Who is my Father?

1957579_10152635393527538_1004547196_nThis is a guest post.

Growing up, I had a pretty rough childhood. Around age 7, my mother and father began a long, heated and very bitter divorce. At first I was too young to realize what was going on behind the scenes with my parents, but I began to catch on very quickly to the anger, hatred and hurt between them, especially from my mom. In time, my father moved out.

As a child I do not remember ever seeing my parents kiss or show any kind of love or affection for each other in front of us. They always seemed somehow distant from each other. The only displays of love I saw were from my mother, who was a stay-at-home mom, always cooking, cleaning, gardening, mowing, then catering to my father once he came home from work. My father never seemed to want much to do with my sister, brother and I. He seemed to take my mother for granted, expecting her to do everything, including taking care of us. I have very few memories of my father ever doing anything with us kids or around the house.

As I’ve said, their marriage degraded and fell apart. Eventually, to get away from my father, we moved to a small town an hour away, then to a house in the country. I attended the local Roman Catholic school, but after a short time, my mom sent my siblings and I back to our old school, which was also a Roman Catholic school so that we could be with our friends again, back to where we felt safe, felt at home. It is here, at this Catholic school where my story really begins.

Growing up, my mother raised my siblings and me first and foremost to love and respect God. She felt that God was very important; so much so that she volunteered a certain amount of time at the Catholic school to help make up for the rest of our tuition so that we could continue to attend. If you’ve ever been to a Catholic school, you know that every day starts with Mass. The younger kids sit up front and the older towards the back. Every day is started with remembrance and worship of God. My love for God, His Saints, the services, and Church history started here – a result of this school and its daily services, prayers and teachings.

Although my spiritual foundations were being laid and nurtured at this school, my soul was also being put through a great trial. During the long divorce, I developed a great anger within myself. I was angry at my parents and at God. Why was such anger, pain and confusion descending upon me? Why can’t things go back to the way they were, when they were relatively worry free?

When I was around 8 or 9, I began to feel a voice within me every time I attended Mass. One day after school was out I went into the church just to sit in the peaceful and prayerful silence. I would do this sometimes before walking home. While sitting in a pew towards the front, I was particularly transfixed on the crucifix that hung over the altar. I sat there in prayerful silence, talking to God within my heart, reaching out to Him with my whole being, and that Voice stirred again within my soul. The voice, although not in literal words, was discernible by my spirit, clear as day. I began to cry, asking God to help me, to help my mom and my siblings, and that I’m so tired of being angry and sad. I told Him that I wanted a dad, that I hurt so much from all the hell I have endured and having seen my mother endure for us, trying to protect us from all the bad things my father was doing to us. Looking up at that crucifix, with Jesus Christ arms outstretched on the Tree, I heard this voice within me, louder than the loudest crack of thunder and yet more peaceful and quiet than the stillest whisper on the calmest day: “I WILL BE YOUR FATHER. DO NOT BE AFRAID. I LOVE YOU AND WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU. YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE A FATHER. I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU.”

And surely enough, I have always been blessed to have not just one, but MANY father figures in my life, all of whom taught me, guided me, loved me. Whether it be the man my mom met a few years afterwards who took up the direct role of father figure, or the local parish priest that guided me to Orthodoxy and fanned the flames of love and faith within me, or the various other men who loved me and took care of me and my family in some capacity during my life. I have always had a father. Many fathers! And it is with uttermost thankfulness, love and joy that I thank our Heavenly Father, from Whom “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). It is therefore why I can pray, “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy Name…”

-Your Brother in Christ

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The Sacrifice of Fr. Nicola Yanney

yanney 2I have always felt that only God truly knows who the saints are until He chooses to reveal them to us, but how does this happen? One way that this happens is through local veneration, which attracts the attention of the regional church. It is my hope that Fr. Nicola Yanney of Nebraska will soon be glorified in this manner.

I have a very close relationship with Fr. Nicola. I first heard about him after my godfather had returned from a visit to Fr. Nicola’s church in Kearney, Nebraska. I can still recall the great joy in my heart upon venerating the Gospel that his own parishioners had given to him as a gift. The love that the church had for him and their history is amazing.

Born in Ottoman Syria, Fr. Nicola immigrated to America at age 19. He eventually settled in a tiny rural town outside of Kearney with his family. Here, the family remained for some years, until the tragic death of Fr. Nicola’s wife during childbirth. After mourning for a long time, Fr. Nicola was encouraged by the then Archimandrite Raphael and the few, but strong faithful in the  Kearney area – who had just established a church, St. George the Great Martyr – to travel to New York to study for ordination. In 1904 Raphael was elevated to bishop and that Palm Sunday, Fr. Nicola became the first to have Bp. Raphael’s hands laid upon his head. Upon his return to Nebraska, he moved his family to Kearney to be in the heart of his flock.

