Father Bob’s wisdom. The feast of the Annunciation.


Sometimes the news is so grim these days that one doesn’t know whether to watch the suppertime news and not be able to eat, or watch the late night news and not be able to sleep.

There was a man who developed insomnia and an ulcer because he had fallen into the habit of watching the late evening television news just before retiring. He improved rapidly after a doctor, who had encountered the same symptoms in other patients, prescribed an hour of quiet reading as a substitute for TV news at bedtime.

How does one deal with bad news?What do we do with it? How do we handle it? For Christians, there is an answer.

On March 25, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. On this day the angel announced to Mary that she had been chosen by God to bring the Saviour into the world. We call it Annunciation because it is the announcing of the greatest good news humankind has ever heard: the coming of God into the world, and more especially, into our lives, to overcome sin and death for us, to make us sons and daughters of God, heirs of His everlasting Kingdom.

Christianity is not a polyanna type religion. It does not always begin with good news; it begins by acknowledging the bad news that exists in our world and in our lives: sin, death, suffering, despair, loneliness, hopelessness. Good news cannot be good news unless we first have a sense of the bad news of our situation.

It was into a world full of bad news that Christ came to be good news. “And the angel said to the shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’. Note the words: good news of a great joy.” When Jesus began preaching in Nazareth, He opened to the book of Isaiah and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Then Jesus said to those listening, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Christ is the fulfillment of God’s good news! No wonder Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” We read in the prophet Isaiah, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace … who brings salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’.” These prophetic words were fulfilled in Christ.

The whole life and ministry of Christ in the world is best described by the word evangelion or gospel, good news. St. Mark begins his gospel: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Gospel = good news! How hungry the human race is today for such good news!

GOOD NEWS! Christianity is not a search for God. If it is anything, it is good news from God. It is not a human discovery; it is a revelation from God. It is not mankind groping and stumbling alone in the darkness, trying to find the ladder to heaven. It is God Himself coming down the ladder in His own dear Son so that He might lift us out of our blindness and helplessness into His light and power.

Not good advice, but good news. This is the Gospel of Christ. It is primarily an announcement of what God does, and has done in the Person of Jesus. When the early apostles preached, they merely made a proclamation, an announcement of what God had done in Jesus. They called upon the people to listen to the good news: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”, we read in the 2nd Epistle to the Corinthians. But that was not all. Jesus had risen from the grave. By His death He overcame death for the committed members of His body, the Church. Then, having ascended into heaven, He sent the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the early Church, bringing them new life and power, changing their lives completely, filling them with life that was real life indeed. That was the message! That was, and is, the Gospel! The entire emphasis is upon what God has done in Christ to overcome the human race’s bad news of sin and death.

This — and none other — is the message of the Gospel of Christ, “Rejoice, we have a victory!” This is why every Christian cannot help but be an evangelist, spreading everywhere the good news of the faith. This is why the early Christians proclaimed the resurrection of Christ with such rejoicing and unrestrained enthusiasm. Christ is risen and our sins are forgiven! Christ is risen and death is overcome! Christ is risen to fill us with the power of the Holy Spirit! Christ is risen and with Him we too rise to a life that is life indeed! “In the world you have tribulation, but rejoice, I have overcome the world,” said Jesus. Through faith, prayer, and the sacraments we share in His overcoming.

The greatest good news about God is that He does not hate us. He loves us. He does not wish to punish us for our sins. He seeks to forgive. He is the Father of the prodigal who ran to welcome his returning son. Some people have a tendency to suspect that God is hostile to them. Jesus completely erased this suspicion. “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” The greatest good news about God is that He “so loved the world (each one of us) that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life.”

St. John Chrysostom wrote, “That one man should be punished for another’s account seems to most people unreasonable. That all should be justified because one man had done right would be more reasonable, and more suited to God.” That is the good news of God’s forgiveness in Christ. In the Epistle to the Romans we hear: “Where there is much sin, there’s even more grace.” For those who have sinned and know the pain of guilt, there is no sweeter good news than God’s forgiving love in Christ.

We live with the bad news of death — man’s last and greatest enemy; death which comes to rip apart the ties of friendship, marriage, and love; death which will one day come to put an end to my earthly life and yours. But in the darkness of death there shines a light — the resplendently glorious light of the Resurrected Christ, who came back from the grave and said, not “I think there is another life,” not “I hope there is,” not, “There ought to be,” not “There may be,” but, “I am the resurrection, and the life.” That is the gospel — the good news of Christ for my death, the good news of the overthrow of death in the death of Christ who has trampled down death by His death. Apart from Christ, there would be absolutely no good news concerning death. When we die, we are buried in the bosom of the Son of God.

