Τετάρτη, 18 Οκτωβρίου 2017

Saint Apostle and Evangelist Luke (in Libya, Egypt and the Thebaid)

Icon from here

Orthodox Church in America

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, was a native of Syrian Antioch, a companion of the holy Apostle Paul (Phil.1:24, 2 Tim. 4:10-11), and a physician enlightened in the Greek medical arts. Hearing about Christ, Luke arrived in Palestine and fervently accepted the preaching of salvation from the Lord Himself. As one of the Seventy Apostles, Saint Luke was sent by the Lord with the others to preach the Kingdom of Heaven during the Savior’s earthly life (Luke 10:1-3). After the Resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Saints Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus.

Luke accompanied Saint Paul on his second missionary journey, and from that time they were inseparable. When Paul’s coworkers had forsaken him, only Luke remained to assist him in his ministry (2 Tim. 4:10-11). After the martyric death of the First-Ranked Apostles Peter and Paul, Saint Luke left Rome to preach in Achaia,
Libya, Egypt and the Thebaid. He ended his life by suffering martyrdom in the city of Thebes [in Greece].

Tradition credits Saint Luke with painting the first icons of the Mother of God. “Let the grace of Him Who was born of Me and My mercy be with these Icons,” said the All-Pure Virgin after seeing the icons. Saint Luke also painted icons of the First-Ranked Apostles Peter and Paul. Saint Luke’s Gospel was written in the years 62-63 at Rome, under the guidance of the Apostle Paul. In the preliminary verses (1:1-3), Saint Luke precisely sets forth the purpose of his work. He proposes to record, in chronological order, everything known by Christians about Jesus Christ and His teachings. By doing this, he provided a firmer historical basis for Christian teaching (1:4). He carefully investigated the facts, and made generous use of the oral tradition of the Church and of what the All-Pure Virgin Mary Herself had told him (2:19, 51).

In Saint Luke’s Gospel, the message of the salvation made possible by the Lord Jesus Christ, and the preaching of the Gospel, are of primary importance.

Saint Luke also wrote the Acts of the Holy Apostles at Rome around 62-63 A.D. The Book of Acts, which is a continuation of the four Gospels, speaks about the works and the fruits of the holy Apostles after the Ascension of the Savior. At the center of the narrative is the Council of the holy Apostles at Jerusalem in the year 51, a Church event of great significance, which resulted in the separation of Christianity from Judaism and its independent dissemination into the world (Acts 15:6-29). The theological focus of the Book of Acts is the coming of the Holy Spirit, Who will guide the Church “into all truth” John 16:13) until the Second Coming of Christ.

The holy relics of Saint Luke were taken from Constantinople and brought to Padua, Italy at some point in history. Perhaps this was during the infamous Crusade of 1204. In 1992, Metropolitan Hieronymus (Jerome) of Thebes requested the Roman Catholic bishop in Thebes to obtain a portion of Saint Luke’s relics for the saint’s empty sepulchre in the Orthodox cathedral in Thebes.

The Roman Catholic bishop Antonio Mattiazzo of Padua, noting that Orthodox pilgrims came to Padua to venerate the relics while many Catholics did not even know that the relics were there, appointed a committee to investigate the relics in Padua, and the skull of Saint Luke in the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Vico in Prague.

The skeleton was determined to be that of an elderly man of strong build. In 2001, a tooth found in the coffin was judged to be consistent with the DNA of Syrians living near the area of Antioch dating from 72-416 A.D. The skull in Prague perfectly fit the neck bone of the skelton. The tooth found in the coffin in Padua was also found to fit the jawbone of the skull.

Bishop Mattiazzo sent a rib from the relics to Metropolitan Hieronymus to be venerated in Saint Luke’s original tomb in the Orthodox cathedral at Thebes. 

Hymns (from OrthodoxWiki)

Troparion (Tone 5) 
Let us praise with sacred songs the Holy Apostle Luke,
The recorder of the Joyous Gospel of Christ,
And the scribe of the Acts of the Apostles,
For his writings are a testimony of the Church of Christ:
He is the Physician of human weaknesses and infirmities.
He heals the wounds of our souls,
And constantly intercedes for our salvation!
Kontakion (Tone 4)
You became a disciple of God the Word,
With Paul you enlightened all the world,
Casting out its darkness by composing the Holy Gospel of Christ.
Kontakion (Tone 2)
Let us praise the godly Luke:
He is the true preacher of piety,
The orator of ineffable mysteries
And the star of the Church,
For the Word who alone knows the hearts of men,
Chose him, with the wise Paul, to be a teacher of the gentiles!

Saint Apostle & Evangelist Mark, from Cyrene of North Africa, the founder of the Church of Alexandria
A saint in a cannibal tribe: Saint Apostle & Evangelist Matthew and holy Fulvian, king of Ethiopians 
Repose of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, the “Apostle of Love” & “Son of Thunder”

From Avaaz: The elephants' last decade?!

Note of our blog: We do not know more about this effort.

Dear friends,

African elephants have just over 10 years left before they’re poached to extinction. 10 years!!!

We’re wiping them out. Just to trade in stupid trinkets!

But right now we have a chance to shut down a major ivory market -- in Europe. After experts found Europe's 'antique' trade is driving the slaughter of elephants by giving cover for illegal ivory, the EU launched a public consultation, asking for proof. If they get it a total ban is possible.

So the Avaaz team found a way to prove it.

Our community is teaming up with Oxford University and top wildlife investigators to source ivory across Europe, and then radiocarbon test it to tell its age. This could provide the sure-fire evidence to get the ban we need!

The consultation ends in weeks. If 50,000 of us donate now, we can get started today. Chip in what you can -- let's make sure this is not the elephants’ last decade.