raphael and yanneyBishop Basil of Wichita describes the duties given to Fr. Nicola: “Shortly after his consecration to the sacred episcopacy a century ago – – on March 13th, 1904 — St. Raphael of Brooklyn performed his first priestly ordination, the ordained being a young widower, Nicola Yanney, a native of the tiny village of Fi’eh in north Lebanon, living with his children on a farm in Gibbon, Nebraska. Father Nicola was ordained [on April 3rd, 1904] for what was then the westernmost parish of St. Raphael’s Diocese, St. George’s Church in Kearney, Nebraska, but he was given pastoral responsibility for an area that is nearly identical to the boundaries of our newly created Diocese of Mid-America. Father Nicola’s parish stretched from the Canadian border in the north, to the Mexican border in the south, and from the Mississippi River in the east, to the Rocky Mountains in the west. It is Fr. Nicola who, as a circuit riding priest headquartered in Kearney, followed the example of his Father-in-Christ, St. Raphael, and visited Orthodox Christians in the scattered towns, villages and isolated farm lands throughout America’s Heartland.”

In 1918 the Spanish Flu had come to Kearney. The city was lucky, as not many people suffered. But a second wave of the disease struck harder and the city ordered a quarantine. Since the faithful could not come to church, Fr. Nicola took the Church to them, one by one, house by house, so that they could receive the Body and Blood of Christ. And it was in this way that Fr. Nicola would come to meet Our Lord on October 29, 1918, after catching the Spanish Flu himself a week earlier.

There is something that draws me near to Fr. Yanney: perhaps it is my close proximity to his church, or the beauty in his faith. Maybe even it is his passion for Christ, so strong was it, that he was worried more about the souls of those in his Church than for his own health. Nonetheless, I have never been able to explain this. And perhaps that is the point. My godfather likes to tell me that perhaps it is Fr. Nicola inspiring me. Whatever it truly is, by God’s grace, I can only pray that the Church proper recognizes the impact that he has had on us, the faithful and that he is indeed a Passion-Bearer.

Holy Fr. Yanney pray to God for us.

If you would like to learn more about Fr. Nicola, please visit:

http://www.saintgeorgekearney.com/reverend_nicola_yanney.html

Leavened vs. Unleavened Bread

This is an essay written by guest author and our good friend, Austin Albers. 

prosphora

While the West’s commitment to the historical authenticity of Christ’s “Last Supper” is commendable, it should be noted that God’s only command to eat unleavened bread was given for the seven days of Passover (Exodus 12:15) – an Old Covenant type that was fulfilled in Christ. Moreover, unleavened bread is referred to as the bread of “affliction” (Deuteronomy 16:3) – that is, it served as a reminder to the Israelites of their bondage and haste when they fled Egypt. This Old Covenant was powerless to bring God’s people life; it served only as our “custodian” until Christ came (Galatians 3:23-26, RSV).

Christ has fulfilled the Law and now abides in us. This has strong
symbolic ties to leaven. Bread is made from lifeless flour mixed with water. Leaven, also known as yeast, is actually a living plant-like organism. Once the yeast enters, it spreads throughout the lump, yet it does so invisibly and without changing the shape or texture of the dough. The symbolism is rich! The old lump of lifeless, bland-tasting dough has now become saturated with living yeast, giving it life and flavor. Leaven can be seen as kind of fulfillment of unleavened bread even as Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.

Many Western Christians are quick to point out that leaven is commonly used in the Scripture referring to sin. Therefore, they assume, the host bread for the spotless body of Christ should be without stain or reference to sin. Now, it is true that the Apostle Paul used leaven in reference to sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-13), but the Scriptures also used leaven in reference to the Kingdom of God: “Another parable He spoke to them: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened’” (Matthew 13:33; cf. Luke 13:20). From this we can see that leaven is not inherently evil, as a metaphor or anything else (as the disciples, at one point, wrongfully thought; see Matthew 16:6-12), but is a powerful image used in many situations; its meaning dependent on the context.

To summarize, the unleavened, Old Covenant bread of affliction is not an appropriate Communion host for our risen Lord, who is Life and saturates our dead souls with life, even as leaven saturates and brings life to bread.

…Walking with God

forest“Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” – Genesis 5:24

For years the image of “walking with God” has stuck in my head. To walk with God is such a lovely turn of phrase. It reminds me of the refrain from the old hymn ‘In the Garden,’ by C Austin Miles

“And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.”

I often think of Enoch walking with God as a euphemism for being taken up to heaven. A closer reading though reveals that he walked with God and then he was no more or disappeared because God took him. In fact Genesis 5:22 states that after the birth of Methu’sela, Enoch walked with God for 300 years. Enoch walking with God on earth seems to be connected with life everlasting.

Let us look at two more instances in Genesis of “walking with God.”

“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).  Continuing on in Genesis 6, God says: “For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.  But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.  And of every living thing, of all flesh…” (vs.17-19). In this narrative, walking with God is connected to a covenant with God and preservation of life.

As I dug deeper into this image of “walking with God” found in both narratives, I happened upon this footnote:

Instead of simply saying that Enoch lived, the text observes that he “walked with God.” The rare expression “walked with” is used in 1 Sam 25:15 to describe how David’s men maintained a cordial and cooperative relationship with Nabal’s men as they worked and lived side by side in the fields. In Gen 5:22 the phrase suggests that Enoch and God “got along.” This may imply that Enoch lived in close fellowship with God, leading a life of devotion and piety.