This is the good news we celebrate on the great Feast day of the Annunciation! Good news about God’s love! Good news about God’s forgiveness! Good news about God’s power for our weakness! Good news about the death of my death in Christ’s resurrection! Good news about our Great Liberator, the Lord Jesus, to Whom be all glory, worship, and thanksgiving now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Defending the holy. Defending creation. (A reflection on the feast of Theophany)

Somewhere along the way, Western culture quietly divorced the spiritual and sacred from the material and profane. Those elements and systems that historically connected humanity to the environment (or more accurately creation) faded away, leaving an ambiguous if not adversarial relationship with the natural world.

Whereas many cultures throughout the ages had found a divine meaning and context through their relationship with creation, this divorce of sorts reduced the relationship with the created world to simple respect and admiration of  something untouched and beautiful, and exploitation as resources to be profited from.

This separated understanding has not impacted deeply affected the lives of most Western Christians (especially in the wake of the age of enlightenment and the Reformation). In a different way, it has dramatically affected Eastern Christians and many indigenous cultures around the world whose very existence and identity is deeply rooted in the land.

This was demonstrated this past fall when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that indigenous Ktunaxa peoples of British Columbia had no right to block the development of a ski resort on their traditional lands because they are the sacred dewling of the Grizzly Bear Spirit.

In the court’s unanimous  judgement, the Ktunaxa’s people’s right to believe in the Grizzly Bear’s Spirit was upheld; but paradoxically  the value of their traditional lands, that manifested their beliefs, was pronounced as having no significance beyond being an attraction to behold and a resource to be developed. It was as if the court had ruled that people (like the Ktunaxa) have  a right to love, but they can’t have something tangible (like their traditional lands) that manifests that love.

This ruling  that defined a religious belief as being divorced from the material creation, defies not only the relationship that many indigenous cultures (like the Ktunaxa peoples) have with the material and created world, but also the understanding and relationship that Orthodox Christians (and many traditionally- minded Christians) have with creation. Although Orthodox Christians might not share the same beliefs in the Grizzly Bear Spirit, or any other indigenous belief, nonetheless we have a great deal in common in our respect for creation. Some people can get lost and even worship the created instead of the Creator, However, the essential correct understanding for everyone is that God reveals Himself in and through creation, and we can approach Him in His creation

We see this in the feast of Theophany (Jesus Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River), and the tradition of blessing water, lakes and rivers that happens around the world at this time of year, not to mention the many prayers for the sanctification of lands, building and objects.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

The beginning of the Gospel according to St. John, is a proclamation that the whole of the cosmos (from the tiniest atoms to the greatest galaxies) was created by the Lord, and that it being His creation, it bears witness to His life and love, For “All things were created through Him and for Him (Col. 1:16) .

From a traditional Christian point of view, creation isn’t some kind of random accident, or phenomenon, rather it is the work of God, in the same way human beings are in a particular way. By definition, creation has a value greater than being merely an extraneous element in the economy of salvation. Which is to say, creation, has a part to play in revealing “that light…that the darkness can not comprehend” ,   

This sacred character of creation is fully brought to a fullness in the incarnation of our Lord (when He takes on a human body), and is revealed at His  Theophany on the banks of the Jordan River. Jesus Christ, “true God of true God”, willingly submits to be submerged in the waters of the  Jordan by the hand of John the Baptist, The Father confirms His love, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him.

It is important to see that this revelation of the Triune God doesn’t happen in some abstracted manner, or in the spiritual mind of those present. It happens in a river, or to the point, in creation.

By the work of the Holy Trinity at Jesus’ baptism, the elemental and natural (in this case water) reveal the supernatural.  Some 2000 years later, this miracle is repeated around the world as Orthodox bishops and priests plunge the Cross of our Lord in water, lakes and rivers. Even in the Red River.   

For us as Orthodox Christians “God’s eternal power and deiy have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rm. 1:20) His invisible attributes, His benevolent beauty, mercy and love for us are clearly seen.  Creation offers us an encounter with the Creator. We should see creation not as means to holiness and the divine, but rather as His holy and divine work.

We bless our water, lakes and rivers, those elements of creation that for too long have been used and abused for the pursuit of pleasure and profit, and reclaim their holiness in the Lord. If “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 23/24:1), how can what we believe in be separated from what He has sanctified?

As Ktunaxa people of British Columbia, are defending the sacredness of creation, so we should be prepared to defend the truth which we have received n Christ, and the intimate care that God has for every atom of His creation; rejoicing  with the mountains and the hills as they shall break forth into singing before the Lord, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12-13) .


What the Church need is more St. Nicholas.

The wonder working Icon of St. Nicholas, from the Cathedral in Ottawa.

