Springtime is here, the fast is nearing its end, and Orthodox Christians look forward with joyful anticipation to the Resurrection. Pascha presents those who have participated in the liturgical life of Great Lent, observed the spiritual disciplines of the Church, and confessed to their spiritual father with a concrete opportunity to re-experience the new life in Christ, deepen their faith, and to recommit themselves to the relationship that was established on the day of their baptism.
For the faithful of the Metropolis of San Francisco, Resurrection, renewal, and reawakening are not theoretical terms, for, as the most recent Clergy-Laity Assembly revealed, the western seven States of the Archdiocese are living through an era of rebirth, resurgence, and renaissance. The conference employed formal and informal presentations from His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos, lectures from church growth and leadership expert Father Evan Armatas, and small group discussions to build and expand upon the Conference theme “Reclaiming the Great Commission.”
Jesus’ command to the Apostles to “make disciples of all nations” defined the mindset of those who participated in Clergy-Laity. Parish and Metropolis leaders recommitted themselves to making parishes healthier and focusing their attention on strengthening and developing ministries. Clergy and laity left the Ranch with an optimistic urgency that the best days of the Metropolis of San Francisco lie in the future.
Just as most Orthodox Christians begin Great Lent already oriented toward the Kingdom, only to arrive at Pascha with a more focused understanding of what it means to follow the Lord and deeper relationship with Him, the Metropolis of San Francisco is not beginning the journey toward “Reclaiming the Great Commission” from a standstill. The Philoptochos has a long tradition of putting love into action. Summer Camp, Young adult and GOYA retreats, FDF, and the Greek Village set the standard for Youth and Young adult ministries. The Family Wellness ministry helps to ensure that our parishes will be incubators of spiritual and emotional health. Recently instituted Clergy Koinonia Groups have become a catalyst for the Metropolis priests to grow closer to one another and Christ. The Missions and Evangelism Ministry (formerly COME) has been the leading edge of church planting and parish revitalization on the West Coast for over a generation.
From the above it is obvious that the Metropolis’s journey toward “Reclaiming the Great Commission,” does not require an institutional overhaul—far from it! Rather, fulfilling this lofty and life-saving vocation depends on an interior change of every member of the Body of Christ. Holiness must become a way of life, so that persons and parishes can bring a light to the world which is both comforting and attractive. Abundant generosity of time, talents, and treasures will fuel the engine of evangelism by providing resources of manpower and money upon which Church growth and renewal depend. Even though it might take some out of their comfort zone, the reality that the Church does not exist only for those “born or married Orthodox” must be seized upon and proclaimed clearly, confidently, and courageously.
April 28, the faithful will gather to proclaim: Christos Anesti!” In many ways, the Metropolis of San Francisco celebrates two Paschas in 2019--the literal Resurrection of the Lord on the Feasts of Feasts, and the metaphorical Anastasisthat was proclaimed during March’s Clergy-Laity Assembly: Reclaiming the Great Commission!
- Rev. Father Aris Metrakos, Proistamenos
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church - San Francisco, CA
“Let us flee the vainglory of the Pharisee, learning instead the true humility of the Publican, so that we may ascend to God and cry to Him: forgive us, Your sinful servants, O Christ our savior: you were born of the virgin and willingly endured the cross for us, raising the dead by Your power as God!”
–From the Triodion for Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee-
I recently discussed the following quote from C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity with a group of high school students, “Wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong… Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.”
The resulting conversation was spirited as they wrestled with this idea. What became apparent was their concept of good and evil was pretty black and white – some people are inherently good and others inherently evil. However, this is not the Orthodox view of the world. God did not create evil people, instead he created each of us in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). So how then is there so much evil in the world?
In Lenten Spring Father Thomas Hopko explains, “[…] By rebelling against God ourselves. We listen to the serpent, the spirit of evil, instead of God. We do things in our own way. And we experience evil for ourselves, by our own volition, and bring corruption to our total being: mind, soul heart, and body. To the extent that this wickedness is in us, we pass it on to those who come after us, and they too become infected by evil from their very conception.”
We experience evil voluntarily as we rebel against God’s will and make our own will the authority. And one of the greatest temptations is to justify our actions, to say to ourselves, “What I am doing is good.” However, none of us has any authority to make that call, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is where we go wrong. This is how goodness becomes spoiled. As we continue down this path of separating ourselves from God through sin, we infect and are infected by those around us. The bottom line is that even if we were able to follow the law to perfection we would still be lost because without Christ we are subject to the death and corruption of this world.
