Advent Reflection – Bishop Mark Lattime

Immanuel

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness–
on them light has shined.
(Isaiah 9:2)

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
(John 1:9)

As an adult, and more so after my ordination, I have always struggled against the cultural norm to start celebrating Christmas the day after Thanksgiving (I would never have thought the struggle would eventually begin the day after Halloween!). I’ve always preached the importance of honoring Advent.

Prepare ye the way!

As an “Adventophile” (I just made-up that word), I have always asserted that preparing for Christmas did NOT mean putting up Christmas Trees, or decking the halls, or fa-la-la-la-laing. Indeed, in my way of thinking, Advent should be just the opposite and marked by an ascetic restraint from all festivities anticipating Christmas Day. In fact, I had always harbored thoughts of not putting up the Christmas Tree until Christmas Eve. Becoming a parish priest with Christmas Eve worship responsibilities that did not get me home until well after 1 o’clock Christmas Morning, disabused me of that little bit of “Adventodox” fantasy. Nevertheless, in my estimation, Advent is supposed to be DARK! Broodingly so.

Advent is a Purple season.

Maybe it’s age; maybe it’s living in Alaska and entering into my 8th winter; or maybe it is my hope that we as the bearers of the Light of Christ become more and more people of that Light–Communities of Recovery that shine light into the darkness that hangs around so persistently in this world and in people’s lives; but I am starting to see that LIGHT is what every season is about—even, or especially, the season of Advent.

Sure, if you turn off all the lights and brood in darkness and despair, any light, even the weakest little flame, will hit your eyes like the brightest flash. But Christmas isn’t about a weak little flame. Christmas is the light of the world! The brightest and best of the stars of the morning! The dawn from on high! The Light of God incarnate: God with us!

A little light is adequate in the dark. Growing light, Holy light, is much better.

Advent is a season to prepare for the dawning of the true light. And while I’m still not ready to give-up entirely my vain claims of “Adventodoxy” (I did it again) and my resistance to getting caught-up in the sweep of the world’s pre-Christmas hype, nevertheless, I do see the light that shines through all of it. Light is a good thing in darkness. And if I am truly to claim the light of Christ as my own, it makes much better sense to spread light rather than to grieve or give honor to the of darkness.

Better to spend Advent being converted to light.

Howard Thurman described conversion as an act of loyalty. What one is loyal to converts that person into a “living for instance” of one’s loyalty. Even in Advent, and most brightly at Christmas, I pray that your loyalty to Christ will convert you and make you a living for instance of the Light of the Gospel. Prepare for the Light by being light, even if only a flickering flame. Trust me, there’s enough darkness out there that yours will not be missed. Embrace the light of Christ in this and every season and send the darkness fumbling away.

“Kindle Thy light within me, O God, that Thy glow may be spread over all of my life; yea indeed, that Thy glow may be spread over all of my life. More and more, may Thy light give radiance to my flickering candle, fresh vigor to my struggling intent, and renewal to my flagging spirit. Without Thy light within me, I must spend my years fumbling in my darkness. Kindle Thy light within me, O God!” (Excerpt from: Thurman, Howard. “Meditations of the Heart.” New York: Harper, 1953

I bid you and yours a Blessed Advent, a Merry Christmas, and a New Year full of Light.

The Rt. Rev. Mark Lattime
Episcopal Bishop of Alaska

Bishop David’s Reflections upon the Nativity

During Advent, many Christians who do not observe Advent practices, go immediately to consumer spending binges, and begin singing Christmas carols as if the nativity was already being observed.  The Rt. Rev. Bishop David (Mahaffey, Orthodox Bishop of Sitka and Alaska has kindly consented to share his thoughts on these practices and what we’re losing in the process.

The Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ
Rt. Rev. Bishop David (Mahaffey), Bishop of Sitka and Alaska

It seems every year, as we approach the Christmas Holiday, we find it less and less a celebration of the coming of our Savior and more a commercial enterprise. This is not to say that I have a “bah, humbug!” attitude, not at all, but I seek a Spiritual meaning for this time of year.

Aye, there’s the rub! I want to be “Spiritual”, but not religious. But what do I mean by being Spiritual and not being religious? How can I say such a thing, when I am the leader of the largest body of (Orthodox) Christians in Alaska? Aren’t we supposed to be “religious”? Again, it depends on what you mean by religious. Merriam Webster defines it basically as “the service and worship of God or the supernatural (1).” If that is all I was seeking, that is easily completed by attending services, and at Christmas time, there are many. There are Christmas Cantatas, Live Nativity Scenes, Candlelight Vigils, roaming carolers and singers; there’s Midnight Mass for some Faiths, Christmas Eve Vigils and Divine Liturgy for others (I still can’t get over the fact that some churches don’t even have services on Christmas Day unless it falls on a Sunday, but I digress). So, if I want to “satisfy” my religious experience, lots of things will fill the bill. Once done, I can go on with my other “needs” at shopping malls, and all.

