Monday, March 28, 2011

Great Lent Week 4, Day 1

This is a tough one...the fourth act of mercy is Ransoming the Captives.

I have to admit to not knowing a single person in captivity that would need financial ransoming, which I am assuming was the original meaning of this act of mercy. (I could be wrong's happened before..) However, there are others ways in which people are held captive.

The first could simply be someone who is an invalid.  They are being held captive by their physical or psychological infirmities.  A visitation, a phone call or a card, anything that could relieve them, even for just a little while from their "captor" certainly would fulfill this act of mercy.

The second requires a little more legwork.  Believe it or not, the child sex trafficking business is a horrendous problem that plagues many of America's cities.  According to Streetlight PHX, a group dedicated to eradicating child sex slavery in Phoenix, Arizona, the average age in which a child enters prostitution is 13. Unbelievable. Finding an agency such as Streetlight PHX in your area and supporting it in any way you can, even if it's a couple bucks just once would certainly help ransom some poor kid stuck in such a desperate situation.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Great Lent Week 3 Meditation

Don't wait to win the lottery to do good works!

Here's a reflection from St. Nikolai Velimirovic about this very thing from The Prologue of Ohrid:

You will hear this kind of justification from many who pursue riches: "When I become rich, I will be able to perform good works!"  Do not believe them, for they deceive both you and themselves.  St. John Climacus knew in depth the most secret motives of men's souls when he said: "The beginning of love of money is the pretext of almsgiving and the end of it is hatred of the poor." This is confirmed by all lovers of money, both the very rich and the less rich.  The average man says: "If only I had money, I would carry out this and that good work!"  Do not believe him.  Let him not believe himself.  Let him look, as in a mirror, at those who have money and who are not willing to do this or that good work.  That is how he would be if he acquired some money.  Again, the wise John says: "Do not say that you must collect money for the poor, that through this assistance you might gain the Kingdom.  Remember, for two mites the Kingdom was purchased." (Luke 21:1-4)Truly, the widow in the Gospel purchased it for two mites, and the rich man, before whose gates Lazarus lay, could not purchase it for all of his countless riches (Luke 16:19-31) If you have nothing to give to the poor, pray to God that He will give to them, and by this you have performed almsgiving and purchased the heavenly Kingdom.  When St. Basil the New prophesied to the empress, the wife of Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, that she would first give birth to a daughter and then to a son, the empress offered him much gold.  The saint refused it.  The empress implored him in the name of the Holy Trinity that he take the gold.  Then St. Basil took only three pieces of gold and gave it to his needy servant, Theodora, saying: "We do not need too much of these thorns, for they prick much." 
BTW, May you all have a blessed Feast of the Annuciation today!  March 25 + 9 months = December 25th.  Click here for more info. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Great Lent Week 3, Day 3

To Clothe the Naked..the third act of mercy for the third week of Great Lent...

This is fairly easy to accomplish.  Go through your closet, clean it out, and don't be stingy!  What I mean by not being stingy is don't hold back a designer label item because you don't think it will be appreciated by the recipient or you want to hold onto it "just in case".  I believe the rule of thumb is if you haven't worn something in five years, you never will.  And, just perhaps, that designer label jacket you donate may be the reason someone gets a job.  Your donation could be that one needed catalyst that changes the course of a person's life.  Just a thought... 

Places to go...women's shelters, homeless shelters, someone in your parish...

If you live in a state that has a Sports Chalet store, you can donate gently used or new shoes to Soles 4 Souls through April 10th.   All shoe donations will be sent to the suffering people of Japan.  You may also visit their website to find other ways to donate.  Soles 4 Souls

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Great Lent Week 2 Meditation

The Archangel Salathiel "Prayer of God" - can be purchased at Not Of This World Icons.
The following quote is from St. Seraphim of Sarov's beautiful conversation with the layperson Nicholas Motovilov in 1831.  I posted once before about it here.  It's a discussion about the aim of the Christian life.  If you would like to read the conversation in its entirety here's the link again:  A Wonderful Revelation to the World

The excerpt below from the conversation speaks of good works, which is the focus of this blog during Great Lent 2011.  It teaches us not to despair if our good intentions cannot come to fruition, because there is always an alternative. 
Of course, every good deed done for Christ's sake gives us the grace of the Holy Spirit, but prayer gives it to us most of all, for it is always at hand, so to speak, as an instrument for acquiring the grace of the Spirit.  For instance, you would like to go to church, but there is no church or the service is over; you would like to give alms to a beggar, but there isn't one, or you have nothing to give; you would like to preserve your virginity*, but you have not the strength to do so because of your temperament, or because of the violence of the wiles of the enemy which on account of human weakness you cannot withstand; you would like to do some other good deed for Christ's sake, but either you have not the strength or the opportunity is lacking.  This certainly does not apply to prayer.  Prayer is always possible for everyone, rich and poor, noble and humble, strong and weak, healthy and sick, righteous and sinful.
....Great is the power of prayer, and it brings most of all the Spirit of God and is most easily practiced by everyone...
 * an editor's note:  preserving your virginity here means that you would like to remain unmarried.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Great Lent 2011, Week 2, Day 2

Sorry I'm a day's already Day 2 of Week 2.