So it is no mistake the pre-Lenten period begins with the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. As he prayed “I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (Luke 18:11), the Pharisee’s mistake was believing that he had no sin, that he was immune to the corruption of this world. Unable to recognize his own sin he continued to wallow in it and become infected by it. The Publican’s posture is a recognition of the wickedness in the world and our complete separation from God. In complete humility he beats his breast and cries, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)
It is unsettling to think that even our most pure thoughts and desires, left to our own devices, can become corrupted and wicked. The Church tries to awaken us to this fact, not that we may despair, but that we may thirst and hunger for communion with the only One who is good, Jesus Christ. When we abide in His goodness, we are filled with His gifts and able to share them with those around us.
- By Rev. Father Daniel Triant, Assistant Priest
Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church - Seattle, WA
From the Monthly Meditations published by the Metropolis of San Francisco
If you are anything like me, your home is filled with icons of saints and photographs of loved ones. These icons and photographs greet me when I visit your homes as a priest.
I have seen different saints from various epochs that share walls and shelves with photographs of people – family members, relative, koumbari, and friends – who mean a lot to the family living in this home. I try to imagine the stories these icons and photographs hold. The stories they tell us every day. They represent unforgettable memories and important milestones for those who keep and preserve them in their homes. These are the faces of people with whom we want to share our space, our time, and our world.
There is undoubtedly a link between icons and photographs. Both these representations, either painted by hand or taken with a camera, belong to the same genre – a genre centered on the portrait of one or more persons. Yet the story, it seems to me, always goes beyond the representation of a person’s individual features on a piece of wood or paper. It is not mainly for decorative reasons that we keep icons and photographs in our homes; they also remind us of an experience of closeness, of love and warmth given to us by the people in both icons and photographs. These feelings embrace our whole body and soul when we look at them. This is because there is a personal relationship between us and our beloved saints and relatives or friends.
When I encounter icons and photographs in homes, I like to ask their owners about them. The answers I receive are not simply a name or a place or an event, but always a story – a story that begins in our hearts, a story that breaks the borders of time and space. The story moves, not only the person telling it, but me as a listener into a timeless realm where all memories become vivid and alive. These are the kind of stories that bring past and present together. Looking at these icons and photographs and hearing someone tell me about them, reveals how strong the connection is – love, closeness, a true relationship. Time and space no longer seem to be obstacles.
There are two different directions happening in these two, yet similar, modes of depiction. The first direction is from the portrait toward the icon, and the second is from the icon toward the portrait. The first direction truly destroys the idea of space and time and bridges the divide between the past and present. The story that follows this direction awakens memories and reveals relationships between the owner and those in the photograph. Yet those memories are followed by a sense of sadness and emptiness because those in the photograph may not be here with us as we look at their faces. Time and space keep us apart.
The direction from icon toward the portrait is different. It abolishes both sadness and emptiness since this direction comes from the future – from eschaton – from eternity – and comes into our present time to join future, present, and past. Through the image of a saint in an icon we feel joy, peace, and hope. Our relationship with the represented saint fulfills not only our common past but also our present, as this saint is our intercessor in front of God. Our memories are not only focused on the past, but, through our prayers in front of these icons, through reading of saints’ lives and contemplating their examples as faithful Christians, our present becomes tied with the future – with eternity.
But how about our loved ones whose photographs we keep in our homes? Direction from the icon toward the portrait brings the experience of joy and hope to us as we are all created for eternity. This is also true for the memories and legacies we keep alive with them.
Therefore, the next time I go to my own home or visit somebody else’s and see icons and photographs together, I will give thanks to the Lord and offer a prayer for all whose faces I see. I will ask for the intersession of a saint whose icon is in a home knowing that his or her life story proves that God so loves this world that he sent His own Son that everyone who believes in Him does not parish but obtain eternal life. (John 3:16)
By Rev. Father Milutin Janjic, Ph.D., Proistamenos
Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church - Santa Cruz, CA
“Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.”
1 Timothy 4:13-14
This was the opening scripture quote from the valedictorian of the Holy Cross Class of 2016, providing the context for a truly inspirational and challenging message. Notice the order Saint Paul lists for his spiritual son Timothy to follow. First, attend to reading, of course the reading of Scripture. Exhortation is second, and doctrine is last. Saint Paul is addressing those of us charged with the teaching ministry of the Church, pastors and lay people, so we need to make sure we have our priorities in order. As important as doctrine is, the only way to correctly and effectively apply doctrine is to know the Scriptures. We also need to know the Scriptures in order to exhort others.
