Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Through Dark Times


Through Dark Times

In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the darkest time of the year. This homiletic sermon talks about the dark and confusing times that come and how we get through them.

We are assured that we will be able to get through difficult and dark times.

"...[God] will not suffer you to be tempted beyond your endurance; but will make a way for you to escape your temptation, so that you will be able to bear it." 1 Corinthians 10:13

"They shall not be weary nor stumble..." Isaiah 5:27

"....and it was revealed to [Joseph] in a dream to go to the land of Galilee." Matthew 2:22

This sermon uses the readings appointed from Isaiah 5; 1Corinthians 10; and Matthew 2. The scripture readings are from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, December 27, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

How Much Does God Weigh - Christmas 2009


How Much Does God Weigh?

This is a short Christmas 2009 sermon by Fr John Brian.

This sermon examines the wonder and paradox of the incarnation by first examining a few festival prayers said for Christmas in the Syrian-Malankara Ma'de'dono; and asking how much does God weigh and why?

Opening prayer by the priest:
Make us worthy, O lord God,
to hallow You with the holy seraphim without investigation;
to bless You with the blessed cherubim without hesitation;
to glorify You with the exalted powers without hindrance;
to adore You with the heavenly hosts without any blame;
to exalt You with the innocent shepherds unceasingly;
to worship You with the discerning wise men steadfastly;
and to rejoice in You, with Mary who bore You; eternally;
now and always...

+ + +
From the Supplication of Saint James:
Come, O wise man and see the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and marvel at Him for the whole creation is suspended at His gesture.
Consider Him lying in the manger with His human body, whereas He rules the heights and depths with His Father.
As the Virgin was giving Him milk like an infant, He was sending rain and dew to irrigate the crops of the land.
If you have a rational soul that is filled with faith, let you mind take wings to see Him in heaven as well as on earth.
+ + +

This sermon given on Thursday night, December 24, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

How Much Does the Spirit of the Lord Weigh?


How Much Does the Holy Spirit Weigh?
is answered in this sermon of Fr John Brian.

"Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know how to refuse evil and choose the good." Isaiah 7:15

"And he shall be at peace, and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him..." Isaiah 11:2

"He shall shine forth in the reverence of the Lord..." Isaiah 11:3

"[Abraham's faith] was not written for his sake alone, but for us also." Romans 4:23-24

"Gold and silver have I none; but what I have I give to you." Acts 3:6

This sermon examines the changes in the world due to the incarnation in the Sunday readings. The scripture readings are from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, December 20, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Born of the Holy Spirit, Not Strife


"Let there be no strife between me and you... for we are brethren." Genesis 13:8

"..what is to be born of her is of the Holy Spirit." Matthew 1:20

"When Joseph rose from his sleep, he did just as the angel of the Lord commanded him." Matthew 1:24

This sermon examines the decisions we make when there is strife in our lives by looking at Lot and Joseph in the Sunday readings. It also includes some cautionary words about ecumenical and interfaith pitfalls. The scripture readings are from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, December 13, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Creating Theosis


"Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it..." Psalm 127:1

"...whereby we shall be visited by a ray from above. To give light to those who sit in darkness andin the shadow of death..." Luke 1:78-79

"Let everyone who has hope in God purify himself, even as He is pure." 1 John 3:3

"...the human life reaches its fulfillment only when it becomes divine." Rev Fr Demetrios Vakarios of Thessaloniki, Greece 1985

This sermon examines how we arrive at theosis as the fulfillment of the incarnation of Christ and how we can create the circumstances of theosis in our lives now. Psalm 127, the very end of Luke Chapter 1, first verses of Chapter 3 of John's first epistle and a passage from a Greek priest of St Demetrios Church in Greece are used to assist in our spiritual development. The scripture readings are from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, December 6, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Restoring Creation


"So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." Genesis 1:27

"And God saw everything He had made, and, behold, it was very good..." Genesis 1:31

"He has brought victory with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart."" Luke 1:51


This sermon examines our current life in light of our creation. Genesis chapter 1 reflected into St Mary's prophetic words spoken to Elizabeth on their encounter. The scripture readings are from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, November 29, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

THANKSGIVING AND PSALM 118

THANKSGIVING AND PSALM 118
Edited transcription of a sermon delivered extemporaneously by Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock on November 26, 2008 after Thanksgiving Prayers at Holy Transfiguration Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin
One of the scriptures appointed for Thanksgiving is Psalm 118. It’s an important Psalm for us to keep in mind about Thanksgiving and gratitude to God.

It begins, “O, give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious, because his mercy endures forever.”

One of the things that we know about God just from that verse is that God is gracious. That means He is full of grace and that He has grace to give. We give thanks to Him for that, and for His mercy that is forever.. Why do we give thanks to Him? His mercy endures forever. In other words, we cannot do enough to earn His mercy. It’s going to continue. We give thanks to God all the time for His mercy.

Then the Psalmist writes, “Let Israel now confess that he is gracious and that his mercy endures forever. Let the house of Aaron now confess that his mercy endureth forever. Yea, let them now fear that the Lord confess that his mercy endures forever.” Everybody should be confessing this. “Confessing,” in this context, means to speak it out loud. Confession is supposed to be spoken out loud. So when you confess something, you’re speaking it out loud. It’s important that we do this once in a while. The psalm continues.

“I called upon the Lord in trouble and the Lord heard me.” So part of what we can be grateful for is that when we’re in trouble, we call upon God and He hears us.

“The Lord is on my side, I will not fear what man does to me. The Lord taketh my part with them that help me, therefore shall I see my desire upon my enemies.” In other words, we don’t have to worry about taking care of those people who are against us. God will take care of them.

“It is better to trust in the Lord than put any confidence in human kind.” This is an important thing for us to understand about being grateful at our Thanksgiving - that even when somebody gives us something or if we get something from somebody, it is actually because of God’s mercy that it’s available. Because without God’s mercy, with each of us after each other’s stuff, after each other’s belongings, each other’s prestige, each other’s pride, in other words, without God, without a better way of life, without a loving kindness that God gives to us inside our hearts, we cannot get that which is good from anywhere else. We will be fighting all the time. We will be at war. We will be at each other’s throats. We will want to have more. I want what you have. You want what I have. Then people start taking it. So it is obvious that any goodness that comes to us is part of God’s mercy. It has to be part of God’s mercy as it does not seem flow from us without divine intervention. So we’re grateful for everything that someone else gives us. Our proper response when somebody gives something to us is, “To God be thanks,” and “Oh, and thank you, too.” The primary source of all good is God.

