to the Glory of God the Father.

Amen.


1 This reflection was presented as the homily on Sunday, September 17, 2017 at St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral, Minneapolis. MN. Dn. Jason’s writing style approximates his style of speech, with some fragmented sentences, repetitive statements and colloquial expressions. 
2 The study is even broader and far more incisive than the introduction suggests, but for the purposes of this homily, the summary statements are a reasonable distillation of the data.
Special thanks go to Kenda Creasy Dean, whose monograph Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church. (Oxford: Oxford Univ Press, 2010), presents and discusses the data, and whose reflections throughout Part 2 of the book provide some of the basis for my own reflection on the Gospel of Mark.  

Remembering the Beauty in the Grunge

Chris Cornell died last week, and his music will live on for a long time. His fans, who admired his creative genius and amazing vocal range, will feel a sense of loss and disappointment. And like other musicians and artists before him whose lives have been tragically cut short by suicide, he will be mourned for what could have been and what will no longer be.

Reports indicate that Chris had posted to social media after the concert in Detroit, excited about heading to Cleveland with Soundgarden, his hard rocking group, to perform there. Everything appeared to be ok. But it clearly wasn’t. Chris was fighting an unseen battle.

We can’t begin to imagine or even speculate what Chris was going through in the days leading up to his death. As is often the case with those suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses, what appears on the surface may not reveal what is truly happening deep within their soul.

Our souls safeguard our innermost thoughts, desires, memories and experiences in life. Friendship, love, excitement, resentment, doubt and fear shape who we truly are. While it’s possible to say that those closest to us can get a fairly accurate picture of our true self, only God knows and understands our true identity, potential and intentions.

Those who suffer from depression and loneliness like Chris Cornell find ways to escape from the people around them. At first, it’s subtle and hardly noticeable to those around them, and we may think they just want some alone time. But as Orthodox Christians, we know, our existence is defined by community and is to nurture and care for those around us. Especially if we notice patterns of someone drifting further and further away from others.

One of the most impactful experiences of my life was when my wife and I were on vacation overseas and we saw what is possible when friends care for someone in need.

We watched in amazement as eight friends took turns sitting with their friend whose life was out of control, and he was not well. Drunk and shouting, and at times flailing about, he was scary to those who observed his behavior. Yet his friends stayed by his side, listening to him, trying to get him sober, hugging him, and not abandoning him as he faced his inner struggles in real time. His friends did not tell him to go home and sleep it off. They didn’t abandon him. Instead, they took care of him and were careful to not let him drive or sleep or walk away. They were listening to him and making sure he was safe both emotionally and physically. They made sure he was not alone.

As intense as his struggles were with the demons he faced, the intensity of their compassion was even stronger. In that moment in which this man needed his friends most, they were there for him, remembering what he meant to each of them as an individual, as a person, as part of their collective friendship. They had gone beyond the rhetorical “How’s it goin’?” we often ask, and had accepted his pain and suffering as their own. They went into hell with him, so they could bring him back to life with them.

As we near the end of another Paschal season, it’s probably gotten harder for us to say ”˜Christ is risen!’ with the same vigor and energy we had at midnight just a few weeks ago. The radiance of our joy has probably dimmed and sadly, some of our old habits may be creeping back into our daily routines.

But it’s never too late to recapture that sense of joy and excitement of Pascha and carry it throughout the entire year. Focus on what Christ accomplished on that bright and saving night of Pascha: He accepted our pain, our suffering, our doubts, our loneliness, our weaknesses and our sins. He took them all upon himself. He destroyed them in finality of His own death. He opened a new path to life. He gave us the promise that things will ultimately get better. He destroyed death by death itself. He gave us hope.

And He did it all in love.

In the icon of the resurrection, we see our Lord pulling Adam and Eve up from their tombs by their hands. This image reminds us of the importance of relationships, and that it’s up to us to make that same intimate and physical connection with those around us. We need to reach out, sharing that same love with those we encounter, regardless of whether we can see their inner struggles or suffering.

One of Chris Cornell’s solo hits, “You Know My Name,” was the theme song for the James Bond movie, Casino Royale. It speaks about the coldness inside and what happens “if you come inside, things will not be the same when you return to my eyes.”

We don’t need to be priests or psychologists or specialists to know someone’s name, or even to be a friend. To see inside, we need to take a moment to get to know them and see the beauty of who they truly are deep inside.

Each of us can be an example of the love of Christ in a world filled with chaos and suffering. It’s about finding the beauty that exists within that grunge. And for those like Chris Cornell who struggle and suffer, reach out to a friend, remembering that Jesus Christ died so that you may live.

Chris Cornell died last week, may his memory be eternal.

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By David Lucs
David is a member of St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral, Minneapolis, MN and is a new contributor to the OCA’s Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries programs. His two daughters keep him and his wife busy and laughing with their amusing views on the world.

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness, help is available in a variety of ways, including these resources on the web:
www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may. Your parish priest can also provide confidential assistance to help you connect with trained professionals in your area.

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Chris Cornell (born July 20, 1964) was an American rock musician and singer-songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist, primary songwriter and rhythm guitarist for Seattle rock band Soundgarden and as former lead vocalist and songwriter for the supergroup Audioslave.

His numerous solo works and soundtrack contributions built upon his role as one of the innovative and founders of the ’90s grunge movement. As an extensive songwriter with an amazing near 4 octave vocal range, received a Golden Globe Award nomination and was at one time voted “Rock’s Greatest Singer,” ranked 4th in the list of “Heavy Metal’s All-Time Top 100 Vocalists” by Hit Parader, 9th in the list of ‘Best Lead Singers of All Time’ by Rolling Stone, and 12th in MTV’s “22 Greatest Voices in Music.”