Friday, September 11, 2015

First Sunday of Sleeba ~ First Sunday of the Cross ~ First Sunday of Tragedy

First Sunday of Sleeba ~ First Sunday of the Cross ~ First Sunday of Tragedy
Mark 13:30-37 -  I Cor. 2:10-16
Sermon given September 16, 2001 by V. Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock

In name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise!
What can I say to you, my brothers and sisters, on this first Sunday after the horrific tragedy that shook the world in an hour of destruction?

Like so many of us, I watched in disbelief and horror when the World Trade Towers fell.  I cried then not just for the loss of life, although there was much loss of life; not just for the loss of property, although there was much loss of that too; not just for the loss of a skyline I knew once as home, although that is irretrievable.  Rather, I found myself crying for the losses yet to come.  I saw in the billowing plumes of smoke and dust raining down upon Manhattan the future losses that such a declaration of violence would reap.  And I cried and somewhere inside I still cry.  I cry for the young men and women that will die in retribution and war.  I cry for all who will lose their faith because of violent acts in the name of God.  I cry for those who will find hatred and violence in their hearts and will be lead by that same darkness rather than the light of Christ.  I cry for all who become instruments of malignant joy to the Evil One. 

Such losses have been experienced before, in other places and other times.  I have wept when reading accounts of the Crusaders and the Conquistadors, the Inquisition and the Holocaust.  From all this suffering and torment, my brothers and sisters, what have we learned?  Is this yet another lesson?  Will America use this as justification for inflicting others with similar injury?  The underlying question is really – what would Jesus do?  

Like many of us, I have watched the news specials broadcasting on all channels.  I listened to the news on the car radio.  It seemed at times like it would never end.  How many stories of grief and sorrow can there be?  How many commentaries for justifiable retribution?  My vigilant witness by television and radio would not ease until I was serving as chaplain at the hospitals this weekend. 

Friday, I visited with a man who was waiting for an organ transplant.  I don’t often get to visit with such patients.  So, I learned more about his condition and his suffering.  Both he and his wife had such hope, even though they were in the hospital earlier this week and left without a transplant.   At one point, I realized that his hope was based upon another’s death.  He noticed this awareness and the visit became awkward.  He had tears in his eyes when he said, “I realize that I benefit from another family’s loss.”  I replied, “Yes, but so many of the families are honored that in their loss someone may benefit.”

That night, there was death in another ward.  An elderly man was being taken for further imaging, examining his insides if you wish.  Along the way, he died.  Code Blue was initiated and the hospital doctors and nurses and other staff worked to revive him, but couldn’t.  He died in the hallway.  As a chaplain, I had to tell his wife who was on her way but not expecting this sudden death.  When I told her, her first words, “I thought we would have a few more years.” 

Her friend who had come for support started having tremendous difficulty as her parents and her husband had all died in this hospital.  Eventually, she had to apologetically leave.  She said, “Why would this happen to me?”

I told her that I believed that an angel guards the images and memories of traumatic events when we cannot deal with them.  Then, when the angel is assured that we are ready and have the support around us, the angel lets us re-live or re-experience those moments so that we may be whole again.  Traumatic events shatter us.

Across the hall, there was another death.  This was long expected by the family.  They simply wanted her to have some prayers for her journey.  The family wept and said good-bye. 

At the hospital, we place a butterfly on the door of rooms where a patient has died to alert staff who may not know of the demise.  On this floor, the staff has only one butterfly.  Although the second death was expected, they were still unprepared.

After a time, I went to the floor below where there is a special care nursery.  These is where infants with difficulties after birth are tended with loving attention, but are of necessity separated from their parents.  There an infant is crying in an incubator because she is withdrawing from the drugs her mother took.  Another weak and feeble infant has a rare painful condition where her bones are so brittle that she cannot be picked up and held.  Neither of these infants knows of the violence that was perpetrated in New York City, yet their suffering is just as real.

The intimacy of pain, death and suffering can only be experienced individually.  Such is the image of the Crucifixion and the power of the Cross - suffering, pain and even death cannot hold back the glory of God.

Last night, I began to watch regular fiction and fantasy programming on the television.  I have to admit that I am a fan of science fiction.  There is a show that I have watched called “Earth: Final Conflict.”(It seemed appropriate.)  In this show, aliens come to Earth to save their race as their destiny is somehow intimately entangled with ours. 

In this episode, most of the alien race are in stasis, in sort of a coma, and the last two awake are debating about who should be the last one to go into stasis.  Their ship can only finish its mission if they are all in stasis.  One is willing to go into stasis for their race.  The other does not trust the human’s to care enough about their problems and wants to stay awake to the possible demise fo their race.  So, there is a conflict over saving their race by trusting humans.  However, there is a prophetic figure who happens to be human, but a little more than human, who brings all the aliens out of stasis and tells them that they need to work NOW if they are going to save their race – in effect, telling them that both sides of their argument are incorrect.  The answer is in being awakened.  As one alien says, “Awakening us from stasis is the first step in our salvation.”