Click here

Poachers are killing 100 elephants a day -- shooting them from helicopters, or hacking their faces off while they’re still alive. It’s unbearably cruel. And the worst is the elephants understand what’s happening to them. They spend hours crying over dead family members.

The only way to save them is a global ban on this bloody business -- and momentum has never been so strong. The US and China passed ivory bans. Hong Kong looks set to phase-out trade by 2021. And the EU just suspended exports of raw tusks. Now, they’re considering further restrictions.

Our evidence could be the trump card!

But it won’t be cheap. Avaaz may be the only crowdsourced funding model in the world able to raise enough, fast enough to get a massive, grassroots-supported, scientific study ready to lobby the EU just as it is considering a ban.

This is ground-breaking work -- and the EU is asking for it right now, but no one else is ready to hit go on a project this ambitious. Chip in what you can: 

Once there were 25 million elephants roaming Africa. Now we could wipe out the entire species in a decade! It's a terrible sign of how disconnected we are. Let's turn this around, and bring elephants back from the brink.

With hope,
Alice, Danny, Oli, Spyro, Marigona, Allison and the whole Avaaz team.

More information:

In Fighting Illegal Ivory, EU Lags Behind (National Geographic)

Elephants on the path to extinction - the facts (The Guardian)
Elephant poachers are hard at work in Africa, and carbon dating proves it (LA Times)
100,000 Elephants Killed by Poachers in Just Three Years, Landmark Analysis Finds (National Geographic)

Κυριακή, 15 Οκτωβρίου 2017

An african orthodox christian voice about the Parable of the Sower

Orthodox Metropolis of Zambia and Malawi

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today we read the parable of the Sower, which is a very familiar parable, known even to people that are not Christians. Many of these parables are really part and parcel of our culture. People even use biblical terminology and don’t even know that they are using it.

How do these parables affect us? There is an inner meaning and an outer meaning to these parables. Why did our Lord speak in parables? Why did He say things with a hidden meaning? The Fathers explain to us that when you look into something deeply and carefully, when it takes effort to look into it, then you develop more of an understanding. If something is handed to you and there is no effort involved in learning it, then you develop very little understanding.
We can see this principle even in secular life. Look at how young people can barely even read and write now, because of this television age that we are in. Information is given to them so freely it takes very little effort to find it out.
Also the parables are given because God does not those who are not worthy to be told things that they will be judged for. A man must do some investigation if he is to learn the deep meaning of these things, and God will judge us for what we know. God will also judge us for what we don’t know, if we CHOOSE to not know things. God will judge us the same if we know something and don’t do it or we choose to be ignorant in the ways of piety. If we are willfully ignorant, and this occurs whenever we do not try to seek out the knowledge of God’s commandments and exercise them in our life, God will then judge us in the Judgment, even if we try to say we do not know something.

What is the inner and outer meaning of this parable? There is a lot of explanation given for this parable, even in the very text of scripture itself. It is very rare in scripture where our Lord actually explains the deeper meaning of some dark saying of His. The Apostles came to Him, and they must have also come to Him many other times, and they said, we don’t understand this at all. He explained this to them, because it’s meaning is so important.

“A sower went out to sow his seed”.
Who is the sower? None other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Be careful when you read scripture — every word has meaning. The Sower went OUT to sow his seed”. He did not go “out” from the farmhouse and start to work — this “going out” is the incarnation of the Son of God. The seed is the word of God, those words that He spoke.
As he sowed, some seed fell by various places, the wayside, the rock, among the thorns and on good ground. It “fell”; it was not thrown. It fell everywhere equally, and these places, are the souls of men. The preexisting one, Jesus Christ, thought it not robbery to be equal to us, and became a man. And He sowed his teaching to the entire universe, equally and freely to all men. It is available to everyone.

Photo from here (South Africa)

There are four kinds of men described in this parable, and, three of those kinds perished. All of humanity fits into one of these categories, and the majority will perish. This is true in our age, and has been true in every age. The majority of people will not inherit the Kingdom of God, because they are not the good ground. And yet our Lord and Savior still sows His seed, and still gives the opportunity to a man to accept Him and to follow His commandments.
Remember the story of the talents and the man with the one talent — our Lord knew that he was not going to use this talent. Remember what a talent is? It is the grace of God, which enables us to do good works, to obey His commandments, and to learn more of Him.
The man with the one talent is like the ground by the wayside. The fowls of the air immediately snatch away the word from his heart, and he never really believes at all. We have all known people like that, who really have no belief whatsoever. The wayside is hard, and packed down. No seed can penetrate into it, and it is washed away, or it sits there, prey for the birds of the air.
The birds are the demons, which snatch away the word from a man’s heart, but only because a man leaves it out there, unprotected, and does not cherish it. The demons cannot take away the word from your heart if you hold it close to yourself, only if you care nothing for it.
So these men by the wayside, they have no part in salvation whatsoever, they never even bothered to believe.

Photo from here 

Some of the seed fell upon the rock, and when it was spring up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. Have you every been to a glade? This is an area where there is a thin layer of soil over limestone bluffs, and only certain kinds of plants can grow. When there is a drought, everything dies, except for a few very hardy trees. There is a little bit of soil, a very small amount, but there is not enough soil to retain any moisture, which is the essence of Christ. There is just a small amount of knowledge, and not much struggle or desire, and at the merest, smallest trial, such a person falls away, and he perishes.
Some people are thorny ground. The thorns spring up with the good wheat, the word of God. These thorns choke out the following of the commandments. They choke out the knowledge of God, because we turn away from God, to our thorns, whatever they are, whether they are riches, cares of this world, sensual pleasures, our pride, our fear, ambition. There are hundreds of ways that a man can turn away from Christ, even though he appears to be a Christian.