And this Psalm goes further about this idea. It talks about enemies and how they attack, and then it says: “The Lord is my strength, and my song, and has become my salvation.” My strength is everything that I can do, every endurance that I endure, everything I’m able to do beyond what I think I’m capable of doing – that’s strength.

And what is “my song?” When do you sing? When can you sing? When you’re happy or when you’re trying to be elevated or when you’re emotional? So the Lord will become your strength and song, which is to say your voice in a way that communicates more than just the words or thoughts, but also emotions and even spiritual concerns. That is what our song is. “And has become my salvation,” that is become the way of my saving; in other words (salve being ointment), a way to heal me. The Lord has become a way that I endure, persevere; the way that I’m able to communicate spiritually beyond just thinking and emotions and also become the way that I heal.

“The voice of joy and help is in the dwellings of the righteous, the right hand of the Lord brings mighty things to pass.” So God does great things and the right hand of God has preeminence, which means that He is before anything that’s eminent. In other words, He’s on top of the principalities, He’s on top of the government, He’s on top – His arm can move greater than all of those together - the governments, economies, soft markets, jobs and all those things - so we rely on this greater force. “The right hand of God bringeth mighty things to pass.”

Then the Psalmist says this, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” So part of the reason we’re alive is to say, “This is the Lord’s doing.” The good stuff that’s happening is because of God. Without that good stuff, we would all just be miserable and suffering at each other’s expense. So we live to declare the works of God everywhere.

If we feel that we’ve had a hard time, we say, like the Psalmist, “The Lord has chastened and corrected me, but he has not given me over to death.” He’s given me a second chance. He’s given me another opportunity and for that I’m grateful. So regardless of whatever mistake I’ve made, I wake up and say, “Okay, now I can do something else. I’m grateful for that.”

“Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may go into them.” I say to God, like the Psalmist, “Show me the way that I may go into those gates.” I give thanks to the Lord for this way of living that’s outside of bitterness and vengeance of enemies; not only the enemies outside of us, but the enemies inside of us. Not just those that we can identify, but those that are invisible. There are lots of things that attack us: random thoughts, or ideas, or people, or ideas about things, or people we never met before, people who vandalize or do other things. There are lots of ways that enemies are around and about and we know that the Lord has become our salvation.

The Psalm continues, “I will thank thee; for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation. The same stone which the builders rejected has become the corner.” The rejected becomes the cornerstone, the foundation. So this is an opportunity, this redemption being offered by rejection.

“This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.” In other words, we are witnesses to it and we exclaim, “Wow! Look at that!” He took the very thing that I wouldn’t probably used for anything, that was useless, and made the very foundation of the temple, made the foundation of our temple, the foundation of everything that we will build upon. So whatever hardship we’re going through, regardless of what enemies are after us, that time of hardship is also something to be grateful, because that very thing becomes the foundation for a glorious temple for the glory of God. “And it’s marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Remember, in Genesis, the very first thing God creates is day and night, the cycle of a day. We participate in the cycle of the day, and in the present moment, in other words, today. Today is the Lord’s Day. We are grateful for it, we rejoice in it, because it is God’s doing, it is God that is in charge. God created us, God put the cycles in motion, God’s in charge and we have nothing but deep gratitude for that because we know that whatever we do, whatever anyone else does, are not going to endure if they not of God, of good. Those things that are not part of God’s original creation will pass as the temporary always do.

And so we have this opportunity to live in God’s day even though we are here in this world and separated, even though we have plenty of things to regret, plenty of things to be afraid of and plenty of things to correct. We can still live in today – God’s day is today. “This is the day the Lord has made and we will rejoice and be glad in it. Help me now, O Lord.” Not only do we recognize that, but we add, “Help me.” Obviously, David, the psalm writer, understands our human nature. We get notions of God, but we need God to help us to be participants in what is His. So he writes, “Help me, God.”

And “Send us now prosperity.” Don’t be afraid of that we may have to endure, we may have to suffer, because there’s also prosperity, and we ask him for that.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and then he tells us “we wished you providence in that the house of the Lord.”

Now toward the end of the Psalm, “God is the Lord who hath showed us light, bind the sacrifice with cords, yea, the horns of the altar.” That means that we bring something of what we think is ours to give back to God. Part of what we’re grateful for, part of how we show our gratitude as we say, “This all belongs to you, God! It’s so wonderful that you let me have it for now. But, you know, the best part of it belongs to you. Here it is. And in gratitude I give it.” Even to this day, we do this in the Orthodox churches. People don’t bring animals to be sacrificed anymore. They bring anything that’s the best of whatever they have, and give it to the church, to God.

In other words, the idea that whatever we had that is good is already of God. This is why it should be used for God’s work. This is very much like how Christ directs us: if we have something and our brethren have need of it, we should be sharing. The same thing is true with our gratitude to God.

And finally the Psalm says, “Thou art my God, and I will thank thee.” In other words, we made God ours. God is already the God over everything. But we have to decide that He is our God.

Then, “O give thanks to the Lord; for He is gracious, and His mercy endures forever.” We’re back at the beginning. When we pay attention to all these things in our lives, we’ll see God working in all these things. And even if we are astray, even if we’re pummeled by enemies, even if we’re having disease or illness or sickness or problems with our minds or problems with our thinking or problems with our workload or our concentration or whatever kinds of problems that we may have in this world, it is by being grateful to God in His graciousness, knowing that His mercy endures longer than we will ever have to endure anything beyond our capacity to endure. In other words, His blessing is upon us if we participate and make this the Lord’s day. It is the Lord’s day. Everyday is the Lord’s day. When the sun comes up and when it sets and when there’s nighttime that cycle that God created the very first day of Creation, separating the dark from the light. Genesis called that the first day. We can participate in that day every day and it is the Lord’s and we are glad in it. So, we have a lot to be thankful for in our Thanksgiving Day.

Amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Angelic Perceptions


"Behold a ladder was set upon the earth and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold angels of God were ascending and descending upon it." Genesis 28:12

"Then [the angel who talked with me] said to me, This is the word of the Lord.. saying, Not by power nor by might, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts." Zechariah 4:6

"The angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come and the power of the Highest will rest upon you" Luke 1:35


This sermon examines our perceptions and our co-existence with angels. The scripture readings are from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, November 22, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

To Be Equal to the Apostles


To Be Equal to the Apostles

"Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ to those who... have been made equal with us..." 2 Peter 1:1

"...That by these you might be partakers of divine nature..." 2 Peter 1:4

"...When you do these things, you shall never fall." 2 Peter 1:10

On this first Sunday of Advent 2009, this sermon begins by examining an aspect of the annunciation to Zachariah and Elizabeth and their reactions In Luke chapter1 - then draws this in context to 2 Peter chapter 1. The scripture readings are from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, November 15, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock
at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

God Space


"Seek the Lord; and when you find Him, call upon Him while He is near," Isaiah 55:6

"How much more will the blood of Christ... purify our conscience from dead works so that we may serve the living God?" Hebrews 9:14

"o you stubborn and insincere in heart and hearing, you always resist the Holy Spirit..." Acts 7:51

"Jesus said to them, Is it not written in the law, 'I said, you are gods?' " John 10:34

On this Dedication Day of 2009, the sermon deals with a primary and fundamental problem of giving God space and time in every part of our lives, utilizing the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary: John 10:22-38; Hebrews 9:1-14; Acts 7:44-53; Isaiah 55:1-13.

