Dig anywhere in Jerusalem and you uncover someone’s history. Thirteen feet under Jerusalem’s Old City, near the Jaffa Gate, the remains of a 1500 year old Byzantine road have been uncovered during excavation for a public works project. Experts strongly believe it is the prominent road pictured on a large 6th century mosaic in the Jordanian church of St. George.
Archive for February, 2010
The time is almost here – Great Lent 2010. The thought of fasting, more church services, self-denial, spiritual reading, prostrations – I almost get as excited about these things as a kid does before Christmas. I know that sounds twisted by modern standards, but I love Great Lent. It’s a time to push yourself, to spend extra time in church and in prayer. I didn’t say it was easy for me, but I actually am able to achieve more precisely because the Church expects these things out of me. I know a lot of people object to these kinds of religious rules – they think they’re pointless and heavy-handed and feel they don’t have any connection to the real message of the Bible. I couldn’t disagree more.
It’s only by following the rules of the Church that we get the strength and the discipline to follow through on our spiritual journey. Christ’s instructions to his disciples always included commandments to pray continuously and fast; are these things any less beneficial to us? The Church from the earliest days has set out certain periods of the year for fasting and penance; other times for feasting and celebration. These dates aren’t decided by an individual believer, at their own whim and enforced by their own self-discipline. Does it work? Probably not well. Just look around – if self-discipline and self-direction were so easy, 100 million Americans wouldn’t be obese, alcoholics, or compulsive gamblers. Sometimes you can find a lot of freedom and comfort in letting someone else call the shots. It’s not blind obedience when it’s a conscious choice.
If you’re looking for good companions to your lenten journey, check out the following links to Great Lent resources:
Fr. Moses Berry, Orthodox convert, is an inspirational priest and evangelist. He is the pastor of Theotokos Unexpected Joy Orthodox Church in Ash Grove, Missouri. This week the New York Times published a very uplifting article about his work preserving the African-American heritage of his hometown and the museum he founded, the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum.
For several years Fr. Moses has been presenting Orthodoxy in a unique way to a community that is woefully underrepresented in our churches. It’s important to remember that the historical Orthodox Church wasn’t a “white” church; the Middle East and Mediterranean were filled with Africans, Arabs, Greeks, Persians, peoples of all races and nationalities, who became the first Christians. Sadly, we’ve lost much of that cultural, and maybe never had, that racial diversity in America’s churches. Black Americans searching for the religion of their ancestors are more likely to stop at Islam without realizing that the original faith of their grandparents 15 centuries ago was in many cases Orthodox Christianity.
Besides full-time priestly responsibilities, lectures, writing and museum duties, Fr. Moses had the energy and drive to found the Brotherhood of Saint Moses, an organization that sponsors an excellent yearly retreat (going on 18 or 19 years now), called the Ancient Christianity Afro-American Conference, focusing on Orthodox evangelism to minorities, African-Americans, in particular. Ancient Faith Radio has been broadcasting the retreat lectures for a couple of years and they are in the must-listen-to category.
Also, please see Fr. Moses’ September 2009 video lecture at St. Tikhon’s Seminary’s Annual Lecture Series, titled “Honoring a Shared Heritage”. His testimony and conversion story are filled with a power and conviction that I wish I could honestly say I had. Glory to God and His Holy Church in this country, and praise God for priests like Fr. Moses. If we had 100 more like him, can you imagine what the Orthodox Church in America would be like? Unstoppable!