Remember the parable about the wheat and the tares? These tares are the same as thorns. The tares are growing up right by the wheat, and except to a man who has extreme discretion and knowledge, and of course, the God-man, Jesus Christ, such people are sometimes indistinguishable to true Christians. They go to church, they have families, they may give alms, and they do everything externally just like everybody else, except they don’t have any life within them. Where their treasure is, so their heart is, and their treasure is not Christ, so Christ is not with them. Those people who are amidst the thorns have not Christ, even though they would call themselves Christians.
Some of the seed, a small amount of the seed, fell on good ground. And it sprang up and bear fruit. St. Luke says a hundred fold, and St. Matthew also recounts this story and shows that the Lord gave other information. Some sprang up thirty, some sixty and some a hundred fold, because not all the Saints are the same. Not everyone follows the word of God to the same degree, or the same amount.
I guess that is good news to me, because I don’t at this moment think that I can become like the Saints. I shouldn’t think this way, because God can change a man, if he only gives himself to Him. However, if none of us lives with the LOFTY righteousness of the Saints, God has a place for us in His mansion, since there are many rooms, if we make an effort to live according to His commandments.

I have said this many times before; success is not as important as your effort. If you make an effort, then in the end, paradoxically, you will be successful, because God will receive your repentance, and reward you, for some thirty, some sixty, some one hundred. May it be that we all receive a hundred fold. May we all be like the man who had five talents, and labored and increased it to ten, and then our Lord gave him an infinite amount of grace.
Now, how is it that we can be good ground? Isn’t that really what we should try to learn from this parable? What is good ground? Good ground has been tilled carefully, and dug, and the clods of dirt have been broken up, and it has been finely sifted, and fertilizer has been added to it, and it has been watered, and hedged round about so that animals can not get in. It has been guarded, so no one can steal the fruits it will produce. There is effort involved in having good ground. It does not just “happen”.
Last year, I tilled a part of my property in order to plant. I did not take care of it this year, and did not plant, and you can not even TELL that it was good ground, and it was VERY good ground after I had finished with it, but I didn’t take care of it, and so, it reverted back.
The same thing will happen to us. If we do not take care of the seed that is planted within us, we will revert back to the type of man we previously were, and we will allow the tares to grow in us. They will choke us out. Even if there are not tares to begin with – the seeds of tares fly through the air, don’t they? So do the demons. The tares can come into good ground at any time, and they constantly must be plucked out and uprooted with great care.
It is very painful to tear out many tares by the way, especially thorns and thistles, because they are sharp and they cut, and make us bleed. Regardless, we must do this work, and tear out these thorns and thistles if we are to be good ground, if indeed, we have EVEN begun to be good ground!
Our Savior says about those on the good ground, “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
There are those words, that we have trouble with (I have trouble with them sometimes); “Having heard the word, KEEP it and bring forth fruit with PATIENCE.” Patience is the most difficult word in our language. The Christian life is patience, endurance. He who endures to the end will be saved. We are just beginning you know. And if indeed there is some part of our soul that is good ground, let us make the rest of it good ground, by careful labor, by backbreaking labor. And, while we are cleaning out those parts of our souls, let us at the same time pay attention to the places we have cleared, so the tares do not come in, and choke us.

 Photo from here (Rwanda)

How are we to do this? This is a task beyond our abilities! The Apostle tells us, in a marvelous way. He says,
“For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
Marvelous, magnificent words! May they be true in our lives. May we say that we no longer live, but Christ lives in us. May we live by faith, since this is the only way to accomplish our task. And what is our task? It is to know Christ isn’t it? Isn’t that what it said in the other Gospel today? Our Savior was praying to His Heavenly father, shortly before He was going to go to His great passion for our salvation, and He said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
What is knowledge? Knowledge is intimacy. Knowledge is … love. To know God is to love Him, and give everything to Him.
We see evidence of this kind of love even in our own relationships. The love of a husband for a wife, or a child for his mother or father, and especially the love of an infant, such perfect love.
But just like a child who is not so intimate with his parents after he has done something wrong – he doesn’t show up in the same room for a while, he doesn’t want to talk to them, he hangs his head, he has broken communion with them because of guilt — so it is with us, if we do not follow the Lord’s commandments. Then, we will not be able to cry “Abba, Father”, because we will be hanging our head in shame. Or worse, I say most people don’t do that, because they cannot bear that kind of shame. Instead, they just leave God. They become choked with cares, or lusts or passions, with misplaced priorities, or they become even worse than that, and they wither away, and have no faith whatsoever. That’s what happens to most people.
I hope that in our church, if you forgive the expression, we beat the “odds”. I hope that all of us will be good ground, but I know that the only way that this can be possibly true is if we struggle — apart and together. We must pray for one-another, help one-another, and then, in our corner, in our closet, cry out to God each day, asking Him to help us with whatever passions we have, with whatever sins we commit. Even if we have poor attitudes, and we desire to change our attitudes.
Do you know that all sin, and even all action proceeds from thought? Everything we do proceeds from thought. We decide to do something, and then we do it, whether it is good or bad. So we must amend our thoughts. That is why the Apostle Paul says,
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

Train yourself! So now, if you want to be good ground, you must not add any trash to this ground. You must not add such things as impure thoughts, gossip, judging others. You can surely think of many other things that are within your heart that you do and that are affecting your ground. And if ground is left alone, and just walked over, and not cared for, it becomes the wayside. It becomes hard and the seed can no longer penetrate, and that which is in it dies, or never germinates. So we have a great labor to do, my brothers and sisters. We must continue to care for our ground carefully. And we must have patience.
There are two sides to patience. One is that we must be patient with our position in life, with our status, with the amount of money we make, with the difficulties we are encountering. We must not curse God or say that we should have this or we should have that. This is one kind of patience.
There is another kind – a very important kind of patience. Allow God to work! It takes time for Him to work. We do not know how much time we have, but the time we have is what God has allotted to us. He is going to use every moment of that time to perfect us. So, if we have trouble with our sins, if there is something that we fall into every day, then EVERY day repent of it, and be patient!
Be manly in spirit, and do not be like a child and run away from that sin, or rather, run away from the knowledge of that sin, since it will always be with you until you conquer it. Confront it! Confront it with sword and with shield, and with buckler, and with faith. Eventually, God will deliver you. It will happen. It is guaranteed. If a man struggles to know to know God’s commandments, He will reveal them. This is absolutely certain, because in your struggling, you will be doing His commandments.
So, be patient, and cultivate your ground every day, every moment. However, be careful not to judge yourself. This is a hard lesson, that takes us a long time to learn – to not judge ourselves, and look at the sins we are doing and to say we can never do better. In some things we do better, and in some things, God help us and forgive us, we have done worse, but the demons cannot take away from us that we are children of the Most High.