This sermon given on Sunday, November 8, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock
at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

What distinguishes us from the secular world around us?

What distinguishes us from the secular world around us?
Sermon for Dedication Sunday ~ delivered November 10, 2002

Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock ~ Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission

Gospel - John 10:22-38;
Epistle - Hebrews 9:1-14

"What distinguishes the Orthodox position from that of the secular world around us?" asks OCA priest Fr. John Breck in a very interesting article, "Cultural Wars and Orthodox Christianity," written this month (November 2002) and I quote:

".it is [our] ascetic/spiritual/liturgical quest for holiness. God is holy, meaning "set apart," manifesting from His very being qualities, attributes or virtues such as goodness, justice, righteousness, beauty, love. It is by virtue of the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, whom we receive at baptism and through the sacramental life of the Church, that the divine attributes can actually become our own. These attributes are forms of power: they radiate from God as "divine energies," communicated by the Spirit with the purpose of leading each of us along the pathway of holiness that comes to its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God, in a true and eternal participation in God's very life (referred to by Holy Tradition as theosis or "deification").

"Orthodox values and Christian Tradition in general are threatened, more severely than ever, by the secularizing mentality of contemporary American society and Western culture in general. These pressures stem from a mentality that exalts hedonistic values of consumerism, pleasure, self-fulfillment and autonomy, while it denigrates traditional Christian values of self-sacrifice, ascetic struggle and worship of God.

"Each of us is called to live in the "real world" around us, however great its pressures and however distorted its perspectives. We are called to be witnesses to God's presence and purpose at home, at the office, in the shopping mall or in the hospital. It is there, in the little things and inconspicuous places of everyday life, that we live out our primary vocation to pray for the world, to live and die for the world's salvation.

"We are called to be holy. This does not mean that we isolate ourselves from the ambient culture, making ourselves "separate" in some physical or psychological sense. It means that we seek holiness in the midst of an unholy world, in the hope that through our faithfulness to God and our witness to Him who alone is holy, we might touch the lives of others aroundus and help restore the world to the One who is both its Creator and its Lord."

[end quote]

As Christ says in the Gospel today verses 34-36 "Is it not so written in the law, "I said you are gods?" he called them gods because the word of God was with them." It is in our adoption as children of God that we are enabled, by the grace and mercy of God, to work toward the illumination of theosis.

We are at the Sunday of Dedication as today's gospel begins, "Then came the feast of dedication at Jerusalem." The Greek interlinear says "the feast of renewals" - So even as we are dedicating ourselves anew to the work of Eastern Christianity today - we are also renewing ourselves in the life of Christ. This is also the feast that has come to be known as Hanukkah, which is Hebrew for "dedication" and is used in the Old Testament to refer to the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. This and today's epistle remind us that Jesus Christ maintained honor of festivals that integrate the past; of tradition and culture - yet, through the new covenant and revelation of the crucifixion, offering insight through the light of the cross that make all things new and present. Where is forever? When is eternity?

The gospel is not just known in the past, but also in the present. Just before the gospel the priest says "these things just came to pass" as though it was a moment ago. Gospel Verse 38 - "If I am doing them [the works of my Father], even though you do not believe in me, believe in the works; so that you may know [Greek adds "and continue to know"] and believe that my Father is with me and I am with my Father."

As adopted children of God the Father through Holy Orthodoxy let us dedicate and renew ourselves and our lives to Christ our God, who is mystically the whole Church, holding us in His hands so that none of us is lost.

As sheep, let us commit to following our shepherd who will tend to us even if one of us is lost.

As followers of Jesus Christ, the Prince of peace, we dedicate our efforts to peace in ourselves, in our families, in our communities, in our world.

As followers of He whose love is without boundaries, we dedicate ourselves to loving others, whether they are friend or foe - stranger or neighbor.

We dedicate ourselves to our personal improvement and spiritual development, so that we may become better servants of our Lord.

We dedicate ourselves to good and holy work wherever we encounter it, as Mother Teresa of India has said, by "doing even small things with great love."

Today, we dedicate also this chapel and all the fruits of our labor in this ministry to God to whom all glory is due. As our great Thirumeni, Paulos Mar Gregorios (of blessed memory) said - "Without Divine Aid, our human efforts can bear no significant fruit." So we bow our heads and pray:

Christ God, this is Thy ministry and we are Thy servants. We ask for Divine Aid. Bless this space with Thy presence; with the presence of Thy holy angels and of all the saints. We ask for an increase of all good things so that we may continue to be instruments of constructive good. We ask for a removal all curses and stumbling blocks so that our human flaws and weaknesses, as well as our enemies and naysayers, are not impediments to fulfilling of Thy divine will. This we ask according to Thy infinite mercy and loving-kindness; together with the Father and the Holy Living Spirit now and forever. Amen.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Removing Masks


Removing Masks

On the day after Halloween in America, the masks and costumes are removed, this sermon uses the secular and popular as metaphor for a deeply Christian message.

"Lay aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisies and envies and evil accusations." 1 Peter 2:1

"Far be it from you, my Lord, that this should happen to you. But Jesus turned and said to Peter, Get behind me, Satan... for you are not thinking of the things of God, but of men." Matthew 16:22-23

The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, November 1, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

St. Justin Martyr!








You’re St. Justin Martyr!

You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!



Sunday, October 25, 2009

Devil's Radio


Devil's Radio
(AKA gossip)

"Let us celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven neither with the leaven of evil and bitterness..." 1 Corinthians 5:8

"Remember not the former things, neither consider the things of old." Isaiah 43:18

"Things impossible to men are possible to God." Luke 18:27

This sermon draws attention to the tension between the enabling the sins of our brethren, burdening ourselves with greater sin and accepting the changes of a repentant brother - God may have something impossible for us to believe, even as we are distracted...

The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, October 25, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How Much Does Prayer Weigh?


