Do Not Hesitate!

 Kontakion – Tone 4

Now is the time for action! Judgment is at the doors!

So let us rise and fast, offering alms with tears of compunction and crying:

“Our sins are more in number than the sands of the sea;

but forgive us, O Master of all,

so that we may receive the incorruptible crowns.”

 

Marking the second week of Great Lent that commemorates Saint Gregory Palamas, we have entered into the church’s exhortation to act, and to react, to the pressing judgment that is at hand. As the penitential nature of our Lenten Journey prepares us to greet the joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, so repentance is the conduit that inspires us to open ourselves to the hope of redemption. Turning ourselves towards inward examination and an increase in spiritual preparation, we discover that the work of repentance inherently implies a change, some action that reflects our desire to progress beyond the foibles of human nature that confine us – but in fact, do not have to define us. During the season of Great Lent, the Church in her wisdom teaches us to pay even more attention to the Christian virtues of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But I would like to encourage another virtue in our Lenten efforts, and that is one of action.

 

Saint Gregory, through his application and deep immersion into the monastic practice of Hesychasm, was a living witness that men can become divine through an intense practice of “prayer of the heart,” and that even in this life, human beings can become participants of the uncreated light of God’s divine glory. Hesychasm is sometimes translated as a “calm silence” but imagine the intensity of this practice and the sheer energy that goes into a quietening of the heart and mind, focussing our senses, so that the Glory of the Lord can preside in His full ineffable glory. Here is “action” whose fulfillment can scarcely be described. Of course, as most of us cannot attain such synergy with prayer and oneness with God, the simple question is how can we participate in the divinity of God that we are called to seek? Brothers and sisters, it is through a thoughtful but un-inhibited movement towards service to one another! 

 

Consider this: much of our salvation will be viewed through the prism of repentance that is transformed into action. To repent is not just to feel dissatisfied, but to take a decision and to act upon it. But action is not without cost. How many are times do we hold back when an opportunity for service to others is presented to us? What makes us hesitate – do we hesitate to run headlong towards the Resurrection? We do not! We eagerly reach out to partake of all that is made whole, all that is forgiven, and all that is redeemed. Who would hesitate to taste and experience unending Paschal joy? Yet for us to take action, perhaps we’re unsure how to proceed, unsure how much to “get involved,” possibly uncommitted to a cause, previously uninformed or unaware of a need, or un-used to volunteerism. This is where we must take the conscious steps to consider a need outside of our own experience and that we can, with Gods help, respond actively in faith and love.   

 

As we travel again this year through the purifying experience of Great Lent, there is much to be done in the days ahead.  I ask you to stop and think about what you can do  – and then always, and without hesitation, do something. The world and all that is in it is ours to consider. Open your eyes to this knowledge and do not turn back from an opportunity to do an act of service or kindness for someone in need. Not every opportunity will be the right one, but there will be at least one opportunity that will be waiting for you. I will tell you, do not seek to “make a difference.”  Let your actions no matter how simple or humble, be the difference.  Collect cans of food, serve a meal to the hungry, and pray for the poor and needy. Whether you are an electrician, or a daycare teacher, an insurance salesman, banker, barista, or barber, worker bee or a dreamer – give, offer, donate, gather, feed, work, volunteer, and again, pray. Once, twice, countless times, whatever you can do. In this way, through action, and with intent we become more fully prepared, without hesitation, to run towards and embrace the Joy of the Resurrection.

 

 

Vera Proctor, Director

FOCUS Minnesota

 

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This Lenten Season, join our journey through “40 days with FOCUS,” a special weekly blog series where you will hear Lenten reflections from different servant-leaders who work within our organization. We are excited to share wisdom from the men and women who lead our ministries across the country with love and live out the mission of FOCUS every day in their work and lives. Thank you for reading! Make FOCUS part of your Lenten Almsgiving Today 

Who Are We Serving? A Reflection on the Sunday of Orthodoxy

On the first Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the restoration of the use of holy icons, holy images, in the Orthodox Christian Church.  In affirming the use of icons at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787, the church, at the same time, was affirming the incarnation of Jesus Christ, affirming the fact that the eternal Son of God became truly human and could, therefore, be depicted in His humanity just as surely as we can be depicted in our humanity.  Painting an icon (or writing an icon as many iconographers prefer to say) of Christ in his humanity in no way limits or denies His divinity, which cannot be depicted (to attempt to depict Christ in His deity would, in fact, be idolatry). Sadly, there were those who continued to war against the use of holy icons for the next six decades.  However, after the death of the last iconoclast emperor, Theophilos, his young son Michael III, with his mother, the regent Theodora, and Patriarch Methodios, convened the Synod of Constantinople in 843 to bring peace to the Church and resolution as to the use of icons.  At the end of the first session, all made a triumphal procession to the Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom, restoring the icons to the church. This occurred on March 11th, 843 (which that year was the first Sunday of Lent). The Synod decreed that a perpetual feast on the anniversary of that day should be observed each year on the First Sunday of Great Lent, and named the day, “The Sunday of Orthodoxy.”