We are able to cry “Abba Father”, only if we are struggling to live in Christ. God lives within us. He enlightens us, He helps us, even though we are sinners. So, if He has come to us and has offered us FREELY His grace and mercy, who are we, in our pride and arrogance to say “that is not enough mercy or enough grace. I can’t change”? Every man can change. Everyone can change magnificently if he only allows God to change him, but this takes time, a lot of time.
I am sure, you are like me, and are very tired of your sins. They weigh us down, they are like an anchor, and they cut and they hurt. And yet, in some weird and perverted way, they are dear to us. They must be dear to us in some way, but God understands, and will help us if we make an effort, and if we are patient.
None of us right now are the wayside because we are at least trying to be Christians. Some of us may be the rock, some may be thorns. God knows, and this will be all revealed in the end. Even if you have very little soil right now, and even if you are choked with thorns and cares, God will help you to become good soil. He will help any man to become good soil. He is no respecter of persons. Any man that desires will be given, freely, God’s mercy. So take God’s mercy and clasp it to your hearts. Hold in to it and cultivate it, and be good soil, and God will save you.

The Parable of the Sower in the Gospel

In English, Russian, Portuguese, Swahili and Arabic

Luke 8:5-15
5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The Purpose of the Parables 
9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Lucas 8:5-15
5 Um semeador saiu a semear a sua semente, e, quando semeava, caiu alguma junto do caminho e foi pisada, e as aves do céu a comeram. 6 E outra caiu sobre pedra e, nascida, secou-se, pois que não tinha umidade. 7 E outra caiu entre espinhos, e, crescendo com ela os espinhos, a sufocaram; 8 E outra caiu em boa terra e, nascida, produziu fruto, cento por um. Dizendo ele estas coisas, clamava: Quem tem ouvidos para ouvir, que ouça.
9 E os seus discípulos o interrogaram, dizendo: Que parábola é esta? 10 E ele disse: A vós vos é dado conhecer os mistérios do Reino de Deus, mas aos outros, por parábolas, para que, vendo, não vejam e, ouvindo, não entendam. 11 Esta é, pois, a parábola: a semente é a palavra de Deus; 12 e os que estão junto do caminho, estes são os que ouvem; depois, vem o diabo e tira-lhes do coração a palavra, para que se não salvem, crendo; 13 e os que estão sobre pedra, estes são os que, ouvindo a palavra, a recebem com alegria, mas, como não têm raiz, apenas creem por algum tempo e, no tempo da tentação, se desviam; 14 e a que caiu entre espinhos, esses são os que ouviram, e, indo por diante, são sufocados com os cuidados, e riquezas, e deleites da vida, e não dão fruto com perfeição; 15 e a que caiu em boa terra, esses são os que, ouvindo a palavra, a conservam num coração honesto e bom e dão fruto com perseverança.

От Луки 8:5-15
5 – Сеятель вышел сеять семена. И когда он разбрасывал их, то некоторые из семян упали у самой дороги и были затоптаны и склеваны птицами небесными. 6 Другие упали на каменистую почву, и, едва взойдя, ростки засохли от недостатка влаги. 7 Третьи упали в терновник, и когда тот разросся, то заглушил их. 8 Прочие же упали на хорошую почву. Они взошли и принесли урожай во сто раз больше того, что было посеяно.
Рассказав эту притчу, Иисус громко сказал:
– У кого есть уши, чтобы слышать, пусть слышит!
Иисус объясняет притчу о сеятеле и семенах
9 И когда ученики спросили, что означает эта притча. 10 Иисус ответил:
– Вам дано знать тайны Божьего Царства, другим же все остается в притчах, чтобы
«они, смотря, не видели и,
слушая, не понимали»[a].
11 Вот значение этой притчи: семя – это Божье слово. 12 Семена, упавшие у дороги, – это те, кто слышит слово, но потом приходит дьявол и похищает слово из их сердец, чтобы они не поверили и не были бы спасены. 13 Семена, упавшие на камень, – это те, кто с радостью принимает слово, когда слышит его. Но у них нет корня, сначала они верят, но когда приходят времена испытаний, они отступаются. 14 Семена, упавшие в терновник, – это те люди, которые слышат слово, но со временем повседневные заботы, богатство и удовольствия заглушают их, и плод их не дозревает. 15 Семена же, упавшие на хорошую почву, – это люди, которые, слыша слово, хранят его в добром и честном сердце и приносят плод благодаря своей стойкости.