How Much Does Prayer Weigh?
or which is heavier the burdens we give each other or the burdens of Christ?

"They bind heavy burdens and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to touch them, even with their finger." Matthew 23:4

"Follow after righteousness, piety, faith, love, patience and meekeness." 1 Timothy 6:11

"He who is greatest among you, let him be your servant." Matthew 23:11

"They that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall grow wings like an eagle." Isaiah 40:31

This sermon talks about the tension between burdens and expectations of this world, that may seem to be spiritual and the actual trials of the Christian way: the difference between bearing the cross and Christ's proclamation that His yoke is easy and His burden is light....

The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, October 18, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock
at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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The text of the story - how much a prayer weighs read by Fr John Brian at the end of this sermon:

A poorly dressed lady with a look of defeat on her face walked into a grocery store. She approached the owner of the store in a most humble manner and asked if he would let her charge a few groceries. She softly explained that her husband was very ill and unable to work. They had 7 children and they needed food.
The grocer scoffed at her andrequested that she leave his store. Visualizing her family needs, she pleaded, "Please, Sir! I will bring you the money just as soon as I can." But the grocer told her he could not give her credit.
Standing beside the counter was a customer who overheard the conversation between the two. The customer walked forward and told the grocer that he would pay for whatever she needed for her family.
Very reluctantly the grocer asked, "do you have a grocery list?"
"Yes, Sir." replied the woman.
"OK", he said, "Put your grocery list on the scales and whatever your grocery list weighs, I will GIVE you that amount in groceries."
The woman hesitated a moment. Then with a bowed head, then she reached into her purse and took out a piece of paper and scribbled something on it. She then carefully laid the piece of paper on the scale, with her head still bowed.
The eyes of the grocer and the customer showed amazement when the scales went down and stayed. The grocer, staring at the scales, turned slowly to the customer and said begrudgingly, "I can't believe it!"
The customer just smiled as the grocer started putting the groceries on the other side of the scales. The scales did not balance as he continued putting more and more groceries on then until they would hold no more. The grocer stood there in utter disgust, finally grabbed the piece of paper from the scale and looked at it in utter amazement. It was not a grocery list, at all, but a prayer: "Dear Lord, you know my needs and I am leaving this in your hands."
The grocer gave her the groceries in stunned silence. She thanked him and left the store. The customer that had been watching the entire event handed the grocer a $50 bill and said, "It was worth every penny."
It was sometime later that the grocer discovered the scales were broken, therefore, only God knows how much a prayer weighs.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

God's Wealthy Problems


God's Wealthy Problems
or The Real Problem of Wealth

"You cannot serve two masters" Luke 16:13
"The foolishness of God is wiser than men..." 1 Corinthians 1:25
"Why are troubled, O my soul? and why are you bewildered?...." Psalm 42:5

This sermon is a continuation of a spiritual view of the ten commandments. In this sermon, Fr John Brian the ethical commandments are discussed. The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, October 11, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Spiritually Minded and the Sabbath

Spiritually Minded and the Sabbath
or why the Sabbath was made for man

"The Sabbath was made for the sake of man" Mark 2:27

"To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace....they who are in the flesh cannot please God" Romans 8:6,8

This sermon deals with being spiritually minded (Romans 8:1-11) and the Sabbath, especially why it remains important for us - in context with Jesus Christ challenge in Mark 2:23-28

The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, October 4, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

God Works


God Works

"For we work together with God" 1 Corinthians 3:9

This seasonal sermon (the Exaltation of the Cross) ties the story of Saints Constantine and Helen to the leaven in the gospel reading (Matthew 16:5-12) and to the teaching in the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:14-3:9)

The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, September 27, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

God Delivers


God Delivers

"Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all." Psalm 34:19

"The worldly receive not spiritual things for they are foolishness to him.." 1 Corinthians 2:14

This homelitic sermon on Psalm 34 begins by briefly examining the Epistle lesson appointed: 1 Corinthians 2:10-16


Psalm 34 is a rich text for spiritual teaching, hope and thanksgiving - very useful for the inner work of Christianity.

The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, September 20, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Weakness of God is Stronger than Men

May Christ ever illumine our hearts with love for one another!
 
While digging through some archives, I came across this gem from a homily by St John Chrysostom:
 
+ + + [begin passage]
 
 . . Paul had this in mind then he said: "The weakness of God is stronger than men." That the preaching of these men was indeed divine is brought home to us in the same way. For how otherwise cold twelve uneducated men, who lived on lakes and rivers and wastelands, get the idea for such an immense enterprise? How could men who perhaps had never been in a city or a public square think of setting out to do battle with the whole world? hat they were fearful, timid men, the evangelist makes clear; he did not reject the fact nor try to hide their weaknesses. Indeed, he turned these into a proof of the truth. What did he say of them? That when Christ was arrested, the others fled, despite all the miracles they had seen, while he who was leader of the others denied him!
 
How then account for the fact that these men, who in Christ's lifetime did not stand up to the attacks by the Jews, set forth to do battle with the whole world once Christ was dead--if, as you claim, Christ did not rise and speak to them and rouse their courage? Did they perhaps say to themselves, "What is this? He could not help himself but he will protect us? He did not help himself when he was alive but now that he is dead he will extend a helping hand to us? In his lifetime he brought no nation under his banner, but by uttering his name we will win over the whole world?" Would it not be wholly irrational even to think such thoughts, much less to act upon them?
 
It is evident, then, that if they had not seen him risen and had proof of his power, they would not have risked so much.
 
+ + + [end of passage]
 
And, these even disagreed with one another while Christ walked among them.  The Book of Acts shows they continually debated. Still, the message of God's healing and redemption, the Good News, the Gospel, has reached the corners world. 
 
Yet, we still expect the Church founded from those bickering leaders to be homogenous?  Homogeny is not Orthodoxy, thank God!
 
Christ's love and light have been brought to the lives of sinners by sinners of enormous diversity through the ages.  Many who have borne the message of hope have fallen short.  Thank God.  For He said that He comes not to those who are healthy, but to the sick, the infirm, the destitute, the lonely, the wounded - yes, even to the self-inflated egotist.  
 
Maranatha. Lord, please come.
 
Lord, have mercy.
 
John-Brian, priest and sinner.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lighted Eyes, Brightened Bodies


Lighted Eyes, Brightened Bodies

"The light of your body is your eye, when therefore your eye is bright, your whole body will also be lighted..." Luke 11:34

"O you shortsighted, did not He who made the outside also make the inside?" Luke 11:40

"..a real Jew is one who is inwardly so, and circumcision is of the heart, spiritually and not literally; whose praise is not from men but from God." Romans 3:29

Fr John-Brian talks about an encounter with a 92 year old agnostic and why we need the light of our eyes and be a light for others. Emphasizing the inner work of Christianity, the homeletic of this week's gospel examines Christ's own admonisions recorded in Luke.