It is this triumphal procession which strikes me as I write today.  A procession of faithful believers, holding icons or images of Christ, Mary His Mother, the Saints, scenes from the scriptures including the cross and the resurrection on the third day.

The imagery of the procession reveals something profound – the more notable icons in the procession are not the ones made by human hands at all, but rather, the very people who were carrying the icons themselves.

Each one of them was created in the image (eikona) of God, “And God said, let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness…So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

The historical scene was a procession of icons carrying icons, images carrying images.  In honoring holy icons, we show honor and respect to humankind, God’s greatest creation.  In fact, God is the first and chief iconographer, and we are his masterpiece.

This is how we at the St. Herman House – FOCUS Cleveland and more broadly, FOCUS North America, see everyone we serve, as a masterpiece created by God.

We do not deny the brokenness of the masterwork, but if Christ Himself voluntarily suffered for the sake of His broken masterpiece, then so must we.  Sometimes it is hard to see what God sees. We must rely on what we believe and our spiritual eyes.  And what we believe is true, beneath the hurt – a masterpiece, beneath the addiction – a masterpiece. Beneath the mental and physical maladies – a masterpiece, beneath the anger, despair, sorrow, grief – all of it – a masterpiece.  You must see it, you must strive to see what God sees, what Christ died for, what all of us are – created in His image.

Each day the procession begins, God’s broken masterpieces processing through the doors of St. Herman House and FOCUS North America’s outreach centers seeking food, clothing, shelter, compassion, hope, love, and something of which they may not even be aware, the God who made them, the Savior who died for them.

So let us venerate these icons!  Let us greet these images with a holy kiss!  Without such veneration our work is vain, our efforts are misguided, and our understanding of the great nature of our work on behalf of Jesus Christ, the Lover of humankind will be void.

May God richly bless you all on your journey to the empty tomb!

-Paul Finley, Center Director

St. Herman’s FOCUS Cleveland

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This Lenten Season, join our journey through “40 days with FOCUS,” a special weekly blog series where you will hear Lenten reflections from different servant-leaders who work within our organization. We are excited to share wisdom from the men and women who lead our ministries across the country with love and live out the mission of FOCUS every day in their work and lives. Thank you for reading! Make FOCUS part of your Lenten Almsgiving Today 

Do Our Relationships Offend Divine Love?

Forgive me, a sinner.

God forgives, and I forgive.

Every year we bow before each other, with these words on our lips. We exchange the kiss of peace with friends, family, and even strangers (have you ever been a guest in a parish on Forgiveness Sunday?!)

Why do we do this?

Why ask forgiveness from someone I have not offended?

Why offer forgiveness to someone who has done nothing to offend me?

“The Church reveals to us that there are much subtler ways of offending Divine Love. These are indifference, selfishness, lack of interest in other people, of any real concern for them—in short, that wall which we usually erect around ourselves, thinking that by being “polite” and “friendly” we fulfill God’s commandments. The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize – be it only for one minute – that our entire relationship to other men is wrong, makes us experience that encounter of one child of God with another, of one person created by God with another, makes us feel that mutual “recognition” which is so terribly lacking in our cold and dehumanized world.

On that unique evening, listening to the joyful Paschal hymns, we are called to make a spiritual discovery: to taste of another mode of life and relationship with people, of life whose essence is love. We can discover that always and everywhere Christ, the Divine Love Himself, stands in the midst of us, transforming our mutual alienation into brotherhood.”

This excerpt from the introduction to the booklet, Forgiveness Sunday Vespers, published by Department of Religious Education of the Orthodox Church in America, says regardless “offense” to our neighbor, we are all guilty of offending Divine Love when we build walls around ourselves and fail to encounter and recognize Christ in each other.

Let’s read again: “The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize – be it only for a minute – that our entire relationship to other men is wrong”

Let these words sink in. The way we are used to relating to each other on a day to day basis is wrong!