Desert Deliberation's Great Lenten commission in week 2 is to give drink to the thirsty.  Being that I live in the desert, this is fairly easy for me.  Homeless shelters will soon be in dire need of cases of water as the temps rise above 100°.  Even now, with it being in the 80's, you can find yourself thirsty pretty quickly. 

Other ways of fulfilling Week 2 could be returning back to your local food pantry and donating water.  Or, given the dire circumstances in Japan, a donation to your favorite international charity certainly works too.  If you don't have a favorite one, you can use one of mine, International Orthodox Christian Charities found here.  In addition to monetary donations, you can also assemble Emergency Kits in your home and mail the items to the IOCC.  There are emergency health kits, baby kits, school kits and clean-up buckets.   Here's the direct link to this idea.  It can be an easy way to get your children involved as well.

I would like to add, if I wasn't clear last week, that the point of this Lenten project is not just "to do" a nice deed.  We should be doing these things every week of the year, not just during Lent.  Hopefully we can put in motion this idea of fulfilling these acts of mercy on a more regular conscious basis, not having to be prompted by a food drive at school or catastrophic world events.  It is easy to get wrapped up in one's own life and completely forget those around you.  I just figured that Great Lent would be perfect opportunity to unwrap myself.

Yes, like the One who completely unwrapped himself and willingly spread His arms out to embrace all of humanity...I think you know who I'm talking about...

Lenten mediation to follow later this week... 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Great Lent Week 1 Check-In are you doing?  Just checking in to make sure that Week 1 of Great Lent is going smoothly for you.  And if it isn't, that's to be expected.  No one ever promised that increased amounts of fasting, praying and loving your neighbor would be easy.  Satan knows what's goin' on.  It's one of his busiest times of year I suspect.

I thought of some other ways to help out the hungry...and, of course, I missed the most obvious one that is linked to this blog...The Hunger Site!  Take a look at my sidebar stuff and click on the Hunger Site tab.  It's free, you can do it every day of your life, and it helps feed the hungry.  It is so like me to not see the most obvious thing on my own blog.  Dingbat is the word for it I think. 

Also, if you can't get to a food bank, you can make monetary donations through their websites.  I ended up having to do this.  My mom has been in the hospital all week and some other things came up that did not give much time to do anything else.  Thankfully my mother should be released to a physical rehabilitation center soon and the other things will pass. 

So until we meet again on Day 1 of Week 2 of Great Lent, I leave you with this meditation from St. Nikolai Velimirovic (1881-1956) from The Prologue of Ohrid, March 11th reflection:
"Good works are accomplished not by our efforts alone, but by the power and will of God.  Nevertheless, God demands effort on our part in conforming to His will."  These are the words of St. Barsanuphius and John - few words, but much is said in them.  We are obliged to labor, cultivate and prepare every good thing, and if some good will take root, grow, and bring fruit, that is up to the power and will of God.  We plow the furrows, and God sows - if He wills it.  He can do anything if He wills it.  And He will do everything that answers to the highest wisdom and wholeness, that is, to His plan of man's salvation.  In interpreting the words of our Lord, Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16), St. John Chrysostom writes that our Lord gave this commandment to His disciples that "they themselves should cooperate in some way, so that it will not appear that all effort is of grace alone and so that they will not think they received the wreaths of glory for nothing."  And so, both of them are indispensable for our salvation:  our effort and the power of God's grace.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Great Lent 2011, Week 1, Day 1

From the first Scripture reading of the first day of Lent...

Wash yourselves;
Make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;
Cease to do evil, learn to do good;
Seek justice, correct oppression;
Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow

Isaiah 1:16-17

If you said to yourself  "Gee I just don't know what to do for Great Lent!"  the Orthodox Church comes out and tells you the very first day from the very first Scripture reading. (Here's Isaiah 1:1-20 if you want to read it in context).  "Cease to do evil, learn to do good". 
So since this seems to be the command, I am proposing the following for the 7 weeks leading up to Easter (or Pascha as we call it in Orthodox Christianity).  Each week we should focus on fulfilling a Chief Corporal Work of Mercy.  Here's the list:
  1. To feed the hungry
  2. To give drink to the thirsty
  3. To clothe the naked
  4. To ransom captives
  5. To shelter the homeless
  6. To visit the sick
  7. To bury the dead
For the the first week of Lent the plan will be to deliberately focus on #1, feed the hungry. The goal is that by the end of Lent, all 7 will have been done and a greater awareness has been created to those around us that we don't see because we are too busy with ourselves.  Obviously if it is week 1 and the opportunity to do # 6 arises, then certainly hop to it.  Additionally, repeating a week is greatly encouraged!

Week 1 is easy enough to fulfill...every town has an organization that collect foods.  Take a second to google and find out their greatest needs and do what you can.   Or, look to your own neighborhood.  Do you know a family that is struggling?  There are plenty of people having a rough go of it right now.  Ask your priest or pastor if there is a family in your church that you can anonymously help out with a gift card to a food store.   If there are other less obvious ways that you can think of, drop a comment and let me know.

Now, I'm going to be checking up on you all...I'll publish another post in a few days, probably with a mid-week meditation from someone ├╝ber-holy, so don't think you can get away with doing nothing.  I've got my eye on you!!!

Best wishes for a beautiful, fruitful and blessed Lent.