Luka 8:5-15
5 “Mkulima mmoja alikwenda shambani kwake kupanda mbegu. Alipokuwa akitawa nya mbegu, nyingine zilianguka njiani zikakanyagwa kanyagwa; na ndege wakazila. 6 Na mbegu nyingine zilianguka penye miamba na zilipomea zikakauka kwa kukosa unyevu. 7 Na mbegu nyingine zil ianguka kwenye miiba, ikazisonga zikafa. 8 Mbegu nyingine zilian guka penye udongo mzuri, nazo zikamea na kutoa mazao mara mia zaidi ya mbegu alizopanda.” Baada ya kutoa mfano huu akasema: “Mwenye nia ya kusikia na asikie!”
9 Wanafunzi wake wakamwuliza maana ya mfano huu. 10 Naye akawajibu, “Ninyi mmejaliwa kufahamu siri za Ufalme wa Mungu, lakini kwa wengine nazungumza kwa mifano ili, ‘Kuangalia waan galie lakini wasione, kusikia wasikie, lakini wasielewe.’ 11 Maana ya mfano huu ni hii: Mbegu ni neno la Mungu. 12 Ile njia zilipoanguka baadhi ya mbegu, ni mfano wa watu wanaolisikia neno la Mungu lakini shetani huja akalichukua kutoka katika mioyo yao, ili wasiamini na kuokolewa. 13 Ile miamba ambamo mbegu nyingine zilianguka ni sawa na watu ambao hufurahia kusikia mahu biri lakini neno la Mungu halipenyi ndani ya mioyo yao. Hawa huamini kwa muda mfupi lakini wanapojaribiwa hupoteza imani yao. 14 Na ile miiba ambamo mbegu nyingine zilianguka ni sawa na wale wanaosikia neno la Mungu lakini baadaye imani yao inasongwa na mahangaiko ya maisha, utajiri, shughuli na anasa; wasiweze kukua. 15 Bali ule udongo mzuri ambamo mbegu nyingine zilianguka ni sawa na wale ambao hulisikia neno la Mungu na kulishika kwa moyo mwema na wa utii, wakavumilia na kuzaa matunda.”


ﻟﻮﻗﺎ 8:5-15
5 «خَرَجَ فَلّاحٌ لِيَبذِرَ بِذارَهُ. وَبَينَما هُوَ يَبذُرُ، وَقَعَ بَعضُ البِذارِ إلَى جانِبِ الطَّرِيقِ، فَداسَتهُ أقدامُ النّاسِ، وَأكَلَتهُ طُيُورُ السَّماءِ. 6 وَوَقَعَ بَعضُ البِذارِ عَلَى طَبَقَةٍ صَخرِيَّةٍ. وَعِندَما نَما، ذَبُلَ إذْ لَمْ تَكُنْ فِيهِ رُطُوبَةٌ. 7 وَوَقَعَ بَعضُ البِذارِ بَينَ الأشواكِ، فَنَمَتِ الأشواكُ مَعَهُ وَعَطَّلَتْ نُمُوَّهُ. 8 وَوَقَعَ بَعضُ البِذارِ عَلَى الأرْضِ الصّالِحَةِ، فَنَما وَأثمَرَ مِئَةَ ضِعفٍ.» وَفِيما هُوَ يَقُولُ هَذِهِ الأشياءَ نادَى وَقالَ: «مَنْ لَهُ أُذُنانِ، فَلْيَسْمَعْ.»

مَعنَى مَثَلِ البِذار
9 وَسَألَهُ تَلامِيذُهُ عَنْ مَغزَى هَذا المَثَلِ، 10 فَقالَ: «لَقَدْ أُعطِيتُمُ امتِيازَ مَعرِفَةِ أسرارِ مَلَكُوتِ اللهِ. أمّا لِلبَقِيَّةِ فَتُعطَى أسرارُ المَلَكُوتِ بِأمثالٍ …

‹فَلا يُبصِرُونَ حِينَ يَنظُرُونَ،
وَلا يَفهَمُونَ حِينَ يَسمَعُونَ.›»
11 «إلَيكُمْ مَعنَى المَثَلِ: البِذارُ هُوَ كَلِمَةُ اللهِ. 12 فَالبِذارُ الَّذي وَقَعَ إلَى جانِبِ الطَّرِيقِ، يُمَثِّلُ الَّذِينَ يَسمَعُونَ كَلِمَةَ اللهِ، ثُمَّ يَأْتِي إبليسُ وَيَنزِعُ الكَلِمَةَ مِنْ قُلُوبِهِمْ. وَبِهَذا لا يَستَطِيعُونَ أنْ يُؤمِنُوا وَيُخَلَّصُوا. 13 أمّا الَّذي وَقَعَ عَلَى الصَّخرِ، فَيُمَثِّلُ الَّذِينَ يَقبَلُونَ الكَلِمَةَ بِفَرَحٍ حِينَ يَسمَعُونَها، لَكِنْ لَيسَ لَهُمْ جُذُورٌ، فَيُؤمِنُونَ لِفَترَةٍ، لَكِنَّهُمْ يَتَراجَعُونَ فِي وَقتِ الامتِحانِ.

14 أمّا الَّذي وَقَعَ بَينَ الأشواكِ، فَيُمَثِّلُ الَّذِينَ يَسمَعُونَ الكَلِمَةَ، وَيَمضُونَ فِي طَرِيقِهِمْ. لَكِنَّهُمْ يَسمَحُونَ لِهُمُومِ الحَياةِ وَغِناها وَمُتَعِها بِأنْ تَأْتِيَ وَتَخنُقَهُمْ، فَلا يُثْمِرُونَ ثَمَراً ناضِجاً. 15 أمّا الَّذِي وَقَعَ عَلَى الأرْضِ الصّالِحَةِ، فَيُمَثِّلُ ذَوِي القُلُوبِ الصّالِحَةِ الصّادِقَةِ. يَسمَعُ هَؤُلاءِ كَلِمَةَ اللهِ وَيَتَمَسَّكُونَ بِها، وَبِصَبرِهِمْ يُثمِرُونَ.»

Σάββατο, 14 Οκτωβρίου 2017

Where Do We Go From Here: A Reflection from the BSMB Conference

Desert fathers dispatch
One thing I can say about being a black Orthodox Christian and among the leadership in the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black, is that there is always a reason to go forward beyond worldly standards. That my aim, our aim as Christians, is to live as citizens of the eternal kingdom while in the midst of this earthly one.

