To Whom Do We Belong?

The following article was written by His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver.

In our day and age, we are witnesses to radical changes taking place from the traditional Judaeo-Christian principles which have been guiding human behavior and consequently our Western society for several centuries.  The recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States of America legalizing the behavior of people who decide to choose their gender based on the newly recognized transgender identity, has created a plethora of human identities, not to mention contradictions.

This new lawful regulation implies that an individual has no higher authority in existence to define sexuality other than one’s self. The current concept is now accepted as natural.  Consequently, the scriptural verse in the Holy Bible which states that God created only two distinct intellectual creatures, the male and the female, is not applicable.  Thus, it is totally rejected.

The definition of the human person regarding one’s gender is not new.  It began in different ways in ancient cultures of the past.  We see from recorded history that there was a time when eunuchs existed in large numbers and for different reasons.  However, their bodies were disfigured with the removal of their male organs in order to live without sexual desires.

This reality does not necessarily go against current human behavior.  For we can say that from the early 1970’s to the present, the concept that a woman’s body is her very own to do what she wishes with it, is acceptable to many people.  This concept has been accepted initially with the legalization of abortion for over thirty years.  Consequently, the recent law recognizing the normalcy of transgender identities strengthens the belief that we do not belong to anyone, but only to ourselves.

Today, we are also seeing an increasing number of body piercing and tattooing only for personal desire among younger persons, even though family members may not be in agreement. We also know from some earlier cultures that there was skin piercing and tattooing either by desire or by force.  We can also add to this concept that the legalization of same sex marriage and also doctor assisted suicide is a right of the individual.

With these realities, the concept that we belong to ourselves is in total contradiction to the teaching of the Holy Bible.  This means that any transgender person cannot be in agreement with any part of Judaeo-Christian teachings which are based on Holy Scripture.

When a person disfigures one’s face or parts of the body with excessive tattoos and radically changes one’s appearance especially with the piercing of the face, the mouth and the tongue with foreign objects, such a person can never be identified as an icon of Christ as Holy Scripture reminds us.

From the Holy Bible we read that we are icons of Christ, although distorted in one way or another.  An icon, as we know, is a reflection of the prototype, the prototype being the Lord Jesus Christ.  It should be known that the Septuagint Old Testament, which was translated from the original Hebrew language to the then international Greek language at least two hundred years before the Christian era began, was translated in Alexandria, Egypt by seventy-two Jewish theologians and is the same Holy Scriptures used today in the Greek Orthodox Church.

On the basis of this, if Orthodox Christians wish to remain faithful to their religious and ecclesiological history, as taught by the church, they must be faithful to the church teachings identifying themselves as icons of Christ.  The Church must educate and discourage church members who deliberately distort their appearances, believing that they have every right to create their own identity.

The Church has always taught that for one to find one’s true identity, such a person must try to emulate Christ the Lord through a life of prayer with love for God.  Saint Paul is a perfect example of someone finding his true identity.  Once he changed his lifestyle and sought the peace and love of God in his heart, he confidently and truthfully wrote, “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.”

It must be agreed by all reasonable people that the radical changes which have been taking place concerning human behavior in our society is the fact that there is an absence of filial love and an increasing presence of the spirit of disagreement and anger among many people, even to the extremity of hatred.  This is in total contradiction of the Judaeo-Christian teachings which confess that the perfect creation which God first established, as recorded in the book of Genesis, has been distorted.  In its place one sees only dissentions, divisions, and disorder throughout human nature.

If people believe that they do not belong to a higher authority, but belong to themselves, then it can be said that the Lord Jesus Christ would not have bothered to come into the world to save humanity.  From the teachings of Orthodox Christianity, He came because humans are His icons, although distorted.  He came to bring perfection to humanity.  On the feastday of the Samaritan Woman, which falls on a Sunday after the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, one reads in one of the prayers that Christ Who shares the throne with the Father and the Holy Spirit came into the world seeking His icon (humanity) to have it eternally celebrating, having been restored.

Consequently, on the basis of one being reasonable and intellectually accepting that each person is an icon of Christ, striving for perfection through free will, spiritual development, increased prayer and a moral way of life, one can find one’s true identity through the words of the Apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians (6:19,20) when he writes that, “you are not your own – therefore – glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s.”