The reason this message resounded with me then and to this day is because it reminds me of my personal shortcoming when it comes to the reading of Scripture. Looking back over 32 years of parish ministry, I believe I’ve preached (exhorted) proper doctrine, but I’ve neglected “the gift that is in” me by not giving Scripture its proper priority in my personal devotions. Some may think, “no big deal,” as long as you stay true to Orthodox Christian doctrine. But therein lies the crux of the matter. What good is preaching correct doctrine to others, even the whole world, unless we are personally grounded in the Word of God? The priority of reading Scripture is central to our continuing formation in Christ: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
As much as I want to believe my heart is in the right place, the fact remains that God’s word is the ultimate barometer for measuring my growth as a Christian, let alone a Priest. Indeed the “word of God is living and powerful,” but its impact is for naught if we don’t follow the lead of Saint Augustine: “At the high point of his spiritual crisis, wrestling with himself alone in the garden, St. Augustine heard a child’s voice crying out, ‘Take up and read, take up and read.’ He took up his bible and read; and what he read altered his entire life. Let us do the same: Take up and read.” (How To Read the Bible, by Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, p. 1766, The Orthodox Study Bible)
May we endeavor to read the Scriptures more earnestly and grow closer to the very heart (Logos) of the Bible, Jesus Christ our Lord.
~ Rev. Father James Retelas, Proistamenos
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
Now that summer is well under way, most of us are pondering ways to cool off and rest up from the stresses of life. In order to have the best summer recreation experience possible, it’s important to be careful of things that could detract from it. Sometimes, in the midst of our vacation rest, it’s tempting to let our spiritual life cool down. It’s all too easy to imagine that taking a vacation should also include a requisite getaway from Church and from our relationship with God. Phew! Can you imagine if God took such a respite from His offering of love toward us? We need to be re-energized. So how do we get the spark of divine life that we so urgently need this summer?
“A brother once said to Abba Pœmen, ‘Give me a word,’ and he said to him, ‘As long as the pot is on the fire, no fly, nor any other animal can get near it, but as soon as it is cold, these creatures get inside. So it is for the [Christian]. As long as he lives in spiritual activities, the enemy cannot find a means of overthrowing him.’”
Anybody who’s ever worked around the restaurant business knows that keeping food at the correct temperature before it’s served is essential for the safety of its patrons. The health department has very strict guidelines for food temperatures because, if there’s not enough attentiveness, there’s a great danger that the “little creatures” we now know as harmful bacteria can enter that food, making us ill. As Abba Pœmen suggests, this is no less true for the spiritual life. If our spiritual lives are allowed to cool off, then our enemy, the demons, enter. Thus, they overthrow our lives with illness for their ultimate goal of our destruction.
This is where it’s important to realize that, although attending the Divine Liturgy weekly and participating regularly in the sacramental life of the Church is vitally important to us this summer, it’s certainly not the extent of keeping our spiritual vessel over that fire. God has something much healthier in mind for us.
In his letter to the Christians in Colossae, Saint Paul tells them and us, “Whatever you do, whether you’re speaking to someone, or merely performing some task, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). Saint John Chrysostom says that this also means, “…asking Him to help you…in everything, praying that God would take hold of your activity for His sake. Are you speaking to others? Then pray about this beforehand. Even if you’re merely eating or drinking…give thanks to God beforehand. Do you offer your opinions in dialogue on matters of the day? Then invite the name of Christ into it. Do all in the name of the Lord and it will be to your benefit and the benefit of others.” He goes on to say that, “…there will be nothing polluted, nothing unclean, whenever Christ is called upon. If you eat, if you drink, if you get married, if you travel, do all in the name of God…calling Him to help you: in everything. First pray, then conduct your activity.” Saint John Chrysostom is essentially telling us how to keep the pot over the fire, so that nothing harmful can get in.
So, it’s important to remind ourselves that giving someone a smile and a friendly conversation while we’re waiting in a frustratingly long line at Disneyworld. Offering encouragement to someone who looks like they’re having a rough day. Cleaning up after a messy baby. Cooking a meal for someone, or even refereeing arguments among our kids. When we elevate them all to a prayerful participation with Christ’s ministry to the world, they each become ways in which we’re able to invite the spark of God’s grace—to keep the pot over the fire. If we choose to prayerfully elevate those activities in Him, they each become marvelous opportunities to be energized by Him. This is the liturgy after the liturgy, where we invite our Lord’s Divine Presence…and we choose to offer our real-life in service to Him. It’s lighting a spark in each human heart that our Lord has put in our presence.