This sermon focuses on the scripture for the Sunday: Luke 11: 33-41 and Romans 2:28-3:8

The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, September 13, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Frustrating Dreams and Superheroes


Frustrating Dreams and Superheroes

"For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God." 1 Corinthians 3:19

"become perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect." Matthew 5:48

How much can we help others that do not wish to be helped? What of enemies that do not wish to reconcile? Do we need super powers to love our enemies?

This sermon focuses on the scripture for the Sunday: 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 and Matthew 5:38-48

The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, September 6, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock
at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

When Worldly Things Become Masters


When Worldly Things Become Masters
"For though we do live an earthly life, yet we do not serve worldly things" 2 Corinthians 10:3

"I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner, says the Lord God; but rather that he should return from his evil ways and live." Ezekiel 18:23

How can we tell when we are serving worldly things? What do we do when we are? This sermon focuses on the scripture for the Sunday: 2 Corinthians 10:1-7 and Ezekiel 21-24
The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, August 30, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Including Others


Including Others
"Comfort one another and edify one another" 1 Thessalonians

We are in this work of salvation together. We canot do it alone. This sermon focuses on chapter 5 of 1 Thessalonians and the beginning of Luke chapter 11 to bring us understanding about our work while still on earth.

"God's will for you, for us, always involves others, always includes others, serving them helping them, comforting, edifying."

The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, August 23, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Powerful Femininity


Powerful Femininity
Mary, the Ever-Virgin Mother of God, Theotokos

Holy Assumption or Dormition is the day of remembrance of St. Mary's death. In this sermon, the gifts of femininity are discussed along with the story and festival of St Mary.

Our Orthodox Christian view of St Mary sets us apart from other Christians but not from the humanity and divinity afforded us.

The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, August 16, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fruit of Transfiguration



Fruit of Transfiguration

Holy Transfiguration is a call to holiness. In this sermon, the gifts of transfiguration are discussion. Pope Shenouda, the current Coptic Patriarch, wrote of the different kinds of transfigurations in our human life. These are discussed in the context of our mission and purpose as Orthodox Christians, in anticipation of the annual blessing of fruit.

The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, August 9, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Ten Years Ago: A Return To Ministry


Return To Active Ministry
Reverend Father John-Brian Paprock
Sermon delivered on the evening of August 5th, 1999
At St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church - Madison, Wisconsin
(photo at left circa 2000)

Ye do well that ye take head, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in your hearts” 2 Peter
+

God, my Father in Heaven, the Creator of the Universe, be gracious and merciful to your unworthy servant and grant my needs to the fruition of ministry. May my words this evening be for healing and understanding and reflect Thine expression in me. Amen.
+

Thank you all for being here. Your loving support and interest has touched my heart and renews my trust in the direction of ministry before me. Until my discernment weekend a few weeks ago, I don’t think I was ever prayerfully considered and held in spiritual nurturance for by so many of so many diverse beliefs. It was a powerfully affirming experience. I will never be able to repay the kindness bestowed upon me during this time of discernment. I can only hope that God will bring to bear fruits of my humble and unworthy ministry that will nurture and assist fellow servants in a similar manner.

Although I have always been ministering, the last seven years have been more or less covert. The length and breadth of my leave of absence from overt active ministry cannot be condensed into this talk this evening. The magnitude and the depth of the lessons I have learned cannot be relegated to a few moments. Not because I have become a reservoir of great teachings, but because I needed to learn so much. I had no idea how ignorant I was. I had no idea how many inner wounds needed healing nor how much energy and time it would take to be here this evening. At least now, I know enough to know that I am ignorant and there are areas of common knowledge that I am still learning as an adult.

The decision to return to active ministry is the fruit of agonizing days, weeks, months, and years of prayer and meditation. My leave started confused and in deep emotional pain. I wanted to have clear answers and for everything to be back in order. I thought I must have been “bad” or, worse, “broken” that I had to be fixed to make everything right again. But I found out that I could not, not by myself. Not until I let God take over did healing come, even then the walk was very dark at times.

That first summer I was lead to volunteer at St. Benedict Center. I remember saying to the coordinator, “whatever needs to be done…” They gave me the job of transplanting seedling oaks. How symbolic! It still gives me goose bumps.

Today, as I approach a return to active ministry, I am filled with gratitude and trepidation. I know I am not perfect. Whatever is good about me and my life today (and there is much to be grateful for) is a testament to God’s grace and mercy. I am truly honored by the support of so many. I am also nervous and afraid – you see I know all too well the frailties of our human existence. For reassurance, an orthodox priest said to me: "Never despise your past. God knows who and what you are. You begin right where you are."

Sometimes, my friends, I am confused, but I am still a real person. I don't pretend anything about myself. I've been down that road in survival of tremendous childhood abuse. I follow the spirit as much as I can and I haven’t always been sure which road to travel. In this country, at this time, there are many roads to travel. But they do not all lead to our home.


I have met many hypocrites who have not even begun to deal with who they really are and how they got so full of anger or so full of denial. For them, I say prayers for the healing Light that brought healing to my delusion to penetrate their darkness and for them to awaken to the truth of their hearts. I have come to understand a truth about this life: I would rather be hated for who I really am, than loved for who I am not.

I have no doubt anymore that God is gracious and merciful in hearing our prayers as He knows the truth in our hearts. Once while praying, a rabbi was caught reciting the alphabet, when asked how such a prayer could be a true prayer, he replied “I opened my heart to God and let Him make the words for my prayer.” I have so often prayed to God to hear the voice of my heart and cried tears of gratitude and healing in those loving instances of honest communion. I continue to ask God to reveal to me the direction of my heart, because I have so many layers over my heart it can be hard to see the Truth there.

A good friend reminded me, God call us the way God makes us. I cannot deny the call to ministry inside me. But what form of ministry should that be?

In 1996, I struggled with this issue and wrote the following Mission Statement:

My Personal Mission Statement is
- To bring light into the dark, the integration of life experience and the re-integration of souls
- To heal wounds of individuals, groups, society, working with the angels at their core
- To dispel ignorance and deception with knowledge, wisdom and truth
- To be trustworthy, honest, honoring, empowering, nurturing
- To work as a guide, consultant, developer, networker
- To bring beauty and hope, life itself, through innovative and creative expressive views; words and images that last beyond present existence
- To have a peaceful familial beauty-filled home base where nurturance abounds and needs are met.
- As a healer, I will need to be healed
- As a guide, I will need to be led
- As a teacher, I will need to learn
- As a developer, I will need to develop
- As a bringer of beauty and hope, I will need optimism and vision
- As a minister, I will need ministration and prayers
- As a light bearer, I will need light
- As a spiritual being, I will need spiritual nurturance and direction
+


This continues to be a personal mission statement. Certainly, most faith traditions and denominations of Christianity could provide for the expression of this mission. The question of where and how to serve continues, but, through continued prayer, trust in God and the wonderful blessing of the counsel of my wife Teresa, the field of opportunity has been narrowed.