This sounds a lot like our old hymn, doesn’t it?

The last example given in Genesis of someone who walked with God is Abraham. Here we see what might be termed the second pre-Mosaic covenant. Chapter 17 begins “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.  And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous’” (17:1-2).  Again we see the connection between walking with God and covenant, but the context and language are slightly different. The Hebrew word translated as “walk” means to walk back and forth; to walk about; to live out one’s life and another reading of “before me” is “in my presence.”  Here God is speaking. Here we have a command. We shall see this imagery used again in the Mosaic Covenant.

In the 26th Chapter Leviticus God speaks to Moses on Sinai saying: “If you walk in my statutes and are sure to obey my commandments, I will give you your rains in their time so that the land will give its yield… (26:12).  I will walk among you, and I will be your God and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:3-4, 12).

Here we see again this image of walking with God connected to covenant, obedience to God and blessings.

In the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants we have commands from God or a “top down” approach: God speaking to us – giving us commands. Psalms in contrast could be understood as a “bottom up” type of scripture: us talking to God. If Torah is God’s teaching – God’s way – the psalms are our response to God, or even dialogue with Him. As one might expect they are full of this walking with God imagery. Psalm 86 gives us a fine example, especially suited to today’s meditation:

Teach me thy way, O Lord,
that I may walk in thy truth;
unite my heart to fear thy name.

 I give thanks to thee, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify thy name for ever.

 For great is thy steadfast love toward me;
thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol (Vs.11-13). [emphasis added]

Let us analyze this verse. The psalmist asks to be taught to walk in God’s truth. Then, he gives thanks promising to glorify God forever. Here again God is revealer and teacher of His way. The images of thanksgiving, eternal praise and salvation illustrated so beautifully by the psalmist evoke the Liturgical worship of the Christian church. We offer the Eucharist (from the Greek word for Thanksgiving), we glorify Father, Son and Holy Spirit in all of our prayers ending this glorification with “now and ever and to the ages of ages.” In v. 13, God’s steadfast love has delivered his soul (or life depending on the translation) from Sheol (Hades, death). This is an amazingly clear prefiguring of John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Mat. 5:17-20

The Incarnation is both a descent of God and ascent of man (our “top down bottom up” image). Christ is the man who perfectly obeys the law- who walks with God – who is God!

Walk with God brothers and sisters.

Dedicated to my Grandma. May her Memory be Eternal

You Are Indeed a Father of High Renown

imageI would like to welcome us all into the Lenten Triodion by sharing a thought from a dear friend of mine. Thank you for reading.

Being given the task of picking one’s heavenly intercessor is without question one of the most beautiful aspects of conversion to the Holy Orthodox faith. For some it can be extremely difficult and then for others, to put it plainly, quite easy. As for me, it was by the cooperation of two saints, over a long period of time, that I received with a loving embrace my patron saint. How does one pick, when the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) continually intercedes for our souls?

For months I would read from the synaxarion, the Greek Orthodox Daily readings online application and from Holy Scripture. I was stressed by the notion of the Great and Holy Saturday approaching and not yet having a set patron saint. This caused great unrest for me. During this time I had a minimal amount of Orthodox literature and spiritual texts. But the one book I did have, which had been given to me by my spiritual father, was The Art of Prayer.  It is a compilation of writings primarily from Sts Theophan the Recluse and Ignatiev Brianchannov. I subsequently immersed myself in the writings of St. Theophan, reading all of his books, my favourite being his Spiritual Psalter, a compilation of 150 prayers from St. Ephraim the Syrian. I loved him so much and I asked his intercessions to reveal to me who my patron saint should be, thinking it would be him. And he most certainly did reveal to me who my patron should be, thanks be to God! The aforementioned saint whose writings St. Theophan adored.

The more and more I read the spiritual psalter, I developed a love for St. Ephraim. He struggled with the very sins I drown in every day. It was as if I met my best friend through the introduction of St. Theophan the Recluse who I lovingly call “Uncle”.

And what’s even more interesting is that I can say with great thanksgiving and a big grin that God allowed St. Ephraim to be subconsciously revealed to me as a child before I had even heard of the Orthodox Church. But through what means? By a video game I cherished greatly known as “Fire Emblem: the Sacred Stones” on  Gameboy. The protagonist Ephraim inspired me so much as a kid by his courage and valiance that I vowed to name my first son after him. So, the name stuck with me, through early childhood to adolescence. It finally just clicked: I was supposed to be named after St. Ephraim. God works in really neat ways and he is ever so wondrous in his saints. Oh holy saints of God Ephraim the Syrian and Theophan the Recluse, pray unto to God for us sinners!

lowly Ephraim

P.S. My Godfather’s godfather’s namesake is St. Theophan the Recluse. Pretty neat that he inspired the one who inspired the one who helped receive me into the Church.