Love Your Home Church? Then Love Our Seminary!

Today we celebrate the Elevation of the Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Preparing to celebrate the Divine Liturgy this morning, my mind was distracted with great memories of our Seminary — the place we call ‘the Holy Hill!’

Roughly 60 acres in Brookline, MA – still 1/2 wooded, and on the tallest hill in the Boston area, our Seminary is the most serene environment in New England.  Central to campus is my favorite church in the entire world.  As a alumnus and a priest of the Orthodox Church, I could go on and on about our Seminary… and sometimes I do!

The Seminary is a beauty that nourishes the eyes!  But Holy Cross is also the well-spring that nourishes the entire Archdiocese!  Without priests we have no Church.  The early pioneers of our Archdiocese were leaders!  They understood that in order for the Church to take root and grow in the United States, we must produce clergy leaders from within our own experience — an American Seminary needed to be established!  They did it!

Beginning in Pomfret, CT and later relocating to Brookline, MA, Holy Cross has produced the majority of the clergy that have served the Archdiocese.  The flavor of Holy Cross has changed from generation to generation — that is to be expected and should be welcomed.  How else can it be authentic and representative of a greater culture that changes every generation?  This allows those following a calling to the Holy Priesthood to launch from Seminary into ministry with a spirit of realism that is not manufactured, but inspiring.

We have a shortage of priests in our Archdiocese.  At the same time, we have a shortage of parish communities prepared or willing to support the amount of priests needed to serve the community well.  Chicken or the egg?  By supporting our Seminary, we address the chicken and the egg.

Please support our Seminary and all the young men who may have a calling toward the priesthood. By doing so, you are strengthening the experience of your own local parish and others!  With well prepared priests, our communities will grow, and we will see new communities planted.

I love our Seminary! I consider it ‘my home parish.’

Do you love your home parish?  Then you must also love Holy Cross – because your parish may not have been established or sustained without our Seminary!

May our Lord bless Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology!

Hurricane Florence: A Call For Prayer!

One year ago, the Houston Metro area and beyond was devastated by Hurricane Harvey.  Now we watch as Hurricane Florence begins to effect past of the east coast.

Those from our home region can empathize, and I ask everyone to go beyond that and offer prayers for all those who are being and will be impacted by this storm.  I know that the prayers of others sustained us last year, and it is our turn to now off that support to our brothers and sisters in the Carolinas and the surrounding areas.

May our Lord’s Grace be felt by each of you!

Is Kavanaugh the Judge You Are Grateful For?

Kavanaugh’s hearing has begun today, marking a step toward filling the current open seat on the Supreme Court of the United States.  Dominated by imprudence, today seems only to be a cesspool growing soundbites to benefit future individual political ambitions.  However, today does provide us with an opportunity to re-contemplate the role of a judge.  Of course, that will need to be done outside of contact with today’s hearing, but nonetheless, we can step away from the waste and think.

Lady Justice is blindfolded in the effort to convey a reality that justice is blind, focusing only on the reality of the questioned party or experience in measurement by the established law.  Judges are uplifted within a society to not only safeguard this ideal, but enact it.

As I contemplate this role of a judge, I think about The Judge.  Not an old GTO, but the Lord Himself, Who Scripture assures us is just and His Word is the established measurement by which we will be judged.  Yet, an important and compassionate difference exists between a societal judge and the Lord.  God is not blind.

God not only sees everything that everyone has done with His vision, He does not judge blindly.  God does not judge blindly — and I am very very thankful for that.  If God judged blindly then I’m done, put a fork in me.  I’ve failed in a life perfectly lived, as mandated by God’s Word. Maybe you have too?  If God judged blindly, then His Word would condemn me to the outer darkness.  Maybe you too?  But God judges with compassion for those who repent.  How lucky are we?  The Judge has created an experience through which we may enter His Kingdom, even when we fail at living according to His measure.

I pray with a grateful heart and offer thanks to the Lord for His mercy and compassion.  I will continue to repent.  I am thankful that He is not blind, and pray that The Judge will continue to bless us all with His Grace.  Maybe even find a way to get It into Washington D.C.?

Video Game Tournaments Exist?