My views are both universal and Christian, both ancient and modern. How can these be reconciled? There have been several Orthodox writers that have helped me on my journey. I have chosen a few representative passages for their insight.

H.E. Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios of the Malankara Orthodox Church of India was President of the WCC and opened the Centennial Parliament of World’s Religions.
From his opening of the Parliament A VISION BECKONS, he wrote:

In each religion there are two levels. One level is exclusivistic and expansionist. That is to say, each religion says, we have the truth and if you want to have the truth, join us. That is the exclusivist, expansionist, lower type of religion. All religions have that lower type.

But in religions there is also a higher type, a type which is universal in its orientation, which is all-embracing in its love, which is non-discriminating between members of its own community and those outside. That good, humanistic, open tendency in all religions will have to be brought to the top. It is there. It only needs to be emphasized further. Only that way will we promote Peace on Earth.
+

From another talk, he said:
It is our faith in the Divine that permits us to freely embrace the whole of humanity in a warm embrace of love and respect for their dignity and freedom.
+

The higher type of Christianity is expressed in the words of Fr. Alexander Men, a Russian Orthodox Priest who was martyred in 1990. A CREDO FOR TODAY'S CHRISTIAN is quoted from his book "Christianity for the XXIst Century" (published by Continuum 1998). I have abbreviated this for tonight.

A Christian...
...believes that the coming to earth of Jesus Christ the God-man was not a divine one- sided act but a call for people to respond to the love of God.
...does not look on faith as abstract conviction but total trust in God revealed in Christ.
...accepts the word of God recorded in scripture but guards against giving a literal interpretation to every line.
...recognizes the activity of Christ in the Church and in all life.
...believes that the Church lives and grows in the strength of Christ.
...respects the ritual forms of devotion without forgetting for a moment that they are secondary in comparison with love for God and other people.
...experiences the divisions among Christians as a sin which is common to all and a violation of Christ's will.
...sees all that is beautiful, creative and good as belonging to God, the secret activity of Christ's grace.
...believes that Christ reveals himself in the sacraments of the church, in her sanctification of the world, in her teaching and in acts of service, but knows that none of these aspects is sufficient on its own, for Christ came as savior, healer and teacher.
...knows that the kingdom of God which is to come can reign within us even
today.
...does not ask for tangible signs but remembers that creation is a miracle.
...refuses to point to human imperfection or to the 'survival of the animal nature' as the sole reason for the existence of evil in human beings but believes in the reality of metaphysical evil.
...is open to all that is valuable in all Christian denominations and non-Christian beliefs.
...does not consider reason and science to be enemies of the faith. Knowledge enlightened by the spirit of Faith deepens our understanding of the greatness of the creator.
...affirms with the apostle Paul that the witness of faith in the world is first
and foremost the witness of service and active love.
...does not reject good even if it comes from non-religious people but rejects force, dictatorship and hatred even if they are perpetrated in the name of Christ.
...professes that freedom is one of the most important laws of the Spirit and in
the light of this sees sin as a form of slavery.
...sees that the Christian vocation can be realized in everything: in prayer, work, creativity, in active work and moral discipline.
...considers that when some area of life is infected by sin this should not serve as a reason for rejecting it. On the contrary, the struggle to establish the Kingdom of God should take place at the center of life.
+

There is also THE CALL TO A COMMUNITY OF PRIESTS
From “The Royal Priesthood of Christ” by Paulos Mar Gregorios 1967

We are a people gathered from all the nations of the earth, not because of any special merit in us, but by His gracious calling, to a life of close intimacy with God.

That is what distinguishes us from those who are not Christians. We have been given a privilege of knowing Christ, and through Him of living in great, close intimacy with God.

But this is a great responsibility as well. we cannot take this call lightly and expect that we will be automatically holy. First we must keep in mind the two poles of our calling, namely, that it is out of His free grace that God has called us, and therefore that the call does not make us any better than others. There is no room for feeling superior to others.

Second, our calling is always to an existence on behalf of others, Christians and others. This is what priesthood means. A priest is always one who lives to intercede for others and not for himself. And all of us have been by baptism incorporated into the one eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ who ever lives to make intercession for the whole world. Our priesthood is a part of this ministry of universal intercession.
+

A long time friend, Bishop Seraphim Sigrist OCA wrote a book recently, Theology of Wonder, which I have been honored to be of those who were able to review the manuscript. It was he who introduced me to the works of Fr Alexander Men. Bishop Seraphim writes this of COMMUNITY:

Fr Men loved to say that the Church has only begun to realize and to disclose her inner reality …and yet [this is] most difficult...for consider that in no other religion is there anything really comparable to the Church in [its] aspiration to make one Body of many members…The revelation of the Mystery of Community reveals, and will reveal yet more, the Mystery of the Church…

(Bishop Seraphim refers to these Mysteries as gifts…he continues:)

To the gifts of the Spirit in Community we must add those gifts in which the Spirit pours out on each individual in Community. For as ones life is lived with and offered to Community, the gifts of each are for all…

A gift is not something that we have on our own. Considered in ourselves we are all on the contrary limited and broken and full of impossible contradictions even within ourselves--not to speak of with others. We have no wholeness individually or together, but we have the possibility to receive [community] as a gift that which we could in no way establish ourselves.

The Community…is a way of balance, indeed of a whole series of balances. Balance of the personal and of the communal, of the spiritual and of the practical, including all the concrete circumstances of our lives, family work and so on; balance of ministry of the word and of social service. Balance of an ever-deepening understanding and experience of the Church's Tradition, and of searching for new ways; balance of taking in and of giving out, of love of the Church and of reaching out to those outside, of silence, and of action grounded in peace.

+

The seeming contradiction of my call to return to the priesthood, to a spiritual, nurturing community of ministry and to interfaith and ecumenical work are reconciled in a loving God presented in ancient Christianity and alive today.

This does not mean immediate harmony and trust. I remember a revelation to me from the Desert Fathers - We have the same sins and disharmonies. There is no doubt that we all have the capacity to offend another without any special effort on our part. BUT, as the desert fathers emphasize, there will always be new forms of holiness. We all can be new expressions of God’s love in the world.