My father once told me that if you want a strong Church, and a engaged and loving community, we must all be like Christ and not like  those great leaders and rulers, theologians and philosophers, gurus or mystics, however influential, pious, and powerful they might be. Yet despite the logic and simplicity of his observation, the weight of  ensuring a strong community that grows and prospers is an issue that I and many other pastors and those in church life wrestle with.

We dream up new programs and ways to proclaim the Gospel and engage the hearts and souls of the world around us, but this is ultimately as fruitless as trying to reinvent the wheel.  

One such thought was presented in an article I read a while ago, that asserted that what Christianity needed to enable growth and relevance, was more entrepreneurs and not shepherds (pastors).

Although I thought this was an off-the-cuff opinion of a mega church pastor whose aim was to challenge pastors to be more apostolic (or entrepreneurial) and to encourage business men and women to apply their talents in service to the church, it nonetheless is an expression that seems to have permeated church life regardless of the size of the congregation or denomination. (Someone recently once told me that if this kind of model worked for microbreweries and designer coffee bars, why shouldn’t it work for the Church.)

Beyond the desire for more active pastors (which we can all agree upon), the expectation of results and growth from Church leadership (in our case bishops, priests and parish councils)  has more people looking at the qualities and successes of business and commerce with directors, supervisors and managers as an improved way in which to grow and be relevant.

Although there is some common ground between churches and commerce that could benefit, grow and enrich a community, the application of this as a model for leadership in the Church is ultimately the fruit of a tradition  where “God is up there, and we are down here”: and the sacramental presence of Christ, and the sacrificial responsibility of the faithful (the royal priesthood) are simply symbolic.

The danger is that this approach runs the risk of making the whole economy of salvation a business plan, and not the manifestation of the Kingdom. It risks making the faithful into consumers, and not participants.

As Orthodox Christians, we are immersed by our services and prayers into the active work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; and it is the saints, those men and women throughout the ages who proclaimed Jesus Christ, who works all things for our salvation by the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, (See Rom. 5:5) to the Glory of God the Father “whose good will it is to give us the Kingdom” (Lk. 12:32). We need to look no further than at the witness of our beloved patron St. Nicholas to see this.

The life of St. Nicholas, his kindness and generosity, his zeal for the faith and  his selflessness, has transcended cultures, centuries, and even a Christian context, becoming the foundation of our beloved Santa Claus. It is a testimony to his work that he is one of the most beloved and cherished saints throughout the ages.

I suppose that we could call St. Nicholas an “entrepreneur” rather than a “shepherd” perse;  but if we are consistent with the traditional witness of the Church throughout the centuries, it would be more accurate to say that St. Nicholas in his vocation as a bishop heeded the word of the Good  Shepherd, Jesus Christ to “feed my sheep”. This was not  because it was a proven method to grow the Church, but rather because it was the life of Christ he wanted to share, and the responsibility given to him in baptism and revealed in his ordination and consecration as a priest and then bishop.

From his constant prayers and intercessions, to his boldness at the Council of Nicaea (325), St. Nicholas, time and time again, showed Christ’s saving love and work (as he does now even in our little parish) . He multiplied the fruit of the Holy Spirit for those seeking meaning and life beyond the mundane and corruptible.

We remember with love this blessed Archshepherd because his corruptible and limited life (after all, he was just a human like you and me), was made incorruptible and boundless in bearing Christ’s saving love to the world, and throughout the ages.

The challenge he presents to bishops and priests (who bear the burden of responsibility) and all the faithful, is to grow the Church, that it be enrich with mercy and grace, that it might prosper and multiply. He does not ask us to reinvent with new programs and systems the deposit of faith given to us in the waters of baptism, and in Chrismation, but rather to manifest the faith through “taking up our cross daily” and following Christ (Lk. 9:23). We are inspired to be like Christ, to be like St. Nicholas whose very life manifests the work of the Holy Spirit, the saving gift of life in Jesus Christ.

It is in this way, that we all will build a strong Church, and an engaged and loving community that will stand until the end of time.

By the prayers of St. Nicholas, may we be strengthened in this.


Standing with St. Demetrios and #MeToo.

Although on the surface, comparing the 4th century Greco-Roman world with our  21st century Winnipeg (and the Western world, for that matter) might seem like comparing apples to rocks, especially considering the many centuries that have past, and the changes that have taken place. Yet the world that St. Demetrios lived in some 1700 years ago, bears some striking similarities to our age today.  