With the recent racial incidents in Charlottesville and other issues, it is so easy to be distracted with wanting to embrace earthly protest and forget that we don’t battle against flesh and blood (as said by the Apostle Paul). Much like Dr. Martin Luther King, we must embrace love even for those who oppose us.  If we adopt a tone of animosity and hostility, we make the Gospel invalid and little more than a worldly tool to achieve a temporal victory.  As African-Americans, we have a tradition of forgiving those who have exploited us.  As Orthodox Christians, we have the witness of saints who chose to die to this world so that they would have life in the next.

Dr. Albert Raboteau, Professor Emeritus of the Princeton University School of Religion pointed out how necesary forgiveness is to give a beacon of light to a world that so easily spirals downward. The example of Fannie Lou Hammer who suffered an atrocious torture kept going forward working for the right of black Mississippians to vote.  But, she kept going not in a spirit of vengance.  Her aim was for a reconciled state and nation where all citizens had equality.  This is a bright, shining star compared to the obsurd fearfulness white nationalist have that their race is threatened with extinction.

Fr. Justin Matthews of St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church in Kansas City retold the stoy of Prince Lazar. He was given a choice of an earthly victory for his Serbian people that would seperate him from the heavenly kingdom.  Or, he could suffer defeat in this world for a crown in the world to come.  The saint chose the later and fell in the fields of Kosovo.  His example to his Serbian nation was that of love for one’s people as the people are committed to be servants of God no matter what the earthly cost may be.

From these two and other speakers, it seems to me that however black and other Christians are to stand against the injustice and hate of this world, we must do so with a commitment to loving God, our enemies, and being willing to pay the cost of that love in this world. Like anyone else, I want to see justice roll down like a mighty stream.  But, a narrow and earthly definition of justice that is not informed with the healing balm of forgiveness and reconciliation leads to revenge.  And isn’t this what has happened in history when revolutionaries gained power on earth?  With the exception of South Africa, overthrows of oppressive governments are usually followed with bloody purges of former officials.  We must be aware not to let such desires build in our hearts and minds.

So, as we have returned to our various homes and parishes, we must find ways to fight the good fight in a good way. Deacon Turbo Qualls gave a great analogy; Saul’s armor does not fit us.  To slay the Goliath before us, we must use our own sling and the stones that God has smoothed out for us.

Please, see also

"THE WAY" - An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith
"We are called to holiness!" ― Two orthodox voices from Africa about the Sunday of All Saints (Sunday after Pentecost)
"That is the purpose of the Church, to make people holy" : Sunday of All Saints
The Kingdom of Heaven, where racial discrimination has no place


Τετάρτη, 11 Οκτωβρίου 2017

Be True to Yourself

I recall the excitement that I felt every year as a child and as a teenager as the signs of summer’s end came. Looming ahead was the beginning of a new school year. It never felt like a return to what I had known the year before, but as an opportunity for something new. In my teen years, the secret something new that felt exciting was a “new” me. Of course, that guy never appeared.

In August of 1965, I was slated to enter a brand new school, a combined junior-senior high. It was the beginning of life as a teen. It was 1965, and I felt the lure of something “cool.” I remember shopping for school clothes and buying a few things that, in hindsight, would be classified as “mod.” I was reinventing myself. It didn’t work.

Hidden within almost every new experience, I think, is the lure of the “new self.” The new self, of course, is wiser than the old and will not make the same mistakes. The new self starts with an imaginary clean slate with the baggage of the past left behind. The new self presumes collective amnesia on the part of everyone else.

There are, doubtless, many of these dreams within the heart of every religious convert. I recall reading the deep frustration expressed by one convert to Orthodoxy that he had seen no evidence of theosis in his life. I daresay he had seen little or no moral improvement as well.

I had occasion during my recent pilgrimage to hear senior Orthodox monastics speak about the Christian life in general, and monasticism, in particular. I was struck that a common topic emerged from both: “We must be true to ourselves.” The monastic who enters the life trying to be somebody other than themselves will not survive. One of the fathers observed that it is increasingly difficult to find good candidates for the monastic life – reflecting the disordered personalities so rife within our cultures. 

On a personal level, I was struck by how much of what was shared was like things I have written myself. When that sort of thing happens, I confess to simply being reassured with the comfort of having gotten something “right.” It was from a monastic that I first heard teaching about the “false self,” so I suppose I should not have been surprised.

The invention of the self (and its reinvention), much like my childhood fantasies, is delusional. It is a wasted effort in which everything runs in the wrong direction. We can, in truth, never be other than we are; everything else is a façade, a psychological Potemkin Village. Such efforts never hold up to examination.

The greater task is the journey towards the true self. The Elder Sophrony said quite succinctly: “The way up is the way down.” The mindset within our modern culture is one of constant progress, of striving to be something other than what we are. The classical pattern within the Church does the opposite – it moves towards a deeper and deeper realization of the truth of our being. On the one hand, this is the heart of repentance. Repentance in the modern mind is distorted into just one more model of progressive change. True repentance is not found in being what we are not, but in confessing and confronting what and who we truly are. This is the heart of Sophrony’s other adage: “Teach them to bear a little shame.” 

It is with this understanding that I have challenged the notion of “moral progress.” That concept, when practiced by the modern mind, is delusional. It is not that there is no change (we are surely promised transformation in Christ), but that the change which occurs is something other than the progressive notions of the modern world. We do not get “better and better.” More accurately, we may become more honest, more truly ourselves, more willing to acknowledge the truth of our lives, more willing to bear our weakness and infirmities. 

In the paradoxical life of true Christianity, striving to be better often feeds the darkness of our shame. We become angry at our failures, judgmental of those around us, suspicious of others, anxious and depressed. The Cross provides the pattern for the Christian life. It is the great counter-intuitive march towards glory, a glory that is crucifixion itself.

