Gladsome Light Dialogues – An Orthodox Blog

A journey through our Orthodox faith as we live it every day

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An Icon of the Christian Family

January 12th, 2016 by Fr. Vasile
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Everyone’s favorite time of the year is the period before Christmas when the air is filled with joy peace and expectation. We are blessed to live in a country that looks forward to Christmas although we might seem to have lost some of its meaning along the way.  We have radio stations that air carols without ceasing exalting the season although many of them speak about snow jolly figures carrying gifts family time and other things that are all fine but missing maybe the point of all this festival. It is wonderful that everyone celebrates Christmas in their own way and even people that don’t believe in God enjoy the season and try to be “good for goodness’ sake” as a recent billboard from our atheistic friends reads recently (we can discuss some other time about the origin of Good).

nativity_sceneOne of the Christians staples of the pre-Christmas period is the Nativity Scene that adorns most churchyards and many of the lawns in our neighborhoods. People count on these scenes to convey to the world the true meaning of Christmas although every year they seem to be the object of national debate as our world moves more and more towards political correctness and less towards mutual respect for everyone’s beliefs. But I might be digressing…

The Nativity Scene strives to portray the ideal Christian family on a backdrop of simplicity and humbleness.  The perfect “Baby Jesus” is born in a loving family with a Holy Mother and a loving adopted father casting a caring arm around those he was called to protect. The angels sing the magi come with gifts the shepherds praise and even the animals care of the Newborn with their warm breath.  Christ is welcomed in the world with joy and is surrounded by love. All Creation gathers at the manger of Bethlehem in perfect harmony to glorify the Incarnation of the Son of God.  All is more than perfect. Is this however the true story of Christmas?

Looking for other sources of inspiration I recalled a similar tradition from my home country Romania where the priest brings the icon of Nativity in everyone’s homes singing the troparion of the Feast. It is if you want a reversed pilgrimage where Christ comes and visits you where you are in your house an icon of the Incarnation of God in itself a reenactment of His coming to earth where we are at home.

NativityAnalyzing the Nativity icon in its Orthodox Byzantine rendering we see an interpretation that is not as idealistic as a Nativity Scene.  We see a Christ born in a cold cave because no one has opened the door for Him. In place of a crib He has to cope with an animal manger so the prophecy of Isaiah will be fulfilled: The ox knows his owner and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel has not known me and my people have not understood. The shepherds do not come on their own but an angel gathers them. Joseph himself is not portrayed very flattering as he is represented far from the Mother and Child doubting the whole story conversing with a sinister character that is no other but the devil tempting him. The Virgin now Mother of God is also many times portrayed with her head turned towards Joseph worrying about the state of his soul.

This is the true world in which Christ was born but this imperfect world is the very reason for His coming. Even the ones closest to Him are not perfect and they as well are in need of the salvation He will preach and accomplish by His death on the Cross.  The reality of the Cross is not missing from this icon because the swaddling clothes are also his funeral shroud the manger His coffin and the cave His tomb.  Everything is depicted through the realistic perspective of the need for redemption without cosmetic surgery or idealization. Christ came to save the sinners along with the righteous.

The iconographic detail of the ox and the donkey further illustrates this point. From the Law of the Old Testament we know that the ox was a clean animal while the donkey was not. They are symbols of the chosen people and of the gentiles of those under the Law and those outside of the Law of the sinners and the righteous. Their presence in the icon suggests one more time that Christ has come for all good or bad without prejudice without expectations ready to sacrifice Himself for those that will crucify Him. Father forgive them for they do not know what they do!

Looking at the season through the reversed perspective of the Orthodox icon of Nativity we might grasp a better understanding of the world in which we live with all the things that are plaguing it from all directions. Yes we complain today that the world expects Christ with a generic message that our traditions are void of content that we have lost the meaning of Christmas but when actually was the world ready for the coming of Christ? When He was born in the midst of His own chosen people and they couldn’t care less? When the Christians were persecuted by Roman emperors and thrown to the lions? When the French revolution shouted triumphantly that they would hang the last king with the intestines of the last priest? When the communists have demolished the churches and thrown the priests in the gulag? The world has never been ready for the coming of Christ just as it is not ready now but it is exactly this fact that makes it essential. The unpreparedness of the world underscores the unfathomable love of Christ for His dysfunctional family.

This infinite love should make us all want to change something within our hearts to make our heart a place fit for Christ. To give him there a proper place to be born to grow and to save each of us from the inside out. Then and only then the Christians will truly become a cloud of witnesses for the Incarnation. Then and only then the world will be able to understand the meaning of the miracle from the manger of Bethlehem.

Christ is born!  Glorify Him!

 

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Giving Thanks to God for All Things

November 10th, 2015 by Fr. Vasile
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Holy 40 martyrsEvery year on Thanksgiving Day, we give thanks to God for our wonderful life. We rejoice in the fruits of the earth (with or without feathers) gathered around a table of abundance. A good thing indeed! Saint Basil the Great advised us to do this as early as the 4th century:
”When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking Him for being so generous to you. If you drink wine, be mindful of Him who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank Him for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the… Continue reading

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A Union for the Kingdom

June 26th, 2015 by Fr. Vasile
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Greek-Orthodox-WeddingIn case you haven’t been following the news, the Supreme Court has recently ruled in favor of the recognition of same-sex unions throughout United States. Does this come as a surprise? Absolutely not! We knew it was just a matter of time. But how did we get here? How come that we need a court of law to decide what marriage is?