Now, I don’t often use science fiction stories to make a Christian or biblical point.  I smile quite often at the symbolism and often not-so-subtle spiritual and moral messages.  Perhaps, that is why I enjoy those shows.  However, I found the alien statement to be a profound reflection into our current predicament and our Gospel lesson for today.  “Awakening us from stasis is the first step in our salvation.”

Our Gospel reading from Mark and our Epistle reading from First Corinthians are so profound in the face of the historic and horrific events of this past week. I strongly recommend them for meditation and prayer over the next weeks and months.

Many times in today’s Gospel we are told: “Be Alert.”  Be as alert as if you are the one who is watching a house and knows not when the owner will return, knowing that it is expected that you keep watch – as the owner “might come suddenly and find you asleep.” (Verse 36)

So, is this the time foretold in the Gospels, in the Prophecies of Christ? What of other Prophets and their sayings?  Let me say that the Gospel tells me over and over again to be a skeptic, to focus on the personal and intimate interactions with others and within myself. This is how I will be judged as a Christian; by how I conduct myself regardless of the times or the seasons.

Verse 33: …for you do not know when the time is.

How should we be alert?  We always need to allow for spiritual discernment in the face of the physical destruction and emotional turmoil. Let us look to St. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians. 

Verse 14-16: For the material man rejects spiritual things, for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But the spiritual man discerns EVERY THING…For who knows the mind of the Lord, that he may teach it? But we have the perception of Christ.

Brothers and Sisters, now that the shock of the events have diminished a bit, do not let the evil one into your hearts with what seems to be "justifiable" hatred or rage.
v    Let us not be quick to judgment upon anyone nor quick to assume God's intent. None of us knows the will of God as well as He does. His allowance for us to hurt each other is a mystery debated since the founding of the Church, even as Christ hung on the cross.
v    Let us be instruments of constructive good and peace. 
v    Let us shine as beacons of love and hope. 
v    Let us be good citizens of Christian conviction, serving others in these difficult times regardless of where they live. 
v    Let us be of Christ’s mind, using His perception in the discernment of our personal activities in the midst of what is a global crisis.
v    Let us be witnesses of the good that others are doing.
v   Let us remember each other in prayer and in goodness and in hope.  Amen.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Apostolic Mission: Psalm 75

Apostolic Mission: Psalm 75

An inspiring sermon about the Apostolic Work of Holy Church through the perspectives of lectionary appointed Bible readings of St. Peter and St. Paul (and St. James). Fr. John Brian delivers another heart felt sermon for mission work. Not just mission work, but the spiritual work of all Christians, every day. Then, he reflects on the verses of Psalm 75.

This sermon uses Church readings  according to the Syriac Orthodox Church for the Apostles day celebration. The homiletic sermon was given by. Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock on June 26, 2015 at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission liturgy held at St. Ignatius Antiochian Church in Madison (Fitchburg) Wisconsin 

Please pray for Fr. John Brian who remains committed to us in the continuing development of Christian Spirituality.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Forgiving Genocide

Forgiving Genocide

Is it possible to forgive a GENOCIDE? Is it possible to forgive the massacre of family, friends, those bound to us by any social or sacred means?

Fr. John Brian brings a heart felt sermon about the problems of US vs Them and the ultimate place of our salvation and the redemption of the

This sermon was given in special commemoration of the centennial remembrance of the Armenian genocide that included Christians from Syria and Greece.

Fr. John Brian talks about the importance of memory in our Christian journey.

Please pray for Fr. John Brian who remains committed to us in the continuing development of Christian Spirituality.

This sermon uses and refers to scripture readings appointed by the Syriac Orthodox calendar and was given on Sunday April 18, 2015 by Fr. John-Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission service at St. Ignatius Orthodox Church in Fitchburg, Wisconsin.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Martyr Love

Martyr Love

The love and power of Christian martyrs is discussed in this Lenten sermon. Fr John Brian gives a sermon that can be listened to at all seasons.

Martyrs have always been considered among the greatest of saints as they are tested servants, but they also demonstrate the great power of God's love.

How is that? Listen to this thoughtful sermon that can help us in our own spiritual growth.

Please pray for Fr. John Brian who remains committed to us in the continuing development of Christian Spirituality.

This sermon uses and refers to scripture readings appointed by the Syriac Orthodox calendar and was given on Sunday March 21, 2015 by Fr. John-Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission service at St. Ignatius Orthodox Church in Fitchburg, Wisconsin.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Truth and Deception

Truth and Deception

Are we deceived? Fr John Brian suggests we are all easily deceived in America. In this thoughtful sermon, he gives us the Orthodox Christian way of discerning truth and how important this is for our spiritual growth.

Fr. John Brian uses the seasonal readings from the beginning of Matthew to talk about the keys to understanding the truth, even in our dreams.

Then, Fr. John Brian uses a selection for the Epistle of Peter to further assist our discernment. He gives us historical Orthodox Christian grounding to make our spiritual foundations secure.

