Fr Tom's Corner

This is a monthly blog by our Priest, Fr. Tom Tsagalakis



The Attitude of Lent: Examine Your Heart

Every year, as I make my appointment for my annual physical I become more conscious and aware about the state of my health. Am I eating right? Are my cholesterol levels elevated? Am I in a regular exercise routine? How is my heart and blood pressure? 
Side by side, my doctor asks questions and helps to determine the state of my physical health and often suggests certain supplements and life style changes that will impact my overall well-being. 
Following my check-up I commit to better health through more exer¬cise, taking my vitamins and eating right. It’s all about my attitude and how I respond to taking care of my body, mind and soul. 
Joyously, every spring, our Holy Orthodox faith offers us the trans¬forming experience of Great Lent to seriously battle against the evil forces in our life that keeps us from God. We are invited to pray with a repentant and eager spirit, fast more seriously, and examine the at¬titude of our heart and spiritual life. 
We are given this time to pause and focus on the inner life – to let go of the vices and addictions that keep us from loving God and loving one another. Indeed, the spiritual struggle can be difficult. It re¬quires self-disciple, attitude and humility. Listen to St. John Chryso¬stom urging on the faithful to begin the fast with an attitude of deter¬mination and strength. 
As the fast begins, “Let us get ready and polish our spiritual weapons; as cultivators, let us sharpen our sickles; as sailors, let us order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires; as travelers, let us set out on the journey towards heaven; and as wrestlers let us strip for the contest. For the Christian is at the same time a soldier, a sailor, a plower and a wrestler. St. Paul states, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of evil. Put therefore the whole ar¬mor of God” St. John Chrysostom 
As we put on the armor of Jesus, the church offers us this time so we can get back on course towards God’s kingdom. Just like we take our car for oil change and check up… just like have our teeth x-rayed and cleaned… Just like we visit the doctor for a yearly physical… it is time to examine our priorities on our spiritual health. 
St John of Kronstadt says: “Watch your heart throughout your life; examine it, listen to it, and see what prevents it from uniting itself with the Lord. Let this be your supreme and constant study, and with God’s help you will easily observe what estranges you to Him, and what draws you to Him and unites you to Him. It is the evil spirit more than anything else that stands between our hearts and God; He estranges us from God by the several vices, or by the desires of the flesh, and by worldly pride. So examine yourself more often. See where the eyes of your heart are looking.... 
St. John encourages us to embrace this attitude of confession to be united with Christ! In the book “Soul Mending” Dn. John Chrys¬savgis writes, “confession can be looked at as a forward movement ‘into’ life. It is not an invitation to hopeless guilt but to freedom and responsibility. The purpose is not that we be ashamed or demoral¬ized but it is rather to point us towards life; a life characterized by honesty, integrity and personal accountability to God, to all others, and to oneself.” 
“To repent is to awaken from the sleep of ignorance, to rediscover our soul, to gain the meaning and purpose of our lives by respond¬ing to the incomparable love of the One who is ‘not’ of this world, the One who ‘demonstrates’ His own love toward us. The focal point should not be our imperfection but the perfect love of Jesus, who is good and loves humankind”. 
Let us begin Great Lent with an eager attitude and integrity! Chuck Swindoll wrote: “Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than cir¬cumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the at¬titude we will embrace for that day.” 
“We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that peo¬ple will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes.“ 
May we develop the joyous attitude that we ‘get’ to walk with Christ as he points us to His incomparable life, Kingdom and purpose! I am looking forward to sharing this journey with you. 
Have a blessed Lent! 
+fr. Tom

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Great Lent: A Time For Reflection, Responsibility And Spiritual Growth

GREAT LENT: A TIME FOR REFLECTION, RESPONSIBILITY AND SPIRITUAL GROWTH. by Fr. Tom Tsagalakis

Most parents realize that keeping our babies healthy requires taking them to the pediatrician for their  “well baby” check-ups. At each visit the doctor weighs and measures our kids to make sure they are growing at a healthy rate, checking eyesight and hearing, and answering any questions about behavior and health issues.