The 4th century world of St. Demetrios was a cosmopolitan culture (especially in large trade centers like Thessaloniki) with many different nations and ethnic groups from one end of the known world to the other, all living under the political, social and economic law and order of the Roman Empire.It was a society that had access (the ancient world equivalent of global trade) to tin from the British Islands, silk and spices from the orient, grain from Africa, and furs from the north. There also existed a plurality of diverse religions and beliefs that ensured the security and stability of the Emperor and Empire, regardless if  Baal, Zeus, Perun or fire was worshipped. Like most empires (both old and new), the exploitation of people was a cornerstone of its power. It was slaves, and those who had no rights or status that served households, worked the fields, built those magnificent structures and buildings, and provided entertainment in the colosemes. Life was cheap, even meaningless unless you were powerful, wealthy, and prosperous.

In the successive centuries that have gone by, many things have changed; but if one looks with a critical eye at our 21st century culture, those values that established one of the greatest empires the world has ever known, are ever present- especially the exploitation of people by those with wealth, prosperity, and power.

Granted, we don’t live in a global empire, nor do we see Justin Trudeau  as a  “god” (as great as he might seem to some). The dominance of Western culture and commerce has brought law and order through the rule of liberal democracies, and free market societies. We, can get pineapples from South America in January, and Canadian souvenirs made in China. We like those ancients  can still believe whatever we want, as long as we confess wealth, prosperity and power; those values that have replaced the pagan gods of old, and ensured that we can live in luxury and ease.

Sadly, we also rely on the exploitation of men, women and children, those who are weak and vulnerable, to serve, work, build, and entertain us in our demand and desire for those values.

It is not that the blessings of wealth, prosperity, and even power are as bad now as they might have been 1700 years ago. Rather, their priority and our  belief in them, as some kind of gods (or to use a more contemporary term “truths”), stand at odds with the Christian Gospel.

Jesus Christ “did not come to to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). He “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross” (Phil. 2:7-8)

Through this, “Jesus Christ the Son of God… True God, of True God” (as we say in our Creed) took what was foolish in the world to shame the wise…what is weak in the world to shame the strong….what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” (1 Cor 1:27-28). The Lord’s strength is revealed in weakness, and not in the might of the Roman Empire or any other empire.  (2 Cor. 12:19).  

It is in this context that we see the courage of St. Demetrios. Having being a loyal and dedicated soldier and governor, he with boldness proclaimed Christ to those in Thessaloniki, against the orders of the Emperor. When called to give an account of his faith to the Emperor, St. Demetrios confessed his loyalty to the one true King, and his belief in one true God, and not the many lies that had built an Empire.

Rejecting the Emperor’s platitudes, and promises of riches and power if he forsook Christ, and dismissing the threats of torture and death, St. Demetrios stood as one who rejected the glory of this world in order to be “crowned with the glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:4). He would not be complicit to the Emperor’s vanity and desires, nor would he participate in that madness, choosing to be a victim as Christ was a victim on the Cross for our salvation, rather than victimize and abuse.

The question asked of us today is whether we stand with St. Demetrios in defiance to the worship of wealth, prosperity and power, and its exploitation of humanity?  Or do we remain complicit and willing partners in its presence?

There are many examples illustrating the justification of exploitation from around the world, from African blood diamonds, east Asian sweatshops, to human trafficking in prostitution. But those issues seem a world away and unrelated to many of us, whereas the revelations three weeks ago of extensive  sexual abuse and assaults by the Hollywood movie magnate Harvey Weinstein have raised the awareness of sexual abuse and harassment in our Western culture.

These reports revealed the dark side of the entertainment industry, and although this darkness is nothing we haven’t seen or heard of before, it  became a touchstone for those (namely women) who have faced sexual abuse and harassment of one form or another, from strangers, friends, employers and mentors.

With the use of social media, over 1.7 million women (from Hollywood starlets to suburban housewives) have used the  “#MeToo” tag, to reveal how tragically  pervasive this issue of sexual abuse, harassment and assault is.

These numbers and these stories  (which I believe are the tip of the iceberg) shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone with half a heart to see that we live in a culture that is increasingly exploitive and abusive, and that we live in an empire, of sorts, that worships at the altar of wealth, prosperity and power. This is at the expense of the young, weak and vulnerable: men and, in this case, women. Being Christians, we are compelled to act.

The behaviour of Harvey Weinstein, and many others who have used their wealth, prosperity and power to victimize millions of women is reprehensible. Yet if  we remain complicit with them and those who participate in this darkness,  and do not stand with the blessed martyr Demetrios in our confession of Jesus Christ, and His Cross that manifests God’s love of the world, how is it that we are not as reprehensible?

The choice is obvious, especially if we call ourselves Christians. Let us stand firm in our proclamation of Christ and His righteousness that knows no boundaries, no race, no gender, against this madness; and like Demetrios let us bear witness to a God who preaches the Gospel to the poor, brings healing to the brokenhearted, declares liberty to the captives, brings sight to the blind, and proclaims liberty to those who are oppressed” (Lk. 4:18).

