a fa i t h e n co u r ag e d a d e vo tio nal g uide to
Being Orthodox on Purpose
b arnabas pow e l l
A FAITH ENCOURAGED A Devotional Guide to Being Orthodox on Purpose
ancient faith ministries chesterton, indiana
A Faith Encouraged: A Devotional Guide to Being Orthodox on Purpose Copyright ©2016 by Charles D. Powell All rights reserved. Published by: Ancient Faith Publishing A Division of Ancient Faith Ministries P.O. Box 748 Chesterton, IN 46304 Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version, © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. ISBN: 978-1-944967-15-4 Printed in the United States of America
Copyright © 2016 by Charles D. Powell. All Rights Reserved. Published by Ancient Faith Publishing.
Dedicated to Connie, Kandace, Kristin, Alexandra, and Katherineâ€” my wife and girls, who have put up with so much in having a husband and father in the ministryâ€” and to my best friend, Photios. May his memory be eternal! Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
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Copyright Â© 2016 by Charles D. Powell. All Rights Reserved. Published by Ancient Faith Publishing.
Preface “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11)
few years ago, I thought I’d take on the discipline of daily writing. Reading and thinking about each daily scripture lesson was a way not only to prepare for weekly Sunday homilies, but to ensure that I had the scripture deeply embedded in my heart. St. John Chrysostom said, “From this it is that countless evils have arisen—from ignorance of the Scriptures; from this it is that the plague of heresies has broken out; from this it is that there are negligent lives; from this there are labors without advantage. For as men deprived of this daylight would not walk aright, so they that look not to the gleaming of the Holy Scriptures must be frequently and constantly sinning, in that they are walking in the worst darkness” (from the Introduction of the Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans). What began as my daily discipline shared only with our parish family has blossomed, by God’s grace, into a wonderful opportunity to encourage many to read the scriptures daily and contemplate their insight into living a purposeful Orthodox Christian life. One of my favorite sayings has confused some: “Orthodox on Purpose.” Consider how easy it is to take for granted the physical blessings and freedoms in our lives, How easy it is to relegate our beliefs to Sundays only, living Monday through Friday with little to no connection to our Orthodox Faith. Consider the pain and heartache of those parents who have watched grown children squander what they have been given: a good education, quality healthcare, a safe and loving home. Now imagine the eternal tragedy that could result if we take this gift of our holy Faith for granted. Do we really want to stand by and watch the next generation abandon the Faith for the temporary comforts afforded by mere materialism? They are waiting for us to demonstrate for them this everyday Faith. What follows are daily reflections on Scripture and its applications:
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fty-two workweek devotionals meant to aid the reader in breaking out of a fi “Sunday only” notion of faith. I pray that each entry will fan the flame of love for God in your heart. Join me as we encourage one another in love and good works (see Heb. 10:24), living as Orthodox on purpose!
6 Copyright © 2016 by Charles D. Powell. All Rights Reserved. Published by Ancient Faith Publishing.
Monday: Luke 2:20–21, 40–52 The Law-Abiding Lawgiver Do as I say, not as I do
remember hearing this as a child and thinking, “That’s not very convincing. How can someone who refuses to follow his own advice have any credibility at all? After all, shouldn’t a person have some unchanging convictions?” Let’s look at our reading today. We are given two scenes to teach us about priorities, faithfulness, and purposeful living. The first is when the Lord of glory, come in the flesh and made weak by His own will for our sake, obeyed the law of circumcision. As a helpless baby, the Incarnate Lord was raised in a faithful home. He was circumcised in the flesh so that He would be able finally to provide the “circumcision made without hands” (Col. 2:11) to each of us, in order to write His Law on our hearts. The second scene in this passage reveals His purposeful living in superseding even the traditions of family when, in His twelfth year, He remained in His Father’s house after His family went home. The Theotokos and St. Joseph were frantic with worry about His whereabouts, yet He challenged their convictions by confronting them with the reality of His purpose. Then He returned with them to their home and “was subject,” or obedient, to them (Luke 2:51). What a perfect picture of both the Lawgiver and His faithfulness, and the radical new vision of that law which will exceed all previous wisdom given. God in the flesh invites us to embrace both faithfulness and the new reality that God has come among us to dwell in us. Today: What are your unchanging convictions? Your convictions will shape you and make you into the person you were created to be—or not.