As parents, we can’t wait for our children to reach important milestones – the first pounds gained, sitting up straight, rolling over, crawling, walking and eating solid food. Indeed, any parent would be devastated if the doctor diagnosed their child with “Failure to thrive.” Failure to thrive is a term used to describe a child whose growth falls below the expected norm.
So often, as we grow up into adulthood, we avoid going to the doctor, we avoid looking at our mental, physical and spiritual health. 

Is this because we recognize that we are already falling into the category of “Failing to grow and thrive?” Or, are we actively pursuing “solid food” growing into maturity as Christian men and women?

If so, we are in the process of transformation! If we receive the diagnosis “failure to thrive” then in fact, we are dying and in need of help and intervention.

During Great Lent, we have a tremendous opportunity to nurture our spiritual health – to grow, to develop, to change! But this change requires effort, discipline, concentration and application. We do not automatically receive Christian maturity if we go to church a few times a month, do our cross and leave it at that.
It is unreasonable to expect spiritual growth to require no effort. 

St. Paul’s comparison of our spiritual development to the rigorous training of an athlete applies as well to our spiritual discipline. 

We are called to fast! We are encouraged to pray! Our mindset should be to extend compassion and love to others! As parents, are we willing to do everything possible to encourage our children’s spiritual growth? What are our priorities?

Each of us must take personal responsibility for our own spiritual health and direction our family is heading. Christ our Lord wants to run towards us like the father of the prodigal son. He stands at the

door, waiting for our knock! He is ready to fill our hearts with His love and forgiveness. We, like the prodigal, must recognize our state, our sin, our failure to thrive – and make every effort to return to Him! This requires self-reflection and no more excuses. We must rid ourselves of “if only… it’s because… I’m too busy… I wish this or that was different…” It is time for each of us to take responsibility. No more excuses! Are we thriving? Are we living our spiritual life to the best of our ability? Or, are we failing to grow? Nothing could be more important than the pursuit of a spiritual life.

Let us take to heart the words of St. Isaac the Syrian:

“Be mindful of God, so that in every moment He may be mindful of you. If He is mindful of you, He will give you salvation. Do not forget Him, letting yourselves be seduced by vain distractions. Do you want Him to forget you in your times of temptation? Stay near to Him and obey Him in the days of your prosperity. You will be able to rely on His word in difficult days, because prayer will keep you safe in His continued presence.
Remain constantly before His face, think of Him, remember Him in your heart. Otherwise, if you only meet Him from time to time, you risk losing your close friendship with Him.” 

St. Isaac the Syrian

St. John of Kronstadt also says: 

“Watch your heart throughout your life; examine it, listen to it, and see what prevents it from uniting itself with the Lord. Let this be your supreme and constant study, and with God’s help you will easily observe what estranges you to Him, and what draws you to Him and unites you to Him. It is the evil spirit more than anything else that stands between our hearts and God ; He estranges us from God by the several vices, or by the desires of the flesh, and by worldly pride."

So examine yourself more often. See where the eyes of your heart are looking….

At Holy Apostles, we are blessed to have a community committed to growing in Christ, to examining and listening to what unites us with Jesus. You are not alone. We are a church that desires maturity, desires faith, desires love. We are a body seeking to live a transfigured life in Christ. As your priest, I am committed to helping you along this process towards running the race and growing in your relationship with God during Great Lent.

Please consider making an appointment for the sacrament of Holy Confession. 

Slow down your pace and allow for silence to penetrate your soul. Please make every effort to attend Wednesday and Friday services.

Prioritize bringing your family every week (not just once in a while) to Sunday OASIS classes and making the most out of this glorious season of transformation.

Begin today. Begin by opening your heart to God. Begin with “Lord, Have Mercy.”