Let us take a stand against   to those who would abuse their wealth, prosperity and power, as Demetrios did those many centuries ago, and does even now as our heavenly patron and saint. Let us be being intercessors for the young and old, the weak and vulnerable;  our  mothers, sisters, wives; our  fathers, brothers and husbands.

Holy martyr Demetrios, pray to God for us that we might have the strength to do this.


The Cross and our children (what we can learn from Sts. Sophia, Faith, Hope and Love)

There is something providential that on the Sunday after the feast of the Elevation of the Cross, when we heard the words of the Lord: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mk. 8:35), we also remembered one of the most beloved families in the Orthodox Church, the martyrs Sophia, and her children Faith, Hope, and Love.

As a faithful and pious family they were summoned to the Emperor Hadrian (yes the same Emperor who built an ineffective garden wall to defend Roman England ) after being denounced as Christians. Despite the fear of what awaited them, they presented themselves as if they were at a feast, full of joy and courage. Starting with the children, the Emperor tried to compel and bribe them to offer sacrifices to an idol of the goddess Artemis. But each in turn rebuked him with the proclamation that they worshipped the one God, and His beloved Son Jesus Christ. The Emperor, dismayed at the courage of a twelve year old (Faith), a ten year old (Hope) and a nine year old (Love), at first promised them riches and security, but each time they proclaimed their faith in the one God in heaven. He then threatened and tortured them, and yet they did not yield.

Encouraged by their mother who was forced to witness the unspeakable tortures inflicted on them, each child remained steadfast to the love of the Lord, each in turn proclaiming and exalting the Lord in thanksgiving, until they were finally beheaded, leaving a grieving mother to take her broken children and bury them, herself falling asleep in the Lord some three days later at their graves.

The courage of Sophia in this trial is something that seems impossible for any parent to understand, but what also seems impossible to understand is the courage and faith of these three children, which leaves us as awestruck as the Emperor and those with him.

The courage of Faith, Hope and Love was not some characteristic that they were miraculously born with, neither was it a special kind of grace that made them separate from us (to suffer). Rather their faith was something they witnessed in their mother and had learnt from her.. Sophia (in translation, Wisdom) indeed imparted to her children a wisdom that this world could not comprehend (1 Cor. 1:18-25). This was the work of a loving mother who took up her Cross daily in, manifesting the saving work of Christ in her household in those little things that showed what true faith, hope and love were. All that these children offered was all that they had received.

We thankfully don’t live in a time or  place where confessing our faith is a matter of life and death for ourselves or our children (although this is a fact of life in many parts of the world). Yet the pressures and temptations of our culture that seek to break apart our families and hearts are overwhelming. The promises of cheap love, and counterfeit relationships, and a life that has more to do with what possessions or lifestyles one has (or never will have) beat on us like the blows of a torturer.

The question which will be asked of us as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers, is what example are we giving our children? How are we preparing our children to deal with this broken world?

Do we offer a moral and pious example that has more to do with being good people? Or do we offer a way of life that preserves one’s cultural or family traditions (“we go to Church on Sundays because that is what we have always done”), or our personal opinions or customs (“I am a Christian because it feels right”) ? Or do we do the “one thing needful” (Lk. 10:42), and heed the words of the Lord which challenge us to “take up our cross and follow Christ”.

Do we as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers, take up our Cross and make prayer a constant element in our lives, not as a response to simple emotions, or only in times of need when we “want something”? Or do we set prayer as a foundation where we dedicate and consecrate some time to stand before the Lord in thanksgiving and supplication.

Do we as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers, take up our Cross and fast from certain food, and habits, not as a way to deny ourselves of the good things in life, or to go on a religious diet, but to humble our passions and desires by putting Christ and our neighbour ahead of our egos and appetites, applying the necessary element of spiritual and physical discipline to deepen our communion with the God of Heaven and earth?

Do we as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers, take up our Cross and partake of regular confession not simply because the priest nags us, but because taking responsibility for one’s sins, wounds, and shortcomings is a fundamental element of what being as human is about, and demonstrating  the joys of being forgiven completely by the Lord?

Do we as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers, take up our Cross and mark the cycles and times of the year by attending services outside of Sunday mornings? Not Do we choose not to regard those programs and tasks such as  swimming lessons, bridge clubs, and laundry days as being more important than the festal life of the Church? Instead, do we make the life of the Church an anchor? Is Christ’s love is the center of whatever programs and tasks we might do?

If we as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers are not willing to take up our Cross, and make Christ the cornerstone of our lives, how can we ever expect our children and those entrusted to us to do it.