I remember saving up to buy my first Nintendo.  It came with Super Mario Brothers, and I would run home from the bus stop to play for an hour before Little League practice.  Now, I don’t get it. Video games look so real that sometimes I have to make a double-take to see if it is real or not!  Not only kids, but even adults are becoming addicted — not an hour before baseball — spending countless hours plugged into a virtual world.  I must admit, these games can be pretty cool, but that virtual world brings with it countless risks.

In a seminar on human trafficking, I learned that video games that connect players together are ripe environments for predators to cultivate children for capture.  Furthermore, this virtual world provides the experience of escapism for children, adolescents and adults who are unable or unwilling to deal with the challenges of life.  A wonder of technological advancement in connectivity, and it seems to drive more distance between people than anything else.  BTW, the same thing goes for social media.

I was shocked, but not surprised to turn on the news last night and learn of the murders and suicide that took place in Jacksonville, FL, at some sort of a football video game tournament.  I didn’t even know they had those.  Obviously, this young man was deranged and the tragedy is unquantifiable — lives have been lost.  I do not blame the video game, that would be silly; however, I do believe that the contemporary obsession with ‘technological escapism’ is damaging and helps to create an inability to copy with stress, decipher challenges and genuinely interact with others.  Authentic relationships are more and more rare, without the filters of manufactured profiles and manufactured responses and a rating system of ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ that provide cheap affirmation for an architected persona.  It should not surprise anyone when an individual accustomed to such an experience of self-worth and identity can not deal with the stress of something as trivial as loosing a video game… after all, that video game probably held the keys to his identity and worth.

Unplug. Go play football instead of a football video game. Cancel, or at least limit your Facebook, instagram, snapchat or whatever the next fad is.  Go have coffee or lunch with a real person.  Get out of your pajamas, take a shower, go into the real world and interact with a real person.  Take the chance of them liking you, or even not liking you — either way you will survive.  (Re)Learn how to take a punch from life and grow from the experience.  And please, look someone in the eye when you talk to them!

The Good Lord has created and blessed the experience of relationships with the ability to bear fruit.  Go connect face-to-face with a real person today!

How Do You Live Well Without Any Scars?

Yesterday another misguided and cowardice act took place, this time on the campus of the University of North Carolina.  “Silent Sam,” a statue of a confederate soldier that memorialized all UNC alumni who lost their lives in the Civil War fighting for their home states of the Confederacy, was toppled and desecrated by a mob of individuals that looked more like an uncoordinated mosh-pit at a 1991 Nirvana concert than moral protesters.  There is no way that the person kicking Silent Sam’s head ever played soccer or any sports for that matter — the whole thing was awkward.  $25,407 (in state) or $50,990 (out of state) per year to have the privilege of learning in such an environment.  No thanks.  Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, you could have found a better mosh-pit with music for a nominal cover charge.  Sadly, this immature display of entitlement and arrogance has become commonplace in our society.  I naively hold out hope that University administration and alumni will have a swift response.

I took my family to New Orleans this summer.  Beyond jazz and the local cuisine, I was excited to experience the new WW2 museum and the Confederate Museum.  Next to the modern and amazing WW2 Museum sits the Confederate Museum, which was a stunning old structure, complimented by a kind young man working the inside and a fairly decent collection on display.  It was important for me to see this museum, and to share it with my kids — important to me as an American and important as a Christian.

Slavery is the word.  Slavery has existed (and still exists) for millennia across multiple cultures and nations.  Slavery is wrong and immoral – there is no debating the issue.  The history of slavery in the United States of America is a scar on our Nation’s history.  The question is not whether or not we have the scar, the question is if we can live with the scar?

Revisionist history is tricky and immoral.  An experience within the movement is the attempt to erase select scars of the past.  The scar may hurt.  The sight of it may bring back haunting memories, however, I am more afraid of a life absent of scars — as a Nation and as an individual Christian.  Scars serve as reminders of how far we have come through healing, and the dangers of repeating bad behavior.  I have a scar on my side from a dog bite that happened when I was six or seven years old.  I can barely remember the attack, but that scar has reminded me many times to not approach dogs I do not know; furthermore, it has served as a tool in teaching my kids the same lesson.