Through this God will begin transforming our life in meaningful, impactful, lovingly fruitful ways. As we begin to look for Jesus in the eyes of every person, we engage and we offer them tangible love as though we were offering to Jesus Christ Himself, we become transformed in Him. As far as recreation goes, this continued approach is its very definition—because it re-creates us each time we participate with God in it.
So, for the person on vacation—when we intentionally invite God’s presence, trusting that He will faithfully enter in His divine grace, helping us to become an offering of love—the Lord receives it as sweet incense. Keeping it all over that fire, God will re-energize us with true re-creation.
Rev. Father Gabriel-Allan Boyd, Proistamenos
Saint Basil Greek Orthodox Church
San Jose, California
“Thank you for your patience; we will be with you as soon as possible”. We hear this countless times when we are trying to call a business or talk to someone in customer service. We have become accustomed to expect results immediately! With smartphones in hand, we are constantly seeking instant communication, instant answers and instant gratification. Time is precious, but unfortunately we have become a society that is not at peace with waiting. When we obtain peace in our mind, we learn to practice patience, and when we learn to be patient then we are at peace.
We misuse time when it comes to our faith as well, and expect immediate results on our terms. God wants us to ask Him for what we want but at the same time we must be patient and wait for His time and His will to be done. Prayer is a means of transforming us to allow God to be in control of our lives, which reflects spiritual growth and maturity.
Just as child is not born the day after conception, not all prayers are answered the next day either. The nine months that a child is in the womb gives the mother and father time to adjust, transform and prepare for this new chapter in their lives. Those nine months are transformative through both its challenges and joys.
Even God waited to become flesh and become man and grow as a child. He waited to be crucified not so that our sins are forgiven, as Saint Isaac the Syrian wrote, but to show us how much He loves us. He waited and became incarnate for humanity and its salvation by making the ultimate sacrifice for us – giving Himself up on the Cross.
We all encounter people who frustrate us, but it is important to remember that God is patient. You are His child and so is the person you might strongly dislike. Jesus was patient with His disciples for three years! He was patient with Judas, giving him many opportunities to change his ways. We cannot change others; we only hope to inspire them by our actions as Christ did. We must not expect others to change for they will create their own consequences. We must be patient for our anger to transform into compassion, and for our hate to transform into love.
It took Moses 40 years to lead the people of Israel out of slavery and out of the desert. His patience was tested by the people he was trying to help. It took the Greeks over 400 years to be freed from the Ottoman Occupation. History gives us many examples where patience brought forth positive results and progress. Being patient should not be interchanged with being careless or procrastinating. Faith and works are important ingredients. Having patience is having the wisdom to know what we can and cannot control.
The Saints in the church endured and prayed for patience. Saint Nectarios was cast out of Egypt out of envy and rumors. Time revealed the truth. Time healed his heart and dried his tears. Time transformed the Saint and those around him. This why we look to the Saints for inspiration, for guidance, for patience. While we pray to the Saints to intercede for us, ultimately we pray to Christ. We are not to fear Him with terror, but to approach Him with a grateful heart, with awe and love. He wants us to come to Him. When we look to the Saints to pray for us, we are looking at people who have also endured struggles just like us, but because their lives centered on Christ, they can inspire us and fortify us in our faith.
Having patience is a challenge for all of us. Waiting is frustrating. Not knowing results can be agonizing. We must pray for peace and patience to endure what we are confronted with, and in time, we will be transformed. God has led us this far and He will continue to lead us on our journey through life and on the road to salvation with patience and faith.
~ Rev. Father Christos Kanakis, Proistamenos
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church
Long Beach, California
We all know that we are called to love one another with all of our minds, souls, bodies and hearts (cf. Luke 10:27). We also know that when we are in relationships love is the binding force that brings us closer and closer together.
In Christ, we find that this love takes on a new character, and a new effect. Saint Maximos the Confessor explains these two aspects in this way: “The Lord says, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you” (Saint Maximos the Confessor, 400 chapters on love, Chapter 61 of 400).