There are many people today who say they are “Spiritual” but not “religious”. I want to say here that while I agree with what they are thinking, I disagree that it is something I can fulfill on my own. For me, there is always the need for “the Other” in a spiritual equation. So, whether I am talking about Christmas, or any other major celebration of an event related to Christ, I am always seeking my involvement with the Other.

So being spiritual means that I am meditating or contemplating on what it means to have God become a human being, to be incarnated in the flesh and blood that I am also clothed with, along with every other human being who was, is and ever will exist. I am not just interested in feeding my own soul but with joining in a nourishing “meal” with as many other persons as I can. I want to feed my Spirit and join with others who have the same or a similar understanding of the same motive.

Let me offer a few reasons why this is so important to me. First, very few religions have ever even allowed that God could become a human being, he is simply God qua God, above and beyond everything and anything else that is involved with matter, with “stuff” that exists in our world. It is incomprehensible to those who hold to such an idea (ancient Greek philosophers, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, even some Jewish sects, etc.) that we could associate God with our world because it is a perishing world, finite, and surely God could not be a part of that. But in Christianity, not only to we believe this, we celebrate it and say our Salvation depends on it!

Second, related to the first Christian notion, we Orthodox Christians have no less than
four Major (and three minor Feasts spread throughout the calendar year related to the
Incarnation of Christ (2), not to mention Christmas, itself. In other words, we are preparing
for the coming of Christ throughout the year, not just on December 25. We gather
together in prayer and Liturgy at each event, knowing we are making ready our hearts
for the coming Incarnation.

Third, while many others celebrate the fasting season before Christmas as a “Four-
Sunday Advent” event, this fast for we Orthodox is a full forty days. Beginning on
November 15 (Nov. 28, Julian calendar with Jan. 7 being Christmas) until December 25,
we practice fasting from certain foods, pleasures and entertainment, and increase our
prayer life accordingly. This also helps us direct our attention to the contemplation of the
coming of Christ and of His Theophany as well.

All this is not to find any inadequacy with anyone else’s enjoyment of Christmas, but it is
to say that I need all of these things to enter into my own “Spiritual” celebration of
Christmas. A Spiritual Joy only possible when I join into this celebration with others who
share similar love for the Incarnation of our Lord, and are thankful for His love for us.
I wish all those who are celebrating this Holy Season the Peace of Christ and the Joy of
the Lord!

1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion#other-words
2. Major: Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, March 25; Nativity of the Virgin Mary, September 8; Entry of theTheotokos into the Temple, November 21; and Meeting of the Lord in the Temple, February 2 (Nativity ofour Lord – Christmas – is a given). Minor: Conception of St. Anne, December 9; Conception of St John the Baptist by Elizabeth, September 24; Nativity of St John the Baptist, September 23.

Orthodox Advent Underway – Fr Vasili Hillhouse Reflects on this Journey

November 15, most Orthodox Christians began their Advent journey to the Feast of the Nativity. In contrast, Western Christianity begins its Advent journey on December 2 this year.  A nativity fast is observed by Orthodox, but is less severe than that of Lent. I’ve asked several pastors in our community to share their reflections about  Advent. Fr Vasili Hillhouse, pastor of Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, has graciously agreed to take the lead this year with his thoughts about Advent.

