Forgive sins


We are approaching the 6th Sunday after Pentecost and the gospel we read is a continuation from the 5th Sunday. Namely, after Jesus had driven the demons out of the Gergesene demoniacs He was kindly asked to leave. So He “got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His city…” (Matt. 9:1). In fact, that verse is read both last Sunday and this coming Sunday. Last Sunday the gospel reading ended there and this coming Sunday that’s where the reading begins. Another healing is heard at the beginning of this chapter, this time in Capernaum and at the end of this gospel episode we hear a similar thing as last Sunday: “And he arose and departed to his house…” (Matt. 9:7). Unlike in the region of the Gergesene in Capernaum His healing was praised, except from the Pharisees. Another aspect is different: the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus says, “But that you might know that the Son of God has power on earth to forgive sins…” and then He forgives the sins of the paralytic. The Lord gives this same power to His Disciples, that is, He gives it to His Church. This is a very important thing to remember. We’re not going to face Jesus at the Judgement Seat in the afterlife so that we can prove to Him what good people we were so that He might forgive us our sins. In fact, we don’t have to prove to anyone we’re good at all. Good people don’t go to heaven, Saints do, was a saying a priest friend liked to repeat.

The point is this: forgiveness of sins happens on earth and not in heaven. Subsequently, while we are in this world we are to repent. Always. We say in our morning prayers, “Suddenly the Judge shall come, and the deeds of each shall be revealed: but with fear we cry out in the middle of the night: Holy, holy, holy art thou, O God. Through the Theotokos have mercy on us”.

It is a human tendency and weakness to put things off. It’s laziness. Like everything else, however, we tend to rationalize it and so we fall in the temptation of putting off the remission of our sins. It’s something between us and God and God will surely do as soon as He sees us face to face in the afterlife.

What we ignore is that God has revealed Himself to us and promised us “Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). This is what we refer to in Orthodoxy as the sacramental life. This is our salvation.

Why so much fear?

FullSizeRender.jpgSt. Justin Popovic says in a homily for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost – which will be   this coming Sunday, “You’re a Christian but be careful that you are not a heathen according to your worries….”. For in that Sunday’s gospel we hear the Lord’s words: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on it. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?…For after all these things the Gentiles seek..” (Matt. 6:25,32).

Even when things are going good we worry that something bad is going to happen. There’s a story about how death was on it’s way to a city and a man it on it’s way there. Death told the man that it’s on its way to the city to take the lives of 100 people. The man was horrified and rushed to the city to inform the people. That evening the man met death again asked, You said you’d only take 100 lives, why did 1,000 die? Death replied, I kept my word. I only took 1oo. Worry took the rest.

Concern is not the same as worry. For that matter neither is to act responsibly. But often times those who act responsibly and want to take responsibility worry about everything. This worrying turns into fear which eventually cause us to lose all hope and, in the end, we lose our faith in God.

The opposite of not  worrying is to have peace. It’s worth nothing that the Divine Liturgy begins with this very prayer for peace: In peace let us pray to the Lord. But peace doesn’t necessarily mean that we all get along and we’re friendly with another. On the contrary, I’m praying for peace for myself so that in the midst of everything I have peace: I’m positive, I have healthy outlook on life, etc. If we spend all our time praying that peace finally come to the world that’s exactly what’s going to happen – we’re going to spend all our time – our whole life – praying for that. It’s not going to happen, there will always be things we need to take responsibility for and be concerned about, things that will make it difficult for us to be at peace. But peace doesn’t come from outside but from within.

In Psalm 23 David writes, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me….”. Ironically, many people don’t pray to the Lord “in peace” but when they’re in trouble, when they’re sick, when something bad has either happened to them or someone they love. How can such a person pray? How can such a person fear no evil when it’s not “in peace” that they are praying but in fear?

Christ doesn’t tell us not to worry because all we need to do is believe in Him and he’ll take care of our finances, our employment and everything else. He’s telling us something else, He’s saying: I am with you! Through our worries, however, we’re telling Him: Yeah, but I’m not with you.