This simple exhortation from Saint Maximos is so striking because it cuts to the core of spiritual difficulties, the most daunting being loving those whom we hate, or who are our enemies, or those who persecute us. It is when we purposefully turn our love towards the most difficult people or situations that a whole new level of growth happens in our spiritual lives. The effect of this type of love is “so that he might [be] free…from hate, sadness, anger, and grudges.” (Ibid)
A perfect love, a love that extends to those whom we have the most difficult time relating to, is a love that leads to freedom. When faced with difficult relationships, we are called by Christ to turn to love, through doing good and praying for those who we may be in adversity to.
Interestingly, when love is approached this way, by extending it to those who bother us, we gain the “greatest possession of all, perfect love” (Ibid). To possess a perfect love would be the greatest possession of our lives. To be able to extend love through good deeds and prayer to those with whom we are in confrontation would be the greatest display of Christ-like love. It would be akin to what Christ did on the Cross, extending His hands to take on the sins of the world.
As we face difficulties, trials, and tribulations, we have love in our corner. A love that is beyond describing. A perfect love that faces the tumult of this world and embraces it with perfect self-denial…rather, an other-accepting. Through accepting the other, embracing the other, we find ourselves in true freedom. A freedom full of love, where no evil or negativity can penetrate. A realization of heaven, of the embrace of God, the bosom of Abraham.
May He who loved His enemies so much so as to give up His Body for their salvation, Christ our True God, enlighten our hearts and minds to show love to all of those that we encounter, and thereby find the purest of loves, and the purest of freedoms from the travails of life. Glory to Your Forbearance O Lord! Glory to You!
~ Rev. Father Nebojsa Pantic, Proistamenos
Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church - Vallejo, California
You can check out the Metropolis Monthly Meditations HERE
In the 1965 classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown picks a small, weak and flimsy-looking Christmas tree for the Christmas play he and his friends are putting together. When he goes to put an ornament on it, the tree falls. Charlie Brown is devastated. However, his friend Linus says the following: “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all really—maybe it just needs a little love.” At that point, Charlie Brown’s friends rush to help decorate that vulnerable tree and it is transformed and becomes beautiful, strong and bright.
I believe the aforementioned scene captures an essential theme of the great Feast Day of Christmas: weak, broken humanity is refashioned and made spiritually beautiful, strong and bright through the abundant love of God, by God becoming a human being, a reality that Orthodox Christians refer to as the Incarnation.
Charlie Brown did not reject this little, weak tree when he first saw it. God also, did not reject His weak, broken and sinful creation. Instead, the eternal Logos came down from heaven to dwell among us and when He did, He did not shun us. Many “righteous” people in the Gospels looked at spiritually weak, sinful and broken people such as the man born blind, the harlot, the tax collector, and the woman caught in adultery and wanted nothing to do with them. Our Lord, on the other hand, showed mercy, compassion and love to these individuals, establishing the fertile soil for their spiritual rebirth.
I believe many people are spiritually broken and weak because they do not have the love of God in their lives. What does it mean to be spiritually broken and weak? It can mean to be confused, lost, empty, selfish or in despair. To be spiritually beautiful, strong and bright means to be full of genuine hope, peace, joy and love.
All people need the love of God to be to be spiritually beautiful, strong and bright. The love of God is found in the Church. And who is the Church? We are – both clergy and laity! Every baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christian constitute together the Church of Christ. Just like that little tree was transformed through the love of Charlie Brown’s friends, we too, as the Church, transform the spiritually broken and weak we encounter by giving them the love of Christ.
We, as the Church, give the love of Christ by not giving up on people because of their spiritual weakness and brokenness. We, as the Church, must see in others what others may not see in themselves: their goodness, value, worth and that they are lovable. We, as the Church, give the love of Christ by treating all people with kindness, respect, care, concern, mercy, and compassion.
The tragedy is that it is possible that this love of Christ may not be experienced in a parish. We must make sure that we do our part so that anyone who attends our services, ministries and functions, can tell others that they are loved, welcomed, cherished and embraced.
Above all, I hope we ourselves--spiritually broken and weak though we might be--have experienced transformation; being made spiritually beautiful, strong and bright through the love of God found in the Church. It is this love of Christ, and only this love, that can fulfill us and restore us.
May you and your loved ones experience the transformative love of Christ in His Church this Christmas, now and always.
Rev. Father Panagiotis Sotiras, Proistamenos Saint Basil Greek Orthodox Church - Stockton, California
Beloved in the Lord,
There are only three things we can do with our money; spend it, invest it, or give it. Of the three, the
last is the most misunderstood.