But if we do take up our Cross in those little things, at home, at work, at school, and in Church, we make the wisdom of Christ manifest to those around us, and especially our children. It is then that our children, and their children’s children will be able to bear witness to the Faith “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3); to Hope “because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rm. 5:5): and to Love, “for God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

If we as pastors, parents, family, mentors and teachers are unwilling to take up the Cross of Christ for ourselves, we should at least do it for our children and their blessed salvation.

By the prayers of the holy martyrs Sophia, Faith, Hope and Love and all the holy men and women who have served the Lord, may we as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers, take up our Cross, that our children might also be able to.



Growing and blooming where you are planted, and the feast of all Saints of North America

We have often heard the sage words of wisdom that encourage us to  “grow and bloom where we are planted”. There’s something universal in this axiom,  that suggests that people have the qualities to achieve some kind of happiness, and realize their potential no matter what  situation they find themselves in. It stands to reason that something like this would  resonate within the pages of scripture: regardless of whether we have been given one or three talents (Mt. 25:14-29), or whether we are Jews or Greeks, slave or free, male or female (Gal. 3:28) or whether we are married or not (1 Cor 7:7-24), the saving work of Christ is offered to all. More to the point, the Kingdom is not dependent on our being in the perfect place, with the perfect possessions, and having the perfect social status.

These examples (and many other illustrations throughout scripture) articulate the basic message to “grow and bloom where you are planted”, as a means of realizing the goal of happiness (or more appropriately, holiness). For the Christian, it drives home the point that he/she grows and blooms by cooperating with our perfect God who helps us through the Holy Spirit.

History has shown us those men women and children who throughout the ages put on Christ, making His life theirs, growing and blooming into His divine likeness by forsaking the fallen world of sin and corruption. Regardless of whether they were Greek or Ukrainian, in monasteries, or churches, cities or farms, whether they were emperors, or beggars, in palaces or concentration camps, they have revealed the riches of God’s love and mercy that stretches into eternity. We have come to know them as holy, as saints.

This is something to consider as we commemorate the Saints of North America.

The history of Orthodoxy in North America (some 200 years old) is but a drop in the ocean when compared to the nations in which Orthodoxy was established. Those who in faith came to this new world seeking a better life, faced incredible odds and challenges that at times made life here intolerable. But this is not to say that in our short history, and despite the overwhelming challenges, there were not those who blossomed as witnesses of Christ’s saving victory.

Some are well-known like St. Herman, and St. Tikhon, and some are less known, like Matushka Olga of Alaska, or Metropolitan Leonty (who are among those who have yet to be formally recognized as saints, but nonetheless are recognized as those who built the Church). But in every case, we see them doing what Christians have been doing throughout the ages, from the day of Pentecost until now. They have proclaimed ”the Good News” of Christ’s victory and our liberation from sin and death, making real His saving work and the free gift of life in the Holy Spirit.

It might be strange to consider that this has been done in places like Brooklyn, NY through St. Raphael (Hawaweeny) and San Francisco, CA through St. John (Maximovitch), or in Dallas TX where they discovered that the body of Archbishop Dmitri (Royster)was incorrupt and even in Winnipeg  through our locally venerated saint Archbishop Arseny (Chahovtsov). Yet if we really have faith that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28  [3:1 LXX]), and the Gospel has been preached to the ends of the universe (Ps. 19:4 [Ps. 18:4 LXX]), then the presence of the saints isn’t something that is simply reserved for distant lands and traditional Christian cultures. Rather, it is a profound proclamation that the fullness of a life lived in the Holy Spirit is possible even here in North America. This is demonstrated by all  those who grew and bloomed in Christ, and like a carpet of flowers, have covered our continent.

The challenge for us is to see (even seek out) those saints who have shone forth in North America.  They took what would have been to them a strange world and culture, making  it as fertile as the richest soil.

In like manner, we are called to live as they did: loving everyone, speaking peace, being patience and kind, offering good works, remaining faithful, gentle, and selfless (see Gal. 5:22-23). We are called to grow and bloom here in Manitoba, Canada, North America, and bear the fruits of eternal life.

By the prayers of all those saints known and unknown who blossomed in North America, may we be strengthened in this.

Father Bob’s Wisdom. The Meeting of the Lord (2009)

Meeting of the Lord

Meeting of the Lord

This feast, celebrated on February 2, is known in the Orthodox Church as The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Another name for the feast is The Meeting of our Lord. Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians call the feast, The Purification of the Holy Virgin. About 450 AD in Jerusalem, people began the custom of holding lighted candles during the Divine Liturgy of this feast day. Therefore, some churches in the West refer to this holy day as Candlemas or the Liturgy of the Candles. The Feast of the Presentation concludes the observances related to the Nativity of Christ, a period that opened on November 15 with the beginning of the Nativity fast.