"Always follow the truth. Find the truth. Trust that God will bring the truth to you," said Fr John Brian

Please pray for Fr. John Brian who remains committed to us in the continuing development of Christian Spirituality.

This sermon uses and refers to scripture readings appointed by the Syriac Orthodox calendar and was given on Sunday December 13, 2014 by Fr. John-Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.


Reflection on Martyrdom

"... it is a privilege for a Christian to die a martyr, because none but a martyr can, at the last judgement, take his stand in front of God's judgement seat and say, 'According to Thy word and Thy example, I have forgiven. Thou hast no claim against them any more.' Which means that the one who suffers martyrdom in Christ, whose love is not defeated by suffering, acquires unconditional power of forgiving over the one who has inflicted the suffering. And this can be applied on a much lower level, on the level of everyday life; anyone who suffers a minor injustice from someone else can forgive or refuse to forgive. But this is a two-edged sword; if you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven either."

Bishop Anthony Bloom in "Living Prayer"

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Spiritually Vulnerable: Exposing Religious Abuse (excerpt)

Many years ago I was quoted in an article that can be found on the internet. I cannot reproduce the entire article here. So here is the relevant excerpt: 

"The Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock, an Orthodox Christian priest, certified pastoral counselor and director of Inroads Ministries (an organization dedicated to spiritual recovery and renewal), has noticed the same thing Stephen has. “I started Inroads because I was encountering so many people who were suffering from religious trauma,” he says. “And almost all the cases were familial in some way.

“Maybe the father beat the kids because ‘God told him to do it’ and forced their hands together to make them pray, or maybe a religious trauma has resulted in a dysfunction that has gone down the family generations like a curse,” says Paprock. “Perhaps, due to family dysfunction, a young adult entering college is unable to discern a healthy religious group from an unhealthy one. In counseling survivors, I often have to deal with family of origin issues.”

The entire article can be found at the link below:

Friday, January 16, 2015

Reflections on 15 Years of Mission Ministry

When I became a teenager, I had served around the altar of Holy Orthodoxy for years as an altar boy, though without consistency. Like many Orthodox children, my parents, although deeply spiritual and devout in their own way, rarely took us to the Divine Liturgy. There were, as there often are, other issues that were obstacles to attendance. Not the least of these excuses was the lack of English in the services. We were fortunate to find services with English and kind clergy that were willing to push me around the altar in on-the-job training to serve.  About forty years ago, a barely-teenager boy, I was asked if I could read the Epistle during the Liturgy. I agreed and was given the Episcopal blessing (and tonsure) to be a reader in the Holy Orthodox Church. I read in English. 

Thirty years ago, I was ordained to Holy Orders (the diaconate) when I was a young man in my 20s. I volunteered to serve an English speaking mission. A few years later, I was ordained to the priesthood and continued serving Holy Church and the mission for Americans.  I have been blessed with bishops and elders who have given me kind and compassionate attention and required a deeper spirituality. Perhaps they knew, even before I did, how much wounded-ness from childhood I carried. Maybe, they were completely in compliance with the love of God. They taught me and encouraged me even in dark and difficult times. I continued to volunteer for small mission parish work through the years.  (continued below photo collages)

Over past years, I have been blessed with the incidental (and, occasionally ,official) company of Bishops and future Bishops (and a couple of future patriarchs!). I have been honored by their company and blessings. Most of these photos have been taken in the last fifteen years, since I have been part of the Syriac (Malankara) Orthodox Church.

Over the years, I have enjoyed the fellowship, love and friendship of fellow clergy: Malayalee, Coptic, Armenian, Greek, Ukrainian, American, and others. I have been honored to be pictured with some of them here in these photos. 

Here are some photographs of me from my ordination to public talks at the state capitol, from scouting to fatherhood, from contemplative devotion to fun-filled travels. In all, I have been honored by those that took these photos of moments of my life in ministry spanning over 25 years of priesthood - 15 of those years in continual mission service.

There are stories to tell of those that joined the mission through sacramental truths of Holy Orthodoxy and of those that died in the hope that Holy Orthodoxy is a sure bridge to the eternal kingdom. We have prayed for so many that have begun their journey in the Church and those that have joined the heavenly abodes. I have been an honored witness of infants who became students who have become adults. I have bid bon voyage to those that have visited this country for a while and then have returned to their homeland after blessing our little mission with their love and wisdom. And the Lord continues His blessings even through difficulties and tragedies. There are joys of church festivals and struggles with fasts. Over the years over 500 meals and fellowship with some of the most special unique and loving people I have ever encountered.

Humbled and honored by such an anniversary that I gratefully share with you, dear reader, I decided to share pictures rather than just sentiment.  And even as I contemplate the past and the moments frozen in these photographs, I still reach back to defining words that I wrote after a period of inactivity after my son was born - a return to active ministry. I have put a link to those words below.

I humbly request your prayers for me, an unworthy and undeserving servant. May the Lord give me strength and courage, peace and love enough for the next decades of ministry.

Return To Active Ministry
A sermon delivered on the evening of August 5th, 1999  by Reverend Father John-Brian Paprock