The moral/spiritual life, when treated as one more progressive project, is largely marked by constant failure or worse. We cannot teach a corpse to behave like a living human being. Until the inner-man is healed, all outward efforts will end in frustration or a false existence. What is required in our life is not new behavior but a new creation.

That new creation begins in the very depth of the soul. The journey to that depth is marked by weakness, shame, loneliness and what might even feel like failure. It is the difficult work of bringing into the light what we would often prefer to remain hidden. Christ has not come to improve us, but to remake us from the inside out.

That same work requires safety and emotional support. We do not enter the dark under the threat of punishment. The spiritual work of moral improvement, particularly undertaken with the threat of eternal punishment, yields very little, if any, interior work. In what is often a shaming atmosphere, one dare not approach the depths of greater shame. The result might be marked by certain changes in behavior, but not the sort of healing and transformation that is the hallmark of the saving work of Christ. The many dark deeds done in the name of Christ are the predictable fruit of moralism.

There is a new self in Christ, renewed according to the image of Christ within. It is in no way the product of our own efforts. Every imagination we might have as to the contours of that new self is just that – imagination – and nothing more.

Gentleness, kindness, and love with deep respect and empathy for the spiritual struggle of others is the required path of a wise shepherd. God has promised to do the work – if we dare let Him.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21)

See also
The Truth of the Soul ― "The “dots” that we see at a distance were created to become gods"
Love the sinner, hate the sin
"We are called to holiness!" ― Two orthodox voices from Africa about the Sunday of All Saints
"That is the purpose of the Church, to make people holy"
An Atonement of Shame – Orthodoxy and the Cross


Τρίτη, 10 Οκτωβρίου 2017

“Don’t cry” - The Widow of Nain, This is our life in microcosm...

Orthodox Metropolis of Zambia and Malawi

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Brothers and sisters, our Lord Jesus Christ healed thousands that we don’t know about. Only a few of His miracles are recorded in the Gospels. Therefore, the ones that are recorded are particularly important; we must take careful notice.
This is one of my favorite ones because it is very deep. There’s a reason why the Evangelist Luke says the things he does. The miracle could have been described much more laconically, but he gave certain very specific details that are very, very important.
This miracle is really our life in microcosm.
The Lord is going through Nain. Many people are flocking about Him, and while so many people are joyfully receiving Him, a woman is full of sadness, who is a widow; her son is dead and they are burying him today.
This is in microcosm our life, because there is a lot that is dead in us.
You know, only the Orthodox, as far as I know, talk about this. It’s not really a pleasant subject to know that there’s darkness in us, to speak of it often, to speak of the death that is in us. People who do not feel this darkness think that such talks is “negative” or shows “poor self-esteem”, or even indicates a “lack of faith”. But it’s true. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see it. When your heart turns and has that constricting feeling when something happens, that’s darkness. So this woman’s sadness let us equate to the darkness that is in our hearts.

So now she is going with a large group and they are going to bury her son; they are doing the funeral procession. And our Lord, Who’s a complete stranger to this woman, tells her, with absolutely no explanation, cease weeping, don’t weep, don’t cry. Only our Lord can say these words, because only our Lord can heal.
And this also is our life in microcosm because there are many times when we don’t understand why we should do something, or we don’t feel that there is progress being made. But the Lord is telling us, not only “Don’t cry,” but “Follow me.”
Simon Peter, when he was asked by the Lord to fish after the full day of preaching and the sun was high in the sky and the fish were far away and not catchable, he said, “Nevertheless, I will let down the nets.” He had no idea why the Lord would give such a command. It didn’t make any sense but he did it.
The Lord says things to us that are unintelligible all the time such as saying to this woman, “don’t cry,” or to Peter, “let down the nets”, or “love your enemies.”, but they will make sense in the end. They will make sense if we listen and if we obey. And the only way we will understand is through gaining wisdom through experience.

So the Lord says to this woman, “Don’t cry.” Now, sometimes there’s a long time between the Lord saying something to us and it coming to fruition. The Lord says that we will be perfect. Well, we’re not very perfect looking, are we? So it must be a long time before that is fulfilled. The Lord says that we will have treasure. Well, we don’t have a lot of treasure. And of course I’m not speaking of anything that is material. But there’s still a lot lacking in us. It takes a long time for some of these things to be fulfilled.
In this case, because it is one event, the fulfillment happens very quickly. The Lord puts His hand on the bier. This is a very significant action – it shows that the Lord is Man and God. Not only does He love man because He has become a man, but he understands what it is to be a man. That’s what that action of touching the bier means. He loves mankind, and He understands mankind.

So when He says, “Stop weeping,” He knows from experience that His words make sense.
When He says, “Love your enemies,” He knows from experience that this is the only way that we can have peace and happiness.

And all the rest of His commands, He commanded and He fulfilled the command in His flesh. So He speaks with authority like nobody else can. Because He understands what is the result of the things that He says to us. We only understand them darkly, as it were, in a glass. But the Lord sees clearly what His commands will bring if we obey them.
We must just trust Him that His commands are good and that, as He said, His yoke is not burdensome. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. We must just follow Him, even though it doesn’t always make sense.
So He touches the bier to show us not only His love for mankind but His understanding of mankind. His way IS the only way to happiness, to peace, to security. There IS no other option and He knows it. And He will share it with us.

So what happens when He touches the bier? Another very important action that the apostle tells us. They stand still, which perhaps at first glance seems to be an obvious and irrelevant point. I don’t think it is obvious at all. I think most of the time we keep just right on going because the Lord is touching us all the time. He is always saying to us, weep not, or some other words of encouragement or rebuke, and we are not hearing Him. And perhaps He touches us and we don’t feel Him. But these people did and so they stopped and stood still.
And yet in the end our son will be raised; we will become perfected. This is our life. I hope you feel this deeply in your soul how powerful this is. The only way to peace, to happiness, is to follow Christ.