The Spirit of Jesus


We’ve been reading through the Acts of the Apostles Tuesday nights. Quite appropriately as we began the Apostle’s Fast Monday. We read chapter 10-20 last night with little commentary from time to time. One particular place we stopped, however, I found a bit ironic.

Chapter 16:7: “After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them”.  We continued a few verses more when someone interrupted and asked the obvious, “Why didn’t the Spirit let them go?”

I quoted the simple answer given by the Orthodox Study Bible which noted that the Apostles did not question the direction of the Holy Spirit since “God does not always give reasons for His instruction”. This led to some discussion and it was suggested that perhaps the people of Bythynia were not worthy of the Apostles’ preaching, which is obviously not right. So what is the reason?

It seems to be the first time that the Holy Spirit stopped the Apostles from preaching. Indeed, it was the descent of the Holy Spirit which was the very driving force for the Apostle’s preaching and now all of the sudden we read it did “not permit them” to go somewhere. Whatever the case it’s the first time the Holy Spirit is described as determining the course of the Apostles.

Perhaps another interesting thing to note here is that in most newer translations of the Bible “Jesus” is added so that it’s not the Spirit but the “Spirit of Jesus” that did not permit them. I will not comment further other than to say in the Serbian translation it simply says “Spirit”.

But why I said ironic at the start of this post is that it seems to be a part of our nature not just to ask why but to want to know the reason. While we got an answer which was that sometime God doesn’t give answers the follow up was, Why? To which the answer is simply: Because. Would there be any value to our faith if God gave us the answer to all of our “becauses”?

How many times do we want to do something in life and the Spirit doesn’t permit us but we do it anyway. Why? Why not, is the reply. The Holy Spirit guided the Apostles, it guides the Church and it guides us as well. Why? Because God desires that we all be saved.

Fasting in the Orthodox Church

Bishop Maxim shared with me a blog entitled “Notes From the Council” [here]which, unfortunately, (for the purpose of me sharing the posts here) is mainly in Serbian. It is authored by His Grace (from what I gather). I wish more was in English but the following is a post I can share here regarding fasting:

The way we fast nowadays (when we only eat certain types of food and avoid others) has annulled all other kinds of fasting, which are found in the tradition of fasting and which demonstrate the creative nature of Christian fasting (for example, in our tradition we find: 1. complete abstinence from eating, 2. fasting until mid-afternoon, 3. eating less in order to save money for charity, or 4. abstaining not from food, but from favorite activities, etc.). What mattered was the reason for fasting, not the duration, which was directly dependent on that reason. Also, the real meaning of fasting lied not in the type of food, but on abstinence. But unfortunately, very often, delicious and luxurious dishes are welcomed by our Church as fasting food, provided they do not contain prohibited ingredients. In that way the Church enables rich Christians to be good Christians, who can fast for months using different types of very expensive food; while poor Christians become bad Christians because sometimes they take some cheese or eggs, if they cannot afford to eat Lenten foods for more than six months every year, or only two or three types of food that they can afford.

Another quandary for our Church’s actual understanding of fasting are vegetarians and vegans. What shall the Church do with vast number of vegetarians and vegans who do not eat meat anyway? According to Church rules concerning fasting, such people already fast all the time. So, our current understanding of fasting deprives them of the possibility to be, from time to time, engaged in the common enterprise of the Church, because the Church already sees them as fasting from particular foods all the time.

Also, fasting as we now understand it, with the fasting periods on which the Church insists (which is more than half a year),on the one hand, is not really possible for many categories of Christians (for example: the old and the sick), who, on the other hand, being Christians, want to fulfill the commandments of their Church. As such we create an inner conflict in these people without reason.