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Tuesday: John 3:1–15 You Must Be Born Again “You must be born again” (John 3:7)
here I’m from, that scripture is as well worn as John 3:16. But what does it mean? Let’s look at it in the full context of today’s reading. First, notice that Jesus confronts Nikodemos with a command: “Do not marvel” (John 3:7). The reason for this is that the message Jesus gives to Nikodemos is not new. All through the Old Testament, God, the Prophets, and teachers were telling the people of God that one day He would write the Law on their hearts rather than on tablets of stone (see Jer. 31:33). The coming of the Messiah was promised to bring a fundamental change in the relationship between God and humanity. What amazed Jesus was that Nikodemos, a teacher of the Law, seemed to miss this. Next, the Lord reveals that this being born again He is talking about is a spiritual rebirth. The Lord confronts Nikodemos with the reality of this amazing truth: God intends to bridge the gap that existed between the physical and the spiritual, thus healing this broken connection. Finally, the Lord reveals that this healing of physical and spiritual would be akin to what Moses did in the desert with the serpent on the pole (see Numbers 21). When Moses lifted up the bronze serpent for all Israel to see, all who looked upon it would live. In the same way, the Son of Man will be “lifted up” (John 3:14) so that whoever believes in Him will live forever. Today: Are you being born again? Is the divide between the spiritual and the physical being healed in your heart? All the tools you need to unite the two are given to you in the Lord’s Church. All is ready for you.
8 Copyright © 2016 by Charles D. Powell. All Rights Reserved. Published by Ancient Faith Publishing.
Wednesday: Luke 3:15–18 Knowing Yourself Know yourself
ith these two words, ancient philosophers and Christian theologians have wrestled with a fundamental reality: Most people spend a lot of time either hiding from themselves or narcissistically focused on themselves. Knowing who we really are is fundamental to being who we really are. St. Basil, in his homily on attentiveness, concludes, “Be attentive to yourself, that you may be attentive to God.” Unfortunately, our lives are packed with busyness, schedules, noise, meetings, and media—the list goes on. This distracted living causes most of the problems in our lives, our relationships, and our work. The lack of authentic self-knowledge nags at our souls. We sense we should be able to know our own hearts—consciously or unconsciously, we attempt to resolve this fundamental confusion with all kinds of lesser remedies, without success. Today’s reading shows us that St. John the Baptist knew himself. He understood who he was, what he was called to accomplish, and where his life was supposed to go. His self-knowledge made him free to be who he was, and this freedom gave him peace. But this freedom wasn’t embraced without cost. In other words, our self-knowledge isn’t going to be cheap or easy to come by.
Today: Let’s embrace with sober joy the invitation from God to know ourselves as we truly are, free from false arrogance or false humility. If we fall into either of these delusions, we will never discover our true selves. All the tools we need to do this hard work are in abundant supply in a normal Orthodox life.
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Thursday: Matthew 3:13–17 It Is Fitting Oh, the shame!
failed my first driving test as a sixteen-year-old. One of society’s last remaining rites of passage into the adult world and I failed. Today, our Gospel reading describes a pivotal moment in the Lord’s ministry on earth. To this day, that moment ripples through time, profoundly affecting the created world. Notice St. John’s initial reluctance to baptize the Lord—the saint knew he was setting the stage for the Lord’s ministry on earth, but now, standing before Him, is that very Lord asking to be baptized. Why? The Lord answers, “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). Our sinless Lord certainly doesn’t need to be baptized for repentance. Yet He also knows that creation needs Him to enter into it. Creation’s original purpose—to display God’s glory and love—needs to be restored. Water longs to be set free to do what its Creator intended it to do: to truly cleanse, truly refresh, and truly quench humanity’s thirst. No wonder the Church uses water so frequently in worship. No wonder the first sacramental encounter people have with the Orthodox faith is in the waters of baptism. No wonder we shower our faithful with holy water at the Feast of Theophany. Today: When we see the Lord return water to its truest purpose, and we hear the Father speak from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son” (v. 17), let us embrace the victorious truth sung by all of us: “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ! Alleluia!” Let’s share this water with our world.