This is not easy work and no one (save Jesus Christ that we know of) has achieved perfect union with God while still in the body. So, in Orthodox Churches around the world and since the Apostles, we pray, "Lord, have mercy." and "Forgive us sinners." Not as added psychological torment, but as admission of the truth and real requests for our Creator's grace.

I am an orthodox Christian who believes in the historical realities of Christianity through time to the present. I am a modern American who is also qualified computer technician and organizational consultant, who believes in the American constitutional rights and privileges. I coordinate a local interfaith network. These and more are all integrated into the unique blended creature God has made me. Modern society also has a blended-ness.

If I back up far enough and look honestly - people of diverse faiths walk past each other, use the same roads, and even consume many of the same products. We already live in a pluralistic society. Much of the grandeur of religious tradition seems to be relegated to novelty and exotica from distant lands (or even distant galaxies or distant dimensions).

I can search the internet on any religion as well as most of the sects and cults and find information and misinformation in abundance. The bookstores are teeming with books about this religion, that tradition, this ancient secret or that one. Many spiritual teachers that I have had contact with during these 1990s are being told by their elders and holy ones to teach the truth of their ways to anyone who wants to know, even if that has never been the tradition before. When faced with great overwhelming changes many pull back in defense of the old ways, even when it is really not the old ways being threatened.

My hope is that we will never be afraid to say, "There is Truth!" and "There is Goodness!" - regardless of who or what tradition or belief may have generated it, just as easily as we can admit to the awe experienced at the grandeur of the natural wonders of the world (like the Grand Canyon) as well as the human-constructed wonders (like the Great Wall). Both of which can be seen from space.

Once I give up trying to convince everyone of my beliefs and put my energy and focus on being a believer, being a Christian rather than try to make more Christians, my faith - my ability and capacity for love - becomes large enough to even include God and myself.

I believe we are all capable of reaching this place of honoring others in the manner that God honors each of us. I believe in a God of Truth and any movement toward Truth is movement toward God and toward “partaking of divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

Archimandrite Christofvros Stavropoulos, (from a little book - Partaking of Divine Nature) says, “Within each human being, God sows all those seed-like gifts which make us His image and leads us toward His likeness, insomuch as we cultivate these gifts. This is our calling – Theosis. Theosis is achieved little by little, through the step by step spiritualization of our human nature.”

This is the life and the ministry to which I am called. As to which church, Bishop Seraphim wrote this to me in an email last week:
“As to which church to be in – one thing is to keep perspective, of course. After all, in every case God’s will for us is the same – holiness... and all will be well.”

Paulos Mar Gregorios reminds us that
“Without Divine Aid our human efforts can bear no fruit”

Finally, this evening’s aposticha for Holy Transfiguration:
Having Ascended this mountain with Thy disciples, O Savior, and having been transformed, Thou didst make the dark nature of Adam shine again, by transforming it into the glory and splendor of Thy Godhead.
+


May we each be so blessed.
Amen

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Humility is Not Criminal Thinking


Humility is Not Criminal Thinking

On International Forgiveness Day, which is the first Sunday in August annually since 1996, Fr John Brian entered into a discussion of how some Christians can develop a serious problem in their spiritual life. He used the modern therapuetic term, "criminal thinking" to explain the spiritual teachings in this Sunday's scripture lessons.

"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled..." Luke 14:11
"The soul of the diligent shall be enriched" Proverbs 13:4

This homiletic sermon with scripture commentary walks through Proverb 13:1-7; Isaiah 24:1-5; I Corinthians 6:1-11; Luke 14:7-11 and the beginning of Psalm 22. The sermon uses the readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, August 2, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Doing the Right Thing


Doing the Right Thing
Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
Meriter Hospital, Madison, Wisconsin
August 19, 2001
(artwork by Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock)
Scripture: Matthew 21:28-32; Philippians 4:8-20


In name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

"Which of the sons did the will of his father?" or to rephrase the question
in modern language, "which of the sons did the right thing?"

Of course, the answer comes quickly and easily to us.

Action speaks louder than words, as the saying goes. The father must have
felt honored by the first son who quickly agreed to the paternal request...
and must have felt disappointed with the second that said he did not want to
help his father. Yet the first son did not follow up on his word, and it was
the second who had regrets then went to follow his father's request without
another thought.

Jesus quickly compares the sons to faithful believers on one hand and
non-believers (e.g. Gentiles, sinners, etc.) on the other. He warns the
faithful believers that the non-believers will be in Heaven, receiving all
the blessings of God, before them. Actions do speak louder than words.

One of the implications is that some of the Gentile and other non-believers
are in fact doing the will of the Father of us all without promising they
would or could.

This reminds me of an idea given to me by a wise Russian monk many years
ago. Everyone, regardless of belief or non-belief, already knows the will
of God. We need to let Christ sort it all out later. Here we are given the
notion that unbelievers will be in heaven. This is a good reminder that
True Christians know that it is great work to focus on following Christ,
being Christian, rather than making sure everyone else is.

WE all know in our hearts the next right thing we need to do in our lives.
We may not like it, perhaps we would prefer that someone else does it, but
we know what it is. You know what that is.

Maybe it is unfinished emotional or family business. Like the first son,
maybe we promised to do something, but did not follow up. Now is the time
to repent, turn our minds to the doing the right thing. We probably do not
need to talk with anyone - we'd probably only make excuses anyway. Let us
just do it - the right thing - the will of God - the call of our hearts.

Sometimes we can be physically or emotionally overwhelmed by the work in
front of us. Perhaps, this is why we put it off. Anxiety, not busy-ness,
is the top reason for procrastination. Procrastination. I have had problems
with procrastination over the years. One time, well actually a few times, I
tried to deal with my procrastination problem. I even tried to get to a
self-help group called Procrastinator's Anonymous. Of course, I was late.
On the door there was a sign that said, "Meeting postponed."

The unique unfolding of each of our lives, the fulfillment of our purpose
and mission in this life, follows the course of our decisions. But our
decisions can become nothing more than stones diverting a stream as it goes
down the mountainside or they can be attempts to stop the water flow. Even
the largest dams do not stop the flow of water. Slow it, divert it, but not
stop it.

We can choose as the second son to do the right thing. We can commit or
re-commit to the doing of God's will in our lives.

Doing the next right thing can be spontaneously given like a light bulb
going on or labored over like the reluctant teenager verbally challenging a
household chore. Regardless, we will be given (or most likely already have)
all the resources and training we need to accomplish the task at hand. If we
did not, we would not be called to act. Sometimes, it means asking for help,
admitting errors, or other seemingly unpleasant doses of humility. Let us
emulate the second son. Regardless of our reasons for balking the first
time, let us not be stubborn in our own will, but give way to the doing of
our Father's will.