Advent: Preparing to Receive the King of Glory
Fr. Vasili Hillhouse

In this season of Advent, which is our preparation before the Feast of the Nativity of
Christ, it is helpful for us to take the time to consider what we are truly preparing to
celebrate in the first place. If you are reading this, I would imagine that you have already
decided that what you will be celebrating has little to do with the rampant consumerism
that can taint this time of year. I would imagine that you, as a reader of a religion blog,
are preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ. So what do we know about this Child and
the reason for His coming into the world? This Child is the Son and Word of God – the
very same Word of God Who was revealed in the Old Testament. This is the same Divine
Logos Who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and who wrestled with Jacob. This
Second Person of the Holy Trinity was revealed in the Old Testament without flesh,
without human nature; He appeared sometimes as an angel and other times as fire. He
Who’s voice was heard by the righteous prophets now comes to earth, clothed in flesh.
This child is the very same God; the very same Divine Logos Who is begotten of the
Father before all time. There never was a time when He did not exist, but He was always
with the Father, eternally begotten of Him and sharing His one essence, together with the
Holy Spirit. This Child that we are preparing to behold – so defenseless, and so dependent
on others to care for Him – is the same Person Who was transfigured in Divine glory on
Mt Tabor. When we speak of “the baby Jesus,” This is Who we are referring to: The
eternal and divine Logos of God, and it is His birth into this world that we will celebrate
on Christmas.
If the Twelve Days of Christmas (originally the days between the birth of Christ and
Epiphany) has been given to us in order to celebrate the birth of Christ, then the forty
days of Advent that come before it are meant to prepare us to celebrate properly. Think of
it this way, if it was announced that a king was coming to your house for dinner in a
month’s time, wouldn’t you begin right away with all of the preparations to receive such
a guest? And wouldn’t you even complain that one month was not enough time to do all
that would need to be done? Well, on Christmas, in a spiritual manner of speaking, we
will be receiving a king – the King of Glory. How much more should we prepare the
room of our heart to receive the Master of All? This is what Advent is: a time to prepare
the “cave” or “manger” of our heart to receive the Savior. To do this we abstain from
certain foods, while increasing our prayer life and almsgiving – not because God needs it
– but because we do! These practices are pleasing to God, when they are done in His
Name, and collectively they purify our hearts of self-centeredness, pride, and all the other
things that separate us from Him. So I wish you all a good and profitable Advent! May
the King of Glory, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and Son of God, make each of
us worthy to receive Him into our heart and celebrate His birth in a manner that is worthy of His Glory. Amen.

Beer & Hymns – Sunday – November 4, 2018

The next Beer & Hymns sing will be held Sunday, November 4, 6:00 p.m. at Mo’s O’Brady’s in the Huffman Business Park next to Carrs/Safeway. This a tremendously successful event which features camaraderie, and singing wonderful hymns, something many of today’s churches no longer offer.  Retired Lutheran Pastor Dan Bollerud has encouraged this event into a tremendous asset for the local community.

There is no charge to attend, but donations are accepted for Lutheran Social Services of Alaska. The previous Beer & Hymns raised over $11,000 in just two-hours.  Mo’s food is always delicious and features many “down home” favorites.

I urge you to get there early or you might not be able to find seating.  At the last Beer & Hymns I was among others who were unable to find seating and left.  Personally, I’m not eager to stand for two-hours during a hymn sing.  In my opinion, this wonderful event has possibly outgrown its venue and should consider moving.

I hope this event is as successful as the last one!

 

Early Church Study “From Christ to Chalcedon” Starting – September 20

From Christ to Chalcedon, a study group of the early church as seen through the writings of the early church fathers, is restarting September 20. The Spring 2018 study group ran five-months, one night per month, was well received and attended. The Fall 2018 study group will meet for three-months, and covers the writings of Hermas, St. Melito of Sardis, St. Theophilis of Antioch, St. Athenagoras of Athens, and St. Irenaeus of Lyons.

The study volume is ‘The Fathers of the Church’ 3rd Edition by Mike Aquilina. Participants purchase the book on their own. The study group is sponsored the Cardinal Newman Chair of Catholic Studies, Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, and churchvisits.com. Dr. Lisa Unterseher, and Fr Vasili Hillhouse are faculty, and the moderator is Chris Thompson. The format will be lecture and Q&A. Course fee is $25 payable at the first session. If you are interested, please contact Chris Thompson at churchvisits@gmail.com. This study promises to fill in major gaps in understanding the early development of Christianity, and is religion neutral.

Come join us and learn about those “missing years” in the development of the Christian church.

Alaska Greek Festival –

One of my favorite times of year comes next weekend.  The Alaska Greek Festival arrives at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church just east on O’Malley Road after the Lake Otis intersection.   Detailed information is found here: http://akgreekfestival.com/

2018 Festival Hours

Friday, August 17th, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Saturday, August 18th, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Sunday, August 19th, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.

This festival has annually raised money to complete their beautiful church, and has successfully done so for many years.  Their dedicated members pitch in and cook the food, pour the beverages, and serve the desserts.  The food is traditional Greek and most tasty indeed.  After you’ve eaten, sit back and enjoy the Greek music and dancing.  It is a memorable event you can bring the whole family to enjoy.

Take time to enjoy a tour of the church and lecture provided by their engaging priest, Fr. Vasili Hillhouse.  He’ll describe the splendor of the iconography employed to deepen their member’s religious experience.  No matter how many times I’ve heard him speak, I always hear something new. While in the church, look in their gift shop for items found nowhere else in Anchorage. I’ve found books of great interest. Their awesome parish cookbook full of Greek recipes is also for sale within.

I’ll be at the festival. Say hello if you spot me!

Blessings

Chris

 

Eagle River Institute Starts Today – August 1, 2018

St John Orthodox Cathedral – Sanctuary

St John Orthodox Cathedral’s Eagle River Institute (ERI) is slated to start today at 3:30 p.m.  During this wonderful annual event, scholars from across the U.S. present on topics selected by Fr. Marc Dunaway. I’ve attended a number of their institutes over the years and can only say what a spiritual blessing they’ve been.