The story of the Presentation is told in St. Luke’s Gospel which we just read. Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews and observed their religious customs. An important custom was for the couple to take their first-born son to the Temple. The baby was taken to the Temple forty days after his birth and was dedicated to God. In addition, if the parents were wealthy, they were to bring a lamb and a young pigeon or a turtle dove to be offered as a sacrifice at the Temple. The custom provided that if the parents were poor, they were to offer two pigeons or two turtle doves for the sacrifice.

When Jesus was forty days old, Mary and Joseph took Him to the Temple in Jerusalem. They were not wealthy, so they took two turtle doves with them to offer as a sacrifice at the Temple. As they arrived at the Temple, Mary and Joseph were met by a very old man named Simeon. He was a holy man and was noted as a very intelligent scholar. Simeon spent much time studying about the prophets of Israel. It was during his studies that he learned of the coming of the Messiah. The Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah to come and deliver Israel from their conquerors. From that time on, Simeon spent his time praying for the Messiah to come. He spent many years in prayer. Finally, while Simeon was praying he heard the voice of God. God promised Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah.

He who gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai now comes to us in the flesh and submits himself to the requirements of this law, not because He needs to, but to show that He is truly one of us in his humanity.

When Simeon saw Jesus, he took the baby in his arms and blessed the Lord and said: “Lord, now let Your servant go in peace according to Your promise, because my eyes have seen Your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory to your people Israel.” Part of the reason that Simeon can depart now is that the old covenant with its priesthood has passed away, and on this 40th day, our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who is the offerer and who is offered, who is the receiver and the received now replaces the Old Testament priesthood which is no longer in effect, no longer necessary.

Also, in the Temple was Anna the Prophetess. She had been a widow for many years. Anna was about eighty-four years old and spent her time in the Temple worshiping, fasting, and praying. When she saw the Christ Child she praised God and spoke of him to all who were awaiting the Messiah.

After Jesus was presented in the Temple, the family returned to Galilee to the town of Nazareth. The Bible tells us that Jesus grew and became strong, and was filled with wisdom.

The Holy Icon of this feast shows that the meeting takes place inside the Temple and in front of the altar. The altar has a book or a scroll on it and is covered by a canopy. The Theotokos stands to the left and is holding out her hands in a gesture of offering. She has just handed her Son to Simeon.

Christ is shown as a child, but He is not in swaddling clothes. He is clothed in a small dress and his legs are bare. Jesus appears to be giving a blessing. Simeon holds Jesus with both hands which are covered. This shows the reverence Simeon had for the Messiah. Simeon is bare headed and there is nothing to show that he is a priest. Some biblical scholars say that Simeon was probably a priest of the Temple or a Doctor of the Law.

Joseph is behind the Theotokos. He is carrying the two turtle doves for the sacrifice. Anna the Prophetess is also standing behind the Theotokos and is pointing to the Christ child.

The words Simeon spoke when he saw the Christ Child are known as “St. Simeon’s Prayer.” This prayer is sung every day at the evening Vespers services of the Church. I believe that in some western churches this prayer is sung at some funerals, where it is of course, quite appropriate.

In the Orthodox Church, both baby boys and baby girls are taken to the Church on the fortieth day after their birth. This is done in remembrance of the Theotokos and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to the Temple.

We too, bless candles before our Divine Liturgy today. They are beautiful lights. We have to be careful in handling them because we are not accustomed to using them in our daily lives. We burn candles in our churches and homes before our icons as a sign of reverence towards those depicted in the icon. The candles also signify our unending prayer going up to the Lord. It is not sufficient just to light a candle—it is the prayer behind the candle which is important. Even if we somehow had no candles available, the prayer could still be offered of course.

The faithful will take these candles home and use them on special occasions and in their prayers. Strictly speaking, it would be good if all the candles we used throughout the year were blessed in the Church. I have heard of people in other places lighting a blessed candle in their home during a storm. Again, the blessed candles are not magic—God willing, as we light a candle in our homes during a time like that, our prayers are going up to the Lord just as the smoke and light from the candle is ascending.

The candles are of course also reflections of Jesus Christ who is the Light of the world. But the light from the candles can remind us that we too must be lights to others in all our lives. The light that we show forth in our day to day living is even more powerful than the light of a candle—it has much more horsepower or candle power. How we live our daily lives in relationship to God and to our fellow human being is the greatest sermon ever preached.

While it sounds awesome that this old man should hold God Incarnate in his elderly arms, it is no less awesome that we, too, receive God Incarnate and Resurrected, Christ our God in our bodies as we partake of His Holy Body and Precious Blood at Holy communion.

Blessing the Red River.