Let us look at his epistle lesson to the Philippians for guidance.

4:9 "Those things which you have both learned and received and heard and
seen in me do and the God of peace shall be with you."
4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
4:19 "My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in the
glory of Jesus Christ."
4:8 "Finally my brethren...."

May we learn to follow the quiet voice of Christ in our hearts, doing the
right thing, even if our words reject it at first. Lord, be a gentle and
affirming teacher as we listen.

May we become willing children in our Father's kingdom, not just with our
words, but in our actions. Lord, let our actions speak the greater truths
that can not always be spoken.

Amen.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Living Bread and Priest at the Altar


Living Bread and Priest at the Altar

In memory of Reverend Father James Pike, priest, who passed to the next life July 23, 2009

"[The priest] is one who can humble himself and have compassion on those who are ignorant and go astray; for he himself also is subject to weaknesses." (Hebrews 5:2)....and an exemplar of this high standard was Fr James.
Eternal memory!

This homiletic sermon is two lessons with scripture commentary:
1. Bread of Life as the living fruit of the Tree of Life on this side of the Garden. Gospel of John 6:47-59
2. Priest as bridge and intercessor at the altar, inwardly and outwardly. Epistle to the Hebrews 4:14-5:5

This sermon has a special memorial tribute to Father James Pike, a priest of the Mission Society of St Gregorios of India who died July 23, 2009 in Spokane, Washington.

The sermon uses the readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, July 26, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

PODCAST OR DOWNLOAD: http://feeds.feedburner.com/frjohnbrian or
http://frjohnbrian.hipcast.com/rss/spiritual_reflections_or_fr_john_brian.xml
LISTEN ONLINE HERE:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Christian At-One-Ment


Christian At-One-Ment: Separated Yet Together

"A household divided against itself cannot stand" Mark 3:25

"For he is our peace, who has made both one..." Ephesians 2:14

A homiletic sermon starting in Leviticus (16:29-34) with a discussion of the day of atonement through Isaiah (57:15-19), Acts (4:32) and Ephesians (2:11-22) all leading to the Gospel of Mark (3:20-30). All focus on the coming together, the unity, the fullness of God reconciliation - a Christian at-one-ment through the forgiveness of sins...

The sermon uses the readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, July 19, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

PODCAST OR DOWNLOAD: http://feeds.feedburner.com/frjohnbrian or
http://frjohnbrian.hipcast.com/rss/spiritual_reflections_or_fr_john_brian.xml
LISTEN ONLINE HERE:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Spiritually Fed in Desolate Places


Spiritually Fed in Desolate Places

"Where can we get bread in this desolate place?" Matthew 15:33

A homiletic sermon on the story of feeding the multitude in at the end of Matthew chapter 15. Then a homiletic exploration of a few verses from the beginning of 1 Corinthians chapter 8.

The sermon uses the readings from the Malankara lectionary, including
Matthew 15:32-39 and 1 Corinthians 8:1-6.

This sermon given on Sunday, July 12, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

PODCAST OR DOWNLOAD: http://feeds.feedburner.com/frjohnbrian or
http://frjohnbrian.hipcast.com/rss/spiritual_reflections_or_fr_john_brian.xml
LISTEN ONLINE HERE:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Called Together in Community

Called Together in Community
Fr. John-Brian Paprock
Madison Wisconsin
delivered as a sermon in July 2002


Orthodox Christianity is a religion of individuals called together in community to worship the One True God in three persons revealed through the incarnation of Jesus Christ and delivered to the world through the Holy Apostles who created churches in various nations. The keys: individuals, community (communion), One God, Jesus Christ, Apostles, churches, nations.

This obviously means that there will be differences. The Apostles were called to carry the good news to all nations. Even from the earliest records there were difference of practice in the various churches, but there was enormous agreement on the Truth. (On this topic, see another 2002 article written by the author "Why We Still Follow the Apostles" and published on-line in the Indian Orthodox Herald and available here http://frjohbrian.blogspot.com/2009/07/why-do-we-still-follow-apostles.html)


Some of the differences between the Orthodox churches related to the non-Christian governmental systems that were dominate, often creating martyrs for the faith. Some were customs of the land that bore the Truths of God and were allowed to be incorporated through the divine revelation and inspiration of the Apostles and their successors. Geographical separations over decades and centuries allowed churches to grow in Holy Orthodoxy separately.

Each of us is an individual, called to a unique purpose under Christ Jesus through the power and gift of the Holy Spirit. If we fulfill that or not is a personal decision. No amount of water or oil (or chrism) or vesting or anything else will remove that decision from us. As such, we believe that salvation is not a sure thing because we confessed yesterday - but rather because we confess TODAY. We, as Orthodox Christians, also do not believe there is assurance of salvation beyond the church given to us through the Holy Apostles and kept alive to the present. Not that God cannot work in any manner He chooses - simply, we are assured salvation in the community of Holy Orthodoxy.

Holy Church cherishes our individuality so much that we each have to partake of the sacraments individually, by name if possible. If one is fallen or has gone astray, then each one needs to repent and be restored individually. Now the manner and form, although it must be within the acceptable practices of Holy Orthodoxy, can vary according to individual presenting needs. The determination of this is the burden of bishops and they will bear the weight of their decisions - but a repentant heart is never turned away from Holy Orthodoxy. So, whether one needs to receive baptism, Chrismation (muron) or confession, the Church will not turn away those that seek the Truth of Holy Community as long as they are willing to be participants in it. This determination is an individual matter. So, it follows that there would be a variety of stories about how different people and circumstances brought them to the One True Church.

When I go and see my doctor, I am glad that he treats me individually and doesn't give me unnecessary medication and treatment, neglecting my medical problems. So, the Divine Physician and Healer of our souls treats us for our individual needs and heals our unique spiritual pains and illnesses, if we are willing to be healed. Some priests and bishops are more cautious as they have seen great spiritual ills prevail in recent times. As such, there has been some modern confusion.

So, in Holy Orthodoxy, it matters much more that we are practicing and repentant Christians. We need to be true to our faith first and foremost. However, if someone wishes to join us, then we need to clear about what Holy Orthodoxy is:

Orthodox Christianity is a religion of individuals called together in community to worship the One True God in three persons revealed through the incarnation of Jesus Christ and delivered to the world through the Holy Apostles who created churches in various nations. The keys: individuals, community (communion), One God, Jesus Christ, Apostles, churches, nations.