We offend Divine Love when we are content with living lives that are separate from each other.

We build walls around ourselves. We build walls around groups of people “different” than us. We build walls that keep us from experiencing and sharing Christ’s Divine Love.

Trying to overcome this offense, which we have grown numb to in today’s society, is what inspires the approach FOCUS takes to living and serving, both in the church and in our surrounding communities.

In order for us to serve and have that service become anything meaningful in our lives or the lives of those we serve, we must break down these divisive walls.

How do we do this?

Strive to learn instead of assuming

Have you ever heard the saying about what happens when you assume? Let’s just say – the outcome is not good! Our assumptions can lead us astray if we do not take the time to learn about the reality of a situation.

It might be easy to look at someone begging on the street and assume that they are too lazy to find a job, and therefore to blame for their situation.

However, when we take the time to learn about homelessness and employment, the reality is between 40 and 60 percent of the homeless population participates in either part- or full-time work throughout the year.

Don’t fix your neighbor, Serve them

Has someone ever come to you with a problem and your immediate reaction is to spew out advice or take aggressive action in a failed attempt to fix their problem for them?

When someone is in need, fixing isn’t always the right approach for a few reasons. First – it assumes that the person you’re trying to fix is broken. Second – it assumes that the “fixer” is not broken. The truth is, we are all broken and in need.

Advice and action are sometimes needed, but only after offering a listening ear. Stepping in stride beside someone who is going through troubled times allows for us to recognize our own brokenness and truly SERVE in the spirit of Christ’s love!

View life through a lens of compassion

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37

We have written before about stereotypes vs. compassionate thinking. In every encounter, we have to challenge ourselves to reach out with compassion instead of judgment.

To judge others requires separation. If we recognize that each of us is made in the image and likeness of Christ, there would be no room to judge because we would be venerating and loving each other instead!

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This Lenten Season, join our journey through “40 days with FOCUS,” a special weekly blog series where you will hear Lenten reflections from different servant-leaders who work within our organization. We are excited to share wisdom from the men and women who lead our ministries across the country with love and live out the mission of FOCUS every day in their work and lives. Thank you for reading! Make FOCUS part of your Lenten Almsgiving Today 

Our Foundational Inspiration: A Message From FOCUS’ Executive Director

This Sunday is a special one for all of us who serve, work, support and pray for the ministry of FOCUS.

If you’re reading this, no doubt that includes you.

Today’s Gospel, the famous account of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25, is the foundational inspiration for all of our work. As our Lord says to those who provided compassionate service and care to those less fortunate: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).

What a beautiful and yet sobering maxim! 

How often, given the atomized patterns of modern civilization, are we truly attentive to those who are “the least” in our lives and neighborhoods? Yet Jesus calls us to serve not only those who are close, those whom we already like and know, but precisely those who might be least on our minds, who might be ignored or alone or not blessed with the love and support of friends and family. 

Further, in today’s Gospel reading Jesus calls us to pay special attention to the very practical, corporeal needs of those without sufficient food, clothing, and financial resources. Doing so is an inherently spiritual act, because when we give freely and generously, we actually experience a glimpse of God’s very person. In the words of the Apostle Paul: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Giving of ourselves ultimately conforms our minds to the image of Christ. As it says in “A Prayer for FOCUS,” which I certainly hope you will make part of your Lenten journey: 

Help us to strip ourselves of our earthly adornment,
that the poor may be sufficiently clothed and fed.
And, by so loving our neighbor,
adorn us with the everlasting pearls of virtue instead.

Where there is suffering, help us to bring Your mercy.
Where there is despair, Your hope;
Where there is pain, You who are the Comforter;
Where there is hatred, You who are Love.

As a Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve, our goal is to empower and walk alongside those who want to follow the calling of our Lord in Matthew 25. Throughout the country, we are feeding, clothing, housing, and serving our neighbors in need every day. Thank you for being a part of that mission, as a volunteer, advocate, or supporter.

With prayer and love in Christ, and wishes for a blessed Lent,

Seraphim Danckaert

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This Lenten Season, join our journey through “40 days with FOCUS,” a special weekly blog series where you will hear Lenten reflections from different servant-leaders who work within our organization. We are excited to share wisdom from the men and women who lead our ministries across the country with love and live out the mission of FOCUS every day in their work and lives. Thank you for reading! Make FOCUS part of your Lenten Almsgiving Today