Photo from Zimbabwe (here)

But Christ did not give us some sort of exact outline, as you would in some sort of lecture class, exactly what you need to know. He says, follow me, do what I do. And because of our passions, because of our sins, we don’t understand a lot of times why we should do a thing or we don’t feel any satisfaction from it. Intellectually we can say why we should love, why we should become compassionate, why we should not lust or we should not gossip; or we should pray when we are tired. We know these things intellectually, but it has not penetrated every ounce of our being as it did our Lord. So we don’t have a full understanding.
There’s a lot in which we’re in the dark not because the Lord will not reveal it to us, but because we cannot take it in, because the only way to become good is to follow the Lord.
From the moment He was born to the time He died, His face was set to Jerusalem. He came for one purpose and one purpose only, to save us. And EVERYTHING He did was for that purpose. And He understands us, more than we understand ourselves.
So let’s trust Him, not in a superficial way, but completely and totally.
Let’s believe Him when He says: There will be a time when you will no longer weep.
Let’s believe Him when He says: You will become perfected.
Let’s believe Him when He gives us the Commandments and that they will be the only path to happiness.
There is no other.
So this miracle is our life in microcosm if we choose to live it.

May God grant us the wisdom to see as He reveals to us the truth. You have to stand still for the truth, brothers and sisters. You have to listen for the truth. You have to follow things even that don’t make a lot of sense. May God help us.

Holy Liturgy in the Heaven - Icon from here

The Gospel of the Sunday

Luke 7:11-16
11 And it came to pass the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and many people.
12 Now when He came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And many people of the city were with her.
13 And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said unto her, “Weep not.”
14 And He came and touched the bier, and those who bore him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say unto thee, arise.”
15 And he that was dead sat up and began to speak. And He delivered him to his mother.
16 And there came a fear on all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet is risen up among us”; and, “God hath visited His people.”


Lucas 7:11-16
O filho da viúva de Naim
11 E aconteceu, pouco depois, ir ele à cidade chamada Naim, e com ele iam muitos dos seus discípulos e uma grande multidão. 12 E, quando chegou perto da porta da cidade, eis que levavam um defunto, filho único de sua mãe, que era viúva; e com ela ia uma grande multidão da cidade. 13 E, vendo-a, o Senhor moveu-se de íntima compaixão por ela e disse-lhe: Não chores. 14 E, chegando-se, tocou o esquife (e os que o levavam pararam) e disse: Jovem, eu te digo: Levanta-te. 15 E o defunto assentou-se e começou a falar. E entregou-o à sua mãe. 16 E de todos se apoderou o temor, e glorificavam a Deus, dizendo: Um grande profeta se levantou entre nós, e Deus visitou o seu povo.


Luka 7:11-16
Yesu Amfufua Mtoto Wa Mjane
11 Baada ya siku hiyo, Yesu alikwenda mji mmoja uitwao Naini. Wanafunzi wake na umati wa watu waliongozana naye. 12 Alipokaribia njia ya kuingia mjini alikutana na watu wal iobeba maiti wakitoka nje ya mji. Marehemu alikuwa mtoto wa kiume wa pekee wa mama mmoja mjane na umati wa watu wa mji ule ulikuwa pamoja na huyo mama. 13 Bwana Yesu alipomwona yule mjane moyo wake ulijaa huruma, akamwambia, “Usilie.” 14 Kisha akalisoge lea lile jeneza akaligusa na wale waliolibeba wakasimama. Ndipo akasema: “Kijana nakuambia, amka!” 15 Yule aliyekuwa marehemu akaamka, akakaa na akaanza kusema! Yesu akamkabidhi kwa mama yake.

16 Watu wote wakajawa na hofu. Wakamtukuza Mungu wakisema, “Nabii mkuu ametokea kati yetu. Mungu amekuja kutuokoa sisi watu wake.”


ﻟﻮﻗﺎ 7:11-16

إحياءُ ابنِ الأرمَلَة
11 بَعدَ ذَلِكَ، ذَهَبَ يَسُوعُ إلَى بَلدَةٍ تُدعَى نايِيْنَ يُرافِقُهُ تَلامِيذُهُ وَجَمعٌ كَبِيرٌ مِنَ النّاسِ. 12 وَعِندَ اقتِرابِهِ مِنْ بَوّابَةِ البَلدَةِ، رَأىْ شاباً مَيِّتاً يُحمَلُ إلَى خارِجِ البَلدَةِ، وَقَدْ كانَ وَحِيدَ أُمِّهِ الأرمَلَةِ. وَكانَ هُناكَ جَمعٌ كَبِيْرٌ مِنَ رِجالِ المَدِينَةِ. 13 فَلَمّا رَآها الرَّبُّ تَحَنَّنَ عَلَيها وَقالَ لَها: «لا تَبكِي.» 14 وَاقتَرَبَ وَلَمَسَ التّابُوتَ، فَتَوَقَّفَ حامِلُوهُ. ثُمَّ قالَ يَسُوعُ: «أيُّها الشّابُّ،أنا أقُولُ لَكَ، انهَضْ!» 15 فَجَلَسَ المَيِّتُ مُعتَدِلاً، وَبَدَأ يَتَكَلَّمُ. فَرَدَّهُ يَسُوعُ إلَى أُمِّهِ.

16 فَامتَلأ الجَمِيعُ رَهبَةً، وَمَجَّدُوا اللهَ، وَقالُوا: «لَقَدْ ظَهَرَ بَينَنا نَبِيٌّ عَظِيمٌ!» وَقالُوا: «لَقَدْ جاءَ اللهُ لَيُعِينَ شَعبَهُ!»