Why would you bless the Red River?
I was asked this a few weeks ago, and my response was “because it needs it”.
This river (especially), all rivers, oceans, seas, lakes, streams and springs have for generations provided water, food and transportation; being cornerstones of civilization, and life. They sadly have also become a toilet (literally) for waste, sewage, chemicals, and even human misery. These waters, that were once sources of life, are now blights that mask and disfigure the importance of water in our lives. No one will ever confuse the a nice glass of water from your tap and the water that runs through Winnipeg. In this context it is not a far stretch to see some sort of connection between what our water has become, and the plight of humanity.
Like the water that courses through our rivers, humanity was meant to be a source of love, mercy and grace; to be life. Our humanity created to be robed in righteousness, (Isa. 61:10) has become  masked by the rags of sin. Where once it brought life and hope, it now brings decay and sickness and even death. For this reason the Lord acts to save us, becoming like us in every way (except sin) even dying on the cross that he might restore and renew our polluted and stained nature.
That as the Lord of Glory descends into our polluted and sinful humanity, and by the cross restores humanities’ vocation to be life bearing, we bless even our most polluted waters, commending their water to His saving and purifying grace.
The Red River needs to be blessed, in the same way we need to be saved. That we, like those waters that have cultivated life throughout the ages, might cultivate real life, now and in the age to come.
At 2:00 pm tomorrow (Saturday Jan 7th), we will be blessing the Red River at the end of Magnus Ave. at Prichard park. Not the Redwood boat launch (way to much snow there).
There is parking on the street, and  a few pathways down to the river, without having to scamper down a embankment.
Not to worry we won’t be venturing out to far on the ice.
This service is not for the faint at heart, or those who don’t like the cold, so please dress in layers!
As many come are invited by to the Scratches  to warm up after the service

Why I won’t sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.

Holiday Schlock.

It is very easy for us as Christians to consider the feast of Christmas as being something less than it really is. It is very easy for us to see the birth of this Child (albeit a special Child) as a singular event in history that has however more to do with gift giving, being generous and kind, and spending time with family and loved ones, than a cosmic event that changes everything eternally.

It is not that gift giving, being generous and kind, and spending time with family and friends is a bad thing (it is obviously not). But do we need a historic event to be the excuse for such demonstrations of these beatitudes? To act as if this feast is simply the remembrance of the events that happened in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago, is to reduce the profound mystery of Jesus Christ’s birth to simply a notable birthday, in the same way that we remember Queen Victoria’s birthday in May, or George Washington’s birthday in February (for our American friends).

Queen Victoria’s, birthday or George Washington’s birthday, or anyone else’s birthday is not a mystery, hidden from the Angels. Men and women throughout the ages have had babies; this is quite natural and normal. However, that the Eternal and Everlasting Son of God, “True God of True God” assumed our mortal and broken nature, “taking the form of servant” in order to save humanity, is indeed an unfathomable mystery brought forth in Love.

This is the point and the wonder: the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is the act whereby the Lord of Glory, the Creator of everything visible and invisible “emptied Himself”, becoming as helpless as a newborn child, born in poverty with nowhere to lay His head except a manger of straw. He came this way so that He might be like us in every way (for we are all born helpless, and a majority of our world is born in poverty) and that we might be like Him.

It is the mystery of this blessed event of the Nativity of the Messiah, (and not simply His birthday) that should mark our thanksgiving and praise as Christians. It is the mystery of the Incarnation, and not simply the remembrance of a historical event, that should inspire us to love like Him. It is the mystery of God acting to save humanity by assuming it completely (except for sin), and not His birthday that we should proclaim to a world in desperate need of being saved from violence, poverty, exploitation and ultimately death, the last enemy.

I won’t be singing happy birthday to Jesus at Christmas this year, for my only response to this mystery is to shout “Christ is born! Glorify Him”!

Icon of the Nativity of our Lord



Change of Plans, services for this coming week.

Dearest all. 

We had been working with the Mission of the Theotokos of the Live Giving Springs this summer alternating our weekend vespers, but as there will be no services at the Mission this weekend, Great Vespers will be held at St. Nicholas tomorrow evening (Saturday Aug. 13th) at 5:00 pm. Not at the Mission as was noted on our calendar. 
Sorry for any confusion.
On Sunday we will be serving Divine Liturgy at 9:30 am and that evening at 6:00 pm we will be serving Great Vespers for the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos.
On Monday morning (Aug. 15th) we will be serving the festal Liturgy for the Dormition of the Theotokos at 10:00 am.
On Monday evening at 6:00 pm the patronal feast (The Icon of Christ not made by hands)  for the Winkler Mission will be held, followed by a feast.
On Tuesday morning the festal divine Liturgy of the Icon not made by hands, will be held at St. Nicholas in Narol at 10:00 am.
A busy first part of the week, but one that is full of blessings and mercy.
By your prayers.