This year’s theme is Holiness Among the Ordinary.

One track will address “Marriage as a Path to Theosis”. The presenter is Fr Philip LeMasters who is a professor of religion at McMurry University, Abilene, TX.

The other track addresses “Lay People in the Ancient Church: Women and Men”. The presenter is Dr. Susan Ashbrook Harvey, professor of religious studies, Brown University.

A detailed brochure with presentation times and fees is available at the link below.  This is not to be missed.

https://stjohnalaska.org/files/ERI%20Brochures/ERI_Brochure_2018.pdf

 

Beer and Hymns – This Sunday! Come join in this joyous experience and help your neighbor at the same time!

This Sunday, April 22, retired Lutheran Pastor Dan Bollerud presents 2018’s first “Beer and Hymns” in Anchorage.  A wonderfully social and spiritual event, it has raised $63,000 over the past four-years. These funds have gone to Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA), which provides a panoply of services to Alaskans. Most importantly, LSSA’s Food Pantry supplies thousands of Alaskans with needed nutrition.

Pastor Dan hopes this Sunday’s event will raise over $7,000 to push the four-year total over $70,000.  There is incredible comradeship in singing hymns, dining together, and experiencing the joys of Christian fellowship. Jamie Berge’s masterful piano playing, along with Pastor Dan’s rich baritone, compel enthusiastic  audience participation.  Oh, by the way, these hymns are not sung mournfully as some local churches often do, but with an up-tempo spirit and richness they rightfully deserve.  There is intense competition among those present to request their favorite hymns.  Everyone is accommodated.

Mo’s O’Brady’s Restaurant in the Huffman Business Park next to Carr’s Huffman is hosting this Beer and Hymns once again.  There is no admission.  An LSSA representative will be present to accept donations via check, cash or a card reader, and to answer your questions about their services. At the last Beer and Hymns, over $11,000 was raised in the two-hour event.  I plan on being there as well.  If you’d like to discuss issues regarding local churches, seek me out. The event starts at 6 p.m. and concludes promptly at 8 p.m.  Spiritual highs are no-charge. My hat is off to the generosity of local Christians of virtually every faith who support this awesome event!

 

Easter 2018 – He is Risen! Rejoice!

Easter 2018 is almost over. Of course, Easter week, according to N.T. Wright, below,  “ought to be an eight-day festival” and so believe I.  The power of the passion story is magnified by its retelling by children.  I urge you to click on this link to watch a short video of two children telling the story of Holy Week and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. https://youtu.be/FYdP7nozxUQ

At Easter time, I love to perennially share the beautiful N.T. Wright quote from his book “Surprised by Hope” for it inspires a true re-examination of the way we celebrate Easter.

“Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday,” Wright says, “It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?”

Finally, I conclude with theologian Walter Brueggemann’s Easter poem.

An Easter Prayer
“…On our own, we conclude:
that there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short

of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life

we should seize the day…
seize the goods…
seize our neighbor’s goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit;

You come
You come giving bread in the wilderness
You come giving children at the 11th hour
You come giving homes to the exiles
You come giving futures to the shut-down
You come giving Easter joy to the dead
You come … fleshed … in Jesus

And we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing.

We watch … and we take

food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbors who sustain us
when we do not deserve it.

It dawns on us, late rather than soon, that
You give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

By your giving,
break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance…mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives

that your much-ness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving, we may endlessly give,

so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder
without coercive need, but only love
without destructive greed, but only praise
without aggression and evasiveness…
all things Easter new…

all around us, toward us and by us
all things Easter new.

Finish your creation…
in wonder, love and praise. Amen.”

I wish you joyous Easter greetings, HE IS RISEN!

Chris

FINAL REMINDER: Free Public Lecture By Noted Author/Professor, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine – March 1

It’s rare that important voices in the area of religion and faith come to Anchorage to share their thoughts and perspective. Amy-Jill Levine, PhD is a professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and College of Arts and Sciences. She will be giving a free public lecture at APU on March 1.  The topic of her lecture is, “Jesus, Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations.”

She has held office in the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, and the Association for Jewish Studies. She is the author, co-author, or editor of numerous books, including The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus; The Historical Jesus in Context; the Jewish Annotated New Testament; and Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi. If you’ve seen her name before it has possibly been connected to The Great Courses where she’s taught Old and New Testament and other related subjects.

She is an erudite, witty, and listenable voice that helps us challenge our assumptions about faith. I can’t wait to hear her remarks. Her lecture promises to be well-attended. It will be held March 1, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. at Alaska Pacific University’s Earl R. Brown Auditorium, Grant Hall.

A pdf flyer is attached. Amy-Jill Levine Lecture v8