We should not view our scars as Scarlet Letters invoking shame, we should recognize them as badges of honor for those who have healed! …as caution signs reminding us not to repeat transgressions!  Could you imagine how difficult it would be stay on the correct path if all warning signs from past wrong-turns were removed?  Could you imagine how difficult it would be to appreciate health if you had forgotten your sickness?

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States…

~from the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The United States of America’s diseased experience of slavery left a scar.  Reminders of that scar must been seen as badges of honor showing the experience of repentance and healing, and warning signs to never allow slavery to occur again.  I wanted to show my children the Confederate Museum in NOLA to teach them many lessons, including: our nation is willing to repent and heal.  If we remove statues, monuments and the such from our public areas, if we continue erasing chapters of history that we are uncomfortable with — what will remain to tell the story of our nation’s moral progress?  What will serve as the reminders warning us not to reembark upon past sins?  The politicians or those hiding out in ivory towers? …umm, no thanks. Their convictions seem to flip-flop (don’t we say ‘evolve’ now?) with the wind based upon the latest gust of special interest funding.

I don’t want to die without any scars. ~Tyler Durden

But seriously, if I live without any scars it means that I neither lived, or learned from my life.  I don’t want to live in such a place, and I certainly don’t want my children to be reared with their heads buried in the sand, doomed to fall into moral traps that could have been avoided.  I love the United States of America – scars and all!

Following His Resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ still had His scars… who are we to think that we shouldn’t?

 

Room For Us All

Upon entering an Orthodox Christian Church, one of the first experiences seen is the large icon of the Virgin Mary in the rear apse above the altar.  In this particular icon of the Virgin Mary, a young Jesus is seen in front of her and her arms are outstretched, as if she is waiting to give you a hug!

This always reminds us that the Mother of God loves us, and is always eager to embrace us with her beautiful maternal embrace… the same embrace with which she held Christ as a child, and when He was taken down from the Cross.

In the icon we see that there is a lot of room in her embrace… room for all of us! No matter who you are, or what you have done — the Holy Mother of God is waiting for you to feel her maternal love.

Come to Church and feel the love of a Christian community, feel the love of the Virgin Mary, and feel the Love of Jesus Christ!  There is room for you!

A Safe Place to Entrust Your Support

Tragedies take place. Our great nation responds with generosity and grace to those in need.  In response to tragedies, Americans offer phenomenal amounts of support, financially and beyond.  Statistics support this claim, as does my personal experience from living through Hurricane Harvey.

A greater tragedy is born when that support is taken advantage of by charlatan organizations that prey on American good-will and absorb donations for their own benefit.  Statistics indicate, and personal experience illumines a reality that many large scale, well-known, self-proclaimed charity organization maintain overhead costs over 40%, 50% and 60%! Where are our dollars going?

There is a sage place to entrust your support!

International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC)

IOCC responds to human need, including tragedies across the globe.  With over 25 years of history, IOCC has maintained overhead costs at a level less than 10%. Furthermore, IOCC engages both public and private grants to address human need — to the point that every dollar offered by an individual (you and me) translates to over $10 of aid.  IOCC is a tremendous non-profit that transcends the experience of charity organization into a beautiful experience of Christian ministry!

I value the experience of IOCC to the extent that I send monetary donations to them, and I offered 9 years of service to IOCC as an executive board member from 2008-2017.  I do not promote IOCC because I was a board member and I am a supporter… I promote IOCC, I served as a board member and I give money because I trust IOCC and believe in what it does!

In response to the fires in California, in response to the fires in Greece, in response to human need — you can entrust your support to the IOCC!

Opportunity & Hope

Hope is the fuel of Christian pilgrimage.  We should all be focused on hope…

Liberty assumes and finds breath in the experience of hope rooted in opportunity.  Simply stated, where there is opportunity, hope is fueled and people excel!

Our great nation is the product of individuals’ innate and powerful yearning for hope — so desired and valued that they fought, struggled and bled in order to secure the experience of opportunity for future generation so that they too may hope.  As a result, the dynamism and impact of the United States of America!

The past several generations, generations like mine that have never truly experienced need, yet are fully immersed in desire, have been impacted by a challenging ideal — that our society is expected to provide results to individuals, rather than an opportunity to achieve those results.  Blatantly articulated by former President Obama, who while speaking recently in South Africa introduced the idea of universal income, where the government provides income to individuals even though they have not worked for it.  A guaranteed result, rather than a guaranteed opportunity.  Providing opportunity was the bedrock securing liberty in America, how can we skip the stage of opportunity?