Fr. Tom

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Honoring the Artist: Restoring the Masterpiece

What have you been thinking as Christmas has been approaching? What has been dancing around in your head regarding the vision of this Holiday season? If you ask a child, most would say they can’t wait to put up the lights and tree and they can’t wait to ask for that special present. They are anxiously awaiting the moment they can finally open the presents that have been accumulating under the tree.

Adults might say they are looking forward to family gatherings, the Christmas party and Christmas meal with loved ones. Many would want to avoid the shopping frenzy, or avoid spending too much on gifts for family or friends who already have everything. 

The church is inviting us to realize that however wonderful the parties, the gifts and the loving family events are, we should be contemplating the greatest miracle, the greatest revolution in history, our Lord coming to earth and taking on our flesh! This is where our minds should be dancing with the fantastic miracle of God’s love for us. God becomes human so we can become like God, being restored to our original beauty.

Listen to what St. Macarius the Great says, “Today the Lord is born, the life and salvation of mankind; today a reconciliation is made of Divinity to humanity, and of humanity to Divinity; today all creation has leapt for joy; those above sent toward those below; and those below towards those above; today occurred the death of darkness and the life of humanity; today a way was made toward God for man and a way for God into the soul.”

Divinity has been reconciled to humanity. This powerful reality of Christ taking on our flesh through His mother, the Theotokos, has created a revolution of epoch proportions! Listen with me for a bit.

The One who suspended the earth, the One who created the Universe, the One who created the human person in His image, calling us His beloved and breathing His life into us, humbly and lovingly came to earth to save us and to restore us to our original beauty. This is powerful! This is the Gift! This is Christmas!!

Do you get it? Can you begin to taste that fresh reality? The revolution of Christmas is about Jesus coming here to invite you and me to be in a relationship with Him so the power of His love, the power of this relationship, would transform us and heal us restoring us to our original beauty!!

Henri Nouwen said that we are all created by God as masterpieces, but the greatest tragedy in life is that countless well intentioned and not well intentioned people decide to paint on our canvas, hiding the masterpiece and deciding what and who they think we should be. How many times have we heard you should be like Kosta, he listens to his mother. Or you should be like Katherine, a beautiful, smart and accomplished girl. There may have been emotional, spiritual, physical or sexual abuse that we have experienced which is like someone splashing different colored paint on our masterpiece.

Henry Nouwen says the second tragedy is that we look in the mirror around the age of thirteen to twenty-something and we become disappointed in what we see. People often complain of an ‘identity crisis” during this time. The world’s diagnosis of this crisis is that we don’t know who we truly are.

In our efforts to find a solution, we then decide to do the same thing the well intentioned and not well intentioned people did: we paint our own rendition of who we think we should be. Nouwen said that the key to life is not to add layers to our false image but rather to allow them to be removed. Every person who sets out to “find themselves” most likely has good intentions. Still, every stroke of the paintbrush, even the one held by our own hand, only serves to move us further from our original beauty.

Instead, we must strive to scrape off all the foreign elements that have been imposed on us. Our Lord wants to remove layers of dried up paint and dirt with a scalpel, being careful not to harm the original. The Lord wants to reveal the masterpiece by revealing a small window of purity, slowly making this window to the heart bigger and bigger, eventually purifying the entire soul. As the window to the heart becomes enlarged, we can reflect the Grace of God, the Light of Christ, into a world that desperately needs this Love.

May we band together in this icon restoration revolution that Jesus started 2000 years ago. This revolution is about allowing our old nature to be stripped away; allowing judgment, anxiety, fear and anything that depresses us or gives us stress to be stripped away.

We are called to become renewed with the power of the Holy Spirit. We are called to be joined with Him and to become unified with His ultimate purpose of salvation and restoration. We are destined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Romans 8:29.

This Christmas, may we strive to honor the Master Artist by working with Him, His church, His sacraments, and His word, by prayerfully asking Him to scrape off those things that conceal the masterpiece.

In doing this, what is truly at the core of our humanity may be revealed, and what exceeds our humanity may become possible.

Christ is Born! Let us Glorify Him!
+fr. tom

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