Furthermore, our Typikon is not in accordance with our fasting regulations. Let me take only one example: the Feast of Transfiguration of the Savior (6 August). One important aspect of the meaning of this feast is that it represents a sign of the final resurrection of all. But the way we practice fasting on that day (only fish is allowed, but not meat, cheese or eggs) contradicts not only the meaning of the feast, but also the principle that the feasts of Christ cannot be “subordinated” to other feasts. As you know, it was the Byzantine emperor Leo VI the Wise (886–912) who abolished the festal character of the Transfiguration feast, banned meat, which was formerly allowed on this feast, and joined its five fasting days with the Dormition Fast. Yet we know that even after one century some continued to celebrate the Transfiguration properly, as a non-fasting day. Why wouldn’t we do this today?

Moreover, it is of special importance that, as late as in the 12th century, the Byzantine canonist Theodor Balsamon insisted that only the fasts of Wednesday, Friday, and the Great Lent were the obligatory ones, established by the Holy Canons, whereas all the others were not obligatory. Therefore, the history of our Church shows that multiplying and extending the fasting periods has never been a unanimous and unquestionable practice. Long fasting equally as “long prayers” are not necessarily a token of piety; they may well be reason enough for condemnation (suffice it to compare Christ’s words in the Gospel of Mark 12:40; and Luke 20:47).

Thank you for your attention.

Holy Council Discusses Diaspora

During Tuesday’s Press Conference, the spokesman from the Patriarchate of Alexandria commented, when a question was posed about the discussions taking place regarding the diaspora:

“…the churches are faced with a dilemma in our modern times as to where they draw their identity, what is its source. Is it the ecclesial event with the mind set on the last days, on eschatology. Or is it mere national origin…If the latter, it weighs us down and it renders the consideration of how to deal with the matter that much more difficult. We need to go back to our ecclesial roots, once that is done, it will be quite easy to find a way out of this impasse…”

Preparing for Participation

H/T: (here)

Syn. No. 840

15th June 2016


In brotherly love, while with responsibility and hopes preparing for the participation in the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which, God willing, is to be held at the Orthodox Academy at Crete around Pentecost, from June 17 to 26, 2016, the Holy Synod of Bishops in its broader composition at its session held at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade, on June 15, 2016, regarding the situation created after the ordinary convocation of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, takes the following decision:

First of all, having in mind the importance and significance of the Council, our Church wants, in a spirit of ecclesial upbuilding, to contribute to this Holy and Great Council fulfilling the criteria and the measure of true Councils in the history of the Orthodox Church, thereby justifying its title.

On the other hand, our Church requests that problems and matters not only of the Serbian Orthodox Church, but also of the other most Holy Churches that cancelled their participation in the Council, be considered at the Council.

With this aim in mind, the Holy and Great Council should last as long as these questions are to be considered, and must not be hostage to previously layed-out and accepted rules. Exclusively with the full consensus can the Council be considered as a Holy and Great Council.

At last, our Church insists that the gathering on the island of Crete be the beginning of the Conciliar process, that the matters in question should be solved during its working process, but in the spirit of the conciliar tradition of the Church of Christ.

In the case that the Churches present at the Council, with the Ecumenical Patriarchate at its head, persist in the position that the absent Churches boycott the work of the Council without any real reason, and in the case that the already present Churches refuse to take into consideration all the matters in question, problems and disagreements, the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church at the Council will be, regretfully, forced to leave the sessions of the Council and in that way join the Churches that are already absent.

This is by no means a threat or ransom, but a consequent implementation of the position and decisions of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church held in May 2016.

In the spirit of our ecclesial and pastoral responsibility, we present these positions hoping in the illuminating action of the All-Holy Spirit.

Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade – Karlovci
and Serbian Patriarch

President of the Holy Assembly of Bishops
sign.   I R I N E J

Edited by

We Should Go to Crete- UPDATED


Why Should We Go to the Council in Crete

by Bishop Maxim of Western American Diocese

At this year’s May session of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church held in Belgrade, it was clearly and unambiguously expressed that the will of the Bishops assembled is to support the convening of the upcoming Holy and Great Council, as well as confirming the participation of the Serbian Orthodox Churches, and by so doing affirm the Council, which will, God-Willing, be held in the Orthodox Academy of Crete on Pentecost from 17 to 26 June 2016.

