“According to thy mercy, pour out upon me, who am miserable, at least one small drop of grace to make me understand and be converted, that I might make at least some small effort to correct myself. For if thy grace does not illumine my soul, I will not be able to see the carelessness and negligence that the passions have produced in me through
my apathy and recklessness.” – St. Ephraim the Syrian
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Once again, the fact that time passes quickly, when you are having fun, has been confirmed and experienced. Early in the Fall, our St. Anna’s Adult Religious Education classes began with great enthusiasm and ended this week, capping off months of vibrant conversations, engaged learners and faithful Christians willing and excited to grow in their faith.
Participants of the Weekly Bible Study and the Orthodox Spirituality Inquirers Class will come together, next Wednesday for a Paraklasis Services dedicated to the Theotokos in gratitude for our gatherings in the spirit of fellowship, scriptural knowledge and the desire to learn the tenets of our precious Orthodox Church.
While the Bible Study introduced the Book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian and Evangelist, the Spirituality Class immersed themselves in areas of Orthodox doctrine, theology, liturgics, practice, tradition, Tradition (there is a difference) and history.
The time truly did fly.
And I think it was because each and every one of the people who participated in our classes involved themselves to the degree which St. Ephraim wrote about in the above-referenced quote.
When we endeavor to receive a measure of God’s grace, it is not a passive exercise or dis-engaged practice. Growth in the Spirit comes from time spent in prayer, study, meditation upon the Scriptures, spiritually-edifying readings, and, of course, participation in the divine services of the Church.
Our study of the Book of Revelation was not always easy or even enjoyable. It’s hard stuff with hard information to convey.
The imagery, symbolism, cryptic messages, and unrecognizable presentations of Jesus Christ caused great levels of anxiety and trepidation in some of our students. Especially in the beginning. Working through this text took great levels of effort, trust and dedication that I greatly appreciated through the months of our study. Believe me, this was not an easy Book to teach, but with Patristic sources and through a proper, Orthodox perspective, the participants in the class continued to inspire me and for that, I am ever grateful.
The thing about Inquirers’ Classes that is so engaging is the fact that most people in the room are there for the same reason, but on entirely different journeys. We come together to learn the essentials of the faith, but some through their first, formal exposure to Orthodoxy, some are engaged couples, some are Orthodox Christians since the cradle who want to recapture what has been missing since Sunday School and others are just plain curious about ancient, exotic and historically-grounded traditions.
This class, by nature is much more interactive, with questions – fantastic questions – coming from the hearts of people who thirst for knowledge, hunger for guidance and are starved for authentic Christian teachings; unaltered through the ages and steadfastly resisting the temptation of adding to true doctrines and messing with fundamentals of theology.
St. Ephraim’s words inspire us, especially as we approach the inaugural steps of the Fast, to spend time in cultivating our relationship with God, seek corrective measures as we tend to the well-being of our souls, and move to rise from the preverbal “spiritual couch” and get the spiritual heart pumping!
When we neglect our relationships, they fail. When we neglect our bodies, they become ill. When we neglect our souls, ultimate death creeps around us and pulls us away from seeing God’s face with clarity and vibrancy.
Yes, our classes are over for the season. And the reason I use the opportunity of this message as a retroactive commercial of sorts, to pique your interest in learning about our Faith, or beliefs, our Church, and ultimately to be continually introduced to Christ in new ways.
Those ways now come in the form of multiple Lenten services which will begin soon enough. Please consider coming to services that perhaps you have never witnessed. This is how the apathy and recklessness of the soul, which St. Ephraim warns, is combatted and thwarted.
Be like the nervous Book of Revelation student – stretch your horizon, build our measure of faith through new experiences and be the beneficiary of newly-cultivated, spiritual fruits.
So, once again, to the participants of our now-concluded classes, thank you for your interest and your participation. I invite, actually beg your feedback and suggestions on how to improve our class content and what I can do to be a better teacher to, and for you.
I look forward to seeing you at Paraklesis next Wednesday (of course the entire parish is welcome to participate) and at the services of the Lenten Season (of course the entire parish is expected to participate) so that we can grow together, in Christ, for Christ and through Christ.
With Much Love in our Savior,