First, most people believe that they are owners of their money. But the truth is that, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”. In other words, God is the owner and we are simply asset manag- ers a.k.a. stewards. This is what the word “Stewardship” means. It is not a Christian term really. It comes from an Old English term for “one who manages another’s financial affairs”. The steward of the castle didn’t own any of it, but was responsible for all of it, because the Lord of the house en- trusted it to him.
The second misunderstanding is that God doesn’t care about our giving. The truth is that the Bible talks about money more often than about love and grace. The Bible tells us about giving because giving makes us more Christ-like. A spiritually mature Christian gives. Giving helps us become less selfish and less selfish people tend to prosper in relationships and wealth. Because we are made in God’s image, and God is a giver, we are happiest and most fulfilled when serving and giving.
A third misunderstanding is that to have more we have to hold on more tightly and so we make a fist around our money. But there’s a problem with that. Yes it’s true, with a clenched fist we can hold on to our money, but at the same time, a clenched fist can’t receive any more money. When no money is flowing out (giving), no money can flow in.
The final misunderstanding is the meaning of the word “tithe”. The word “tithe” isn’t a spiritual word either. It’s simply a math term meaning a tenth. The instruction to give a tenth of your income is biblical dating all the way back to Genesis where Abram felt God’s call to give the priest Mel- chizedek a tenth of everything he had. There are many examples of tithing in both the Old and New Testaments. The tithe was given as the “first fruits’ meaning right off the top, not whatever is left over. And the tithe is a tenth of everything, not just one thing.
Today the average Christian gives less than 3% of their money to the church. Only about 3% of Christians today tithe. Saddest of all, that means that only a few will be changed, only a few will be- come less selfish, only a few will mature spiritually, and only a few will become Christ-like.
We ask you to prayerfully consider giving a tithe of your time, talent and treasure to the work of the Church as a cheerful giver and a member of the Body of Christ. I am excited to see what God will provide us with in return for our faithfulness!
~ Fr. Jerry, the AGAPE, (the newsletter of St George, Eugene) November, 2017
“Happiness depends upon ourselves.”
“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
How would you define happiness? Everyone has an opinion: the famous and the infamous, the wealthy and the destitute, ancient philosophers and contemporary self-help gurus. It is a subject that touches every man, woman and child the world over.
The founding fathers of our nation list the “pursuit of happiness” as one of the “inalienable” rights in the Declaration of Independence. Helen Keller offers a thoughtful reflection: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us,” and others like Oscar Wilde use a bit of sarcasm: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”
There is a wide variety of things that bring joy and happiness, and can put a smile on a person’s face: a dazzling sunset, the laughter from children playing, humor that is in good taste, ice cream that tastes good, and even enjoying the happiness of others. But a smile can quickly fade; the enjoyable moment comes and goes. There is a difference between things that makes us feel happy for a while and finding something that offers true, long-lasting joy.
For Christians, there should be no confusion between the two: many simple things in life can bring us temporary joy and happiness; true happiness, however, comes from a loving relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ that continues to deepen throughout life.
While there is no need to belittle the former (be thankful for every moment that brings happiness, if even for a little while), too many of us neglect the source of all goodness and joy in the world: our loving Savior, Helper, and Redeemer. He knows our needs and our desires, our weaknesses and strengths, our passions and our problems.
As we read from the Epistle to the Hebrews (4:14-16), “let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
It takes that confidence in Christ, as well as faith and persistence, to progress from learning about Jesus, to learning from Him; from reading His words in the Bible, to applying them to our lives; from seeing Jesus as a historical figure, to loving and following Him as Lord and Savior of our lives.
From the moment of our baptism, when we receive the Holy Spirit and have become part of the very Body of Christ (the Church), we have within us the divine resources to pursue that loving relationship with Christ, so important to finding true happiness.
By becoming aware of our identity as servants of God, blessed with gifts of the Holy Spirit, we begin to see a divine purpose of life. Our gifts and talents from God are given to us, but they are not for us: they are rightly used for the benefit of others, which glorifies God, and also fills us with joy.
Our good and loving God gives us the means to live a happy, joyous and fulfilling life; but the foundation of that life comes from loving, following and serving Christ, the source of all good things, and true happiness.
~ Rev. Fr. Michael Pallad,
Saint Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church - Peoria, AZ