“The message” of our Holy Assembly of Bishops to other Churches, which was read during the final session of our Assembly, and in no way included any conditions to our requests to the Holy and Great Council. We simply offered our views on some of the current issues raised, and by no means implied anything else. Specifically, our message stated that it is about “principled position on all the key issues on which will be discussed and decided upon by the Great Council.” It is important to point out, however, that the decision for the participation of our church was not made merely “in principle,” nor was it left for any further consideration or requirements to be made by anyone, including our Synod with the Patriarch at its head. We need not mention here that for decades now, the entire Orthodox Church in conciliarity and through various preconciliar commissions, has been preparing for this Council, and that the Primates recently confirmed and signed the decision for convening of the Holy and Great Council in the year 2016 (in Constantinople, or now in Crete). Additionally, members of the delegations from the local Churches signed not only the decision for the convening of the Council, but also the documents that will be considered by the Council, as well as the rules of procedure for the Council, and by so doing agreed to the agenda that was drafted for the Council. For these reasons, the efforts made in recent days to imply that the Serbian Church after all of its Hierarchical Assembly decisions would now ignore the will of its Assembly and the position of its delegation in the preparation for the Great Council which they themselves confirmed with their signature, is simply dishonest.

Therefore, we will be going to this Holy and Great Council, with the desire that it establish and guarantee the unity between the local Church within the one Church “in the ecumene,” and by so doing, pour forth the hope for our salvation from death. The Serbian Church does not sympathize with those of little faith which one might see in some who would in advance decide that the Great and Holy Council will not be the way they thought it should be. The bishops of our Church are conceding to the blessing of the Great and Holy Council, which is, as history testifies, in and of itself a “miracle” and an “event,” by which the Eucharist heals all wounds, those seen and those unseen.

We also wish to point out that in comparison with some of the negative attitudes, for the Serbian Church, above all else is the universal mission of Orthodoxy. Some individuals, and it occurs repeatedly, are expressing a wavering weak willingness acting as if to renounce courage and the active collaboration with the Grace of God. Our Church is aware that the eventual failure to convene the Great and Holy Council can easily contribute to the fact that in the future no Council whatsoever is possible to convene, and the relationships between Churches essentially be violated.

Also, the Holy and Great Council in Crete cannot be revised to be a “Preconciliar Inter-Orthodox Consultation,” because never and nowhere in history is there a record of a great assembly of Orthodox hierarchs, which was not at the same time a gathering of a Great and Holy (not necessarily and ecumenical) Council.

It is therefore our hope that the Great and Holy Council, by its work, and especially with the Divine Liturgy which will be celebrated on the island of Crete, will finally provide the possibility to express the reality of Pentecost and the icon of the world to come, which overcomes deathly fragmentation, thanks to unity in Christ and His Body, in spite of some differing views.

There is no possibility whatsoever that the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church will not participate in the Holy and Great Council, for it would then violate the will of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of our Church and betray the expectation of Universal Orthodoxy. We do not want to be remembered in history as someone who undermined the reality and institution of conciliarity which governs the relationship of all local Orthodox Churches.

With the help of the Most Holy Trinity, as with the patient and mutual trust of all, through dialogue, in clear conscience, and with proper reasoning, we hope to overcome the temptations in the domain of inter-Orthodox relations and responsibly participate in the Holy and Great Council which will, God-Willing, be held at the Orthodox Academy of Crete on Pentecost from 17 to 26 June 2016. I consider participation in this Council to be the only correct response before God, before the Universal Church, and before the Assembly of our local Church, and before history itself. In this “world,” ruled by divisive forces, the Church of Christ through its Council and Conciliar events, calls upon all to make a joint effort for a dynamic preservation of our unity and common witness of love in Christ. Notwithstanding some unresolved or painful issues, the upcoming Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church offers hope in that Christ-like unity and Communion of the Holy Spirit.