10 Copyright © 2016 by Charles D. Powell. All Rights Reserved. Published by Ancient Faith Publishing.
Friday: John 1:29–34 The Spirit Descends and Remains Turns out the communists were right
ne of the famous axioms of Marxism is that religion is the opiate of the people. Father John Romanides said that Orthodox Christianity is the cure for the sickness of religion. In today’s reading, St. John recognizes Christ as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Notice he doesn’t say “who takes away the sin of the world if you ask Him to.” No. The Lord takes away the sin of the world. If you decide—out of your freedom—to keep your sin to yourself, that is your choice. But if you learn to embrace the One who takes sin away, you will be healed from these wounds of your soul. St. John recognizes the Lord existed before him. Even though St. John was six months older than Christ in the flesh, he saw past this temporary date to the eternal existence of the Son of God before all time. The Lord has come to change us radically from living a merely religious life to living in a relationship that so acclimates us to His Presence that it becomes light to us rather than the fire experienced by those unprepared to live with Him. Today: Is your faith preparing you to dwell in Christ’s presence? Are you still gripped by the sickness of religion that reduces our faith to nothing more than a mere nostalgic repetition of old words? Or is this Orthodox faith doing what it has done for its people for centuries—transforming your life into a fit temple of the Holy Spirit? Anything less falls short of normal Orthodoxy.
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Monday: John 3:22–33 He Must Increase
W E E K
I was wrong
on’t you just hate it when you’re wrong? Is there anything so frustrating or even embarrassing? Yet there is nothing more character building than being able to say these three honest words. Admitting we’re wrong is hard. This partly explains why our first mother and father in the Garden of Eden resorted to passing the blame in the beginning: “It was that woman You gave me.” “The snake deceived me.” Our fear drives so much of our brokenness and spiritual illness. St. John the Baptist was famous. Of course he didn’t really care about that, but he knew that when his task was completed, the Messiah would surpass him in every way. Look at the way he handles the question from those who were concerned that Jesus and His disciples were also baptizing folks. Instead of sulking and hiring a public relations firm to increase his market share, St. John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). St. John knows himself, and he knows the Lord sufficiently well, and so he is at peace with the reality of the situation. So it is with us, dear ones. As He increases in our lives, we decrease, but something wonderful happens when we are mature enough to embrace this: in losing ourselves, we find ourselves.
Today: Is Christ increasing in your life? It’s an amazing truth of our Orthodox Faith that we gain our lives by losing them, and in dying we live. As the old monastic saying goes, “If you die before you die, then when you die you won’t die.”
12 Copyright © 2016 by Charles D. Powell. All Rights Reserved. Published by Ancient Faith Publishing.
Tuesday: Mark 1:9–15 The Spirit Drives Him into the Desert Who is in the driver’s seat?
he Centers for Disease Control reported some forty percent of babies born in 2012 were born to unwed women. This is a very real consequence resulting from our society’s moral choices, and living in this world can be discouraging for Orthodox Christians. We are always tempted to believe either that we live in the “best of times” or “the worst of times,” as Charles Dickens put it in The Tale of Two Cities. We have this amazing ability to vacillate between elation and despondency, depending on our view of the world’s current circumstances. However, our Gospel reading for today gives us a peek into how best to see the world as it is without being overwhelmed by it. Indeed, this is not only possible, but it is the perspective on life that should always be held by the person of faith. St. Mark conveys two important truths. The first is that awareness of our mission drives us, and the second is that God isn’t shy when it comes to redeeming people He loves. This is no lackadaisical rescue attempt—it is serious. There will be another point in the Lord’s ministry, right before His Crucifixion, when we will see this same conflict played out when He tells His Father, “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Today: What drives you? Is it the Spirit, or are you driving yourself? To be sure, the faithful Christian life is not easy. Yet the disciplines of daily prayer, regular worship, and putting God first will pay off; these will enable us to face every test well and accomplish our calling. Remember: it’s neither the best of times nor the worst of times, but God’s time. The Lord extends His rescue mission to everyone around us through our obedience.
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by Barnabas Powell In the style of his beloved podcast, Fr. Barnabas Powell offers reflections for each workday of the year to inspire us t...
Published on Dec 2, 2016
by Barnabas Powell In the style of his beloved podcast, Fr. Barnabas Powell offers reflections for each workday of the year to inspire us t...