I fear that voiding the experience of opportunity and moving ahead to guaranteed results has and will continue to instigate a dormancy of stewardship amongst citizenry.  How could the words of Khalil Gibran (made famous by President Kennedy) be appreciated or honored: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”  

Without engaging opportunity at a foundational level, it would be exceedingly difficult to truly invest in hope.  Without struggle, there is no victory.  Without the Cross there is no Resurrection.  Absent this lineage of thought, it is easy to understand my generation’s (and those immediately before & all those after) confusion with needs and desires.  How it is possible for a teen to throw a temper tantrum because they do not have the latest iPhone, how a recent college grad assumes they have been discriminated against because they were not provided a corner office after the first month on the job, and how the nanny-state has grown in a country founded on the idea of liberty.

But…  we can find examples that go against this trend.  I was so pleased to have read a recent article about a young man who walked 20 miles to his first day of work because his car broke down and he did not want to miss his first day!  He valued the opportunity of employment to such an extent that nothing would hold him back — truly an American experience!

Side Note: the article articulates that in the wee hours of the mornings, local police saw the young man walking, picked him up, bought him breakfast and gave him a ride.  Support our men & women in BLUE, they support us!

Bravo to this young man!  He engaged the opportunity to work, did it with great honor, and the results came.  To the point that his boss actually gifted him his own car!

Even indirectly, when opportunity is valued prior to the expectation of results — hope abides.  The proof: thanks to this young man, I grow in my hope for this great nation, which I am blessed to call home.

Will the Saints Get Involved in Politics?

The world has been focused on the summit between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Depending upon which media source one trusts — many people are polarized as to their support and expectations of this meeting.  I say that most people’s thoughts are fueled by the media source that they trust, because most people are unaware of how to build their own thoughts and opinions anymore.  We living in an age and society where information is the most easily accessible that it has ever been, so accessible that knowledge is rarely earned anymore.  In the pursuit of knowledge we have become apathetic.  We have become content with opinions and conviction based upon a few minutes of google searching and the voice of a likable opinion commentator.  Don’t believe me?  Go talk to a protester on the street, protesting any topic, and ask a substantive question about their grievance… you will believe me afterward.  It is a sad irony. Endless information is within reach, and we shun it, choosing rather to favor someone else’s internet assembled thesis.  Plato, the Apostle Paul, and Thomas Jefferson are all shaking their heads.

Might I suggest another source?

I am a firm believer that knowledge to be applied is knowledge that must be earned.  I encourage everyone to read a book a week (at least per month) from diverse disciplines and begin arming yourselves with earned knowledge to engage the world!  But, there is another way to engage that has great impact…

Prayer. Let’s even ask the saints to get involved.

Rooted in Scripture (John 2:1-12) and countless experiences from history, Christians affirm that God responds when one intercedes for another.  When the one interceding is a saint — a holy person by virtue of their union with God — He truly responds.

July 15th was the feast day of both Saint Donald and Saint Vladimir. The patron saints of those named Donald and Vladimir… making any connections here?  I am certain that President Trump draws upon his personal history as a negotiator and businessman, together with briefings from multiple experts in preparation for these meetings.  I am certain that President Putin draws upon his training as a KGB agent, political history and advice from advisors in preparation for these meetings.  I do not know if either of them rely upon prayer, or ask the saints for guidance and help.  What I do know is that we all have the ability to pray and to ask the saints to get involved.

Yesterday, I asked Saints Donald and Vladimir to somehow get involved in these meetings, so that some kind of productive benefit may come from the meeting of these world leaders — in a way that benefits God’s people.  It does not need to be on my terms, or even in a way that I can discern; I simply asked that they pray to God that His people may somehow benefit from this summit.

In every Divine Liturgy, we ask the Lord to guide our civic leaders, so that through their good works we may lead peaceful and serene lives.  I believe that we need all the help we can get, and in addition to the prayers of the Divine Liturgy, I will keep asking the saints to get involved as well!

Will the saints get involved in politics?  That depends… will you ask them to?