Monday, March 24, 2014


Today we arrive at the crux of our Christian Faith: the Cross of our Lord, God and savior Jesus Christ.  (Crux is, indeed, the Latin word for Cross).  For if we were to eliminate the Cross (as, for example, do the Jehovah's Witnesses, who refer to it as the "torture stake"), then our Faith would be simply one more vain philosophy among the many that have arisen over the course of the ages: serving, perhaps, as a helpful guide for those seeking happiness in this world, but having no power to transform our fallen human natures.

Our Lord Himself shows us the way, though of course He would never impose His will on anyone, having granted to us all the gift (or according to Dostoyevski's Grand Inquisitor, the insupportable burden)  of freewill.  He merely suggests, if anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross...and follow Me.

So, what it comes down to in the end is that we must deny our selves--which goes radically beyond what we usually think of as "self-denial"--as when we deny ourselves that second piece of chocolate we would so much enjoy.  Rather, we are called upon to deny completely each and every claim of that false ego that has supplanted the place of Christ in our hearts.  We must, in a very real sense, cease to exist (which is what my fictional character Angel finally succeeds in doing in my novel Many Mansions). 

Because it is only when we cease to exist as self-centered egos that we are truly free to follow Christ and Him alone, to joyfully take up our own cross of sacrificial love and suffering and to follow Him.  Only then can we say with the holy apostle  St. Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ liveth in  me," because it is the Cross that crosses out the I, so that henceforth we live not for ourselves, but for Christ alone, serving His image revealed to us in our neighbor.

The fact is, the more we strive to save our self-centered lives in this fallen world, the more we shall lose our true identity in God.  Only if we are willing to take the plunge--to set aside our false egos that we might immerse ourselves totally in the love of God--only then shall we be granted the gift of eternal life in His heavenly Kingdom.  This, indeed, is the ultimate sacrifice, and every fiber of our fallen selves will rise up in protest if we choose this path.  But if we persevere unto the end, the grace of God will surely sustain us, and we shall discover that the yoke of Christ is indeed easy and His burden light.


The miracle working Kursk Root icon will be visiting this parish (the Nativity of St. John the Baptist in Blue River, WI) on the Monday of Holy Week.  Further details will be forthcoming.

Friday, March 14, 2014


"And Nathaniel said unto him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?  Philip saith unto him, come and see."  Today we commemorate the victory of the Orthodox over the heretical Iconoclasts, who condemned as idolatrous all images of Christ and His saints.  By so doing, however, they denied the whole basis of our holy Orthodox Faith and the very means of our salvation: the Incarnation of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thus unto our own day, our icons are a stumbling block to many (especially Protestants) who would otherwise embrace the fullness of Truth revealed in the one, true, apostolic Faith of the Orthodox Church.  But the fact is, those who refuse to venerate the icons have already placed themselves outside the Ark of Salvation.

To deny the veneration of the icons is to deny that Christ really and truly became man, taking on our flesh from the pure blood of the Virgin.  As the Holy Fathers confess, That which is not assumed cannot be saved.  And if our Lord truly did assume our human form, then it is not only possible but indeed laudatory to depict and venerate His image, as well as all those saints that have become vessels of His grace.  We do not, of course, honor the paint and wood of the material icon, but rather the prototype that is represented.  Thus an icon becomes a "window to heaven" and a channel through which God bestows upon us His sanctifying grace. 

Friday, March 7, 2014


Have you ever said or thought, "I don't know how I can ever forgive that person...after what he (or she) has done (or said) to me...?  How frightening!  Considering the countless times we ourselves have offended God...yet He never ceases to forgive us!  It is only necessary that we acknowledge our sins and sincerely repent.  Just consider: our Lord prayed "Forgive them, for they know not what they do"--even as he suffered an agonizing death on the Cross.

Yet we--wretched sinners that we are--find it so hard to forgive others for their petty offences against us, and we dare to ask, how can I ever forgive them?  The answer--as the Beatles famously sung--"It's easy....All it takes is love!"  And herein lies the crux of the matter: our failure to forgive is fully explained by our failure to love.  Because if we were truly striving day and night to acquire the love of God in our hearts, forgiveness would be as natural to us as breathing.

Truly love covers a multitude of sins: not only our own sins in the eyes of God, but also the sins (real or imagined) of those who have supposedly offended against us. The only thing that stands in the way of acquiring this love is our deep-seated pride, which hardens our hearts and renders them impervious to the indwelling grace of God.  May this Lenten Season be for all of us an occasion to strive and struggle to acquire the grace of God, that our stony hearts might be softened by His gift of love.