Before we start pointing fingers at the state for changing our understanding of marriage, we have to admit first that even in Christianity, there are different views of what actually marriage is. Most Christians would agree that marriage is a union between a man and a woman that mutually agree to spend their lives together, but looking deeper… Continue reading

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Equal to the Apostles

May 21st, 2015 by Fr. Vasile
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Constantine-signBlessed be the providence of God that makes all things evolve towards the order that best suits our progression in the Kingdom of heavens. All that God chooses to happen is for our edification in Him and for our development into His divine mold. This year for instance we celebrate the Holy Ascension (a moving feast) in the same day with the celebration of the Sts. Constantine and Helen (a fixed feast). One may say it is just random, at the end of the day even a broken clock shows the right time twice a day, but I don’t believe in coincidences.

Let me explain my train of thoughts in this particular instance. The Ascension of our Lord commemorates the… Continue reading

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From Hearsay to Social media – a Tale of Rumor Spreading

May 19th, 2015 by Fr. Vasile
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pillow“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” – Socrates

There is a story that circulates in Christian and Jewish circles about gossip. I was not able to track its origins but the story goes like this.

“There was a woman that liked to talk about other people’s affairs and spread unkind words around. One day however she felt remorseful and went to the priest to confess her sin. The priest listened to her confession and asked her if she truly understood the consequences of such hearsay activities. She uttered a rather unconvincing yes. Reading between the lines, the experienced priest offered her a penance, a small feat, he said, that will… Continue reading

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The Icon of the Kingdom

March 5th, 2015 by Fr. Vasile
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St. John the Baptist GOC, Euless, TX - AltarEvery year, in the first Sunday of Lent, we celebrate our Orthodox heritage. It is a wonderful festivity involving a touching procession with icons, lifted up high, around the church and ending in the declamatory proclamation of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy.  Since we do it every year, it became so engrained in our fiber that we rarely stop to ponder about what does it really mean to us. It is important to know, after all, what we celebrate; otherwise it makes no sense to go on with a party that we know nothing about.

So let me start by asking you a simple question. What is Orthodoxy to you? A place called… Continue reading

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Blessed is the Way – On Suffering Death and Resurrection in the Orthodox Church

February 3rd, 2015 by Fr. Vasile
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Judgement 001This is a talk I gave on January 31st at the NTOM conference “Falling Asleep in the Lord: An Orthodox Perspective on Dying, Death and Grief” at St. Demetrios Greek orthodox Church in Fort Worth.

Blessed is the way in which thou shalt walk today, O soul, for a place of rest is prepared for thee (Prokeimenon of the Apostle, Funeral Service)

Reverend Brothers, Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When confronted with the reality of death most people reveal a deep-seated fear of such an event beyond any human control. This is especially acute nowadays when the science of medicine has made great strides in curing diseases that only a century… Continue reading

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The Sunday of the Romanian Saints – a universal celebration of all the Saints

June 23rd, 2014 by Fr. Vasile
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An icon of all Romanian Saints

An icon of all Romanian Saints

By Prof. Dr. Rev. Dumitru Staniloae

Romanian Christianity has given fruit to many and wonderful saints, even though, the humility characteristic to our nation, or other unfavorable historical circumstances in which they lived in, have not allowed our Church to canonize but a very few of them and only in 1955.

The Romanian saints were real and they have been recognized by popular piety, even though the Church has not formally canonized them and has not dedicated them certain calendar days; this is why their deeds have not been praised through special church hymns.

Actually, for the longest time, the saints have been… Continue reading

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Free time and information overload

May 9th, 2014 by Fr. Vasile
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5558879546_7f028b3207_bMost probably the inventors of the internet, which modestly started as a small information sharing network, did not hope, even in their wildest dreams, that in less than 50 years their invention will evolve into what is today the greatest information exchange that ever existed. The library of Alexandria? Child play! Think about all that goes through the internet today: websites, e-mail, news, TV, social networks, entertainment, financials, do-it-yourself, phone calls, video calls, encyclopedias, e-books, maps and we’re just scratching the surface. All you want is there waiting to be found at the literal touch of a finger. Nobody asks anyone anything before they “google” the information.

With an internet connection at hand one feels like a kid in a… Continue reading

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Are we religious or are we faithful?

April 2nd, 2014 by Fr. Vasile
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Pascha_multitudesI read a very interesting article a few weeks ago that caught my undivided attention. The title was very daring to begin with: “Religious people are dangerous” and, on top of that, it was written by an Orthodox Bishop, so that made it even more thought-provoking.  The following passage summarizes it best: “You who go to church, how has the Church benefitted you? As we said yesterday, we went to the shrines, you saw the fathers, you saw the holy relics, you saw Mount Athos, you saw the Panagia in Tinos, you saw everything, and now we have returned. Ultimately of what benefit will all these things be? Have our hearts transformed? Have we become more humble people? Are we… Continue reading

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