Remaining Steadfast in Your Faith Despite Challenges

“Of course, it would be easier to get to paradise with a full stomach, all snuggled up in a soft feather-bed, but what is required is to carry one’s cross along the way, for the kingdom of God is not attained by enduring one or two troubles, but many!” ~St. Anthony of Optima

Dearest Spiritual ‘Ohana,

We, once again, enter into a New Ecclesiastical Year as of September 1st.  The month of September, for the Church, is always marked as the beginning of the Liturgical Year.  Unlike any other year, this New Ecclesiastical Year comes with a long list of challenges and troubles, seemingly never encountered in comparison to the number we have today.  These challenges and troubles are starkly apocalyptic in character.  We are in the midst of a pandemic, there are numerous fires in California, hurricanes and disasters, unrest and chaos in communities, etc.  I think of the Gospel Reading we read at one of the Saturday of Souls before Great Lent starts.  Especially, we read in Matthew 24:3-14:   Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you.  For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.  And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.  And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.  Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.  And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

Never, have I seen these words played out in the intensity they do today.  I know that no one knows the exact day and time that the Lord will return in all His Glory.  For our Lord, Himself, says:  “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of  heaven, but My Father only.” (Matthew 24:36)  However, that time sure seems nearer than ever before!

How are we maneuvering through all these challenging times?  The answer lies in what we choose to do with the challenges we face.  When reading the counsels of the Holy Fathers, we are guided to endure them and take them as opportunities to be in communion with God and to turn to Him rather than rely on our own strength in turning to self-destructive ways, including despair, defeat and hopelessness. Instead, we can learn from the difficulties and even thank God that we are allowed to experience these trials.  Here are a few words of wisdom which come from newly reposed Holy Elder Ephraim to one of his spiritual children:  “Have patience, my child, in which the goodness of God is sending you for the greater benefit of your soul.  You should rejoice, because this shows God’s concern for your greater spiritual progress, primarily in humility.  Many times, man’s pride becomes a cause for God to give us a fatherly ‘slap’ so that we walk more securely in humility.  This is the best sign of how greatly God is concerned for our souls.” (from Counsels of the Holy Mountain)

My Dear Spiritual ‘Ohana, as we begin the New Ecclesiastical Year, remaining in the midst of the COVID Era and many other tribulations plaguing our world, society and even our faith community, let us face all the difficulties with faith in Christ, by taking all the obstacles in our path and turning them into opportunities, instead!  One huge obstacle that came upon us, was that the social part of our humanity has been continually taken away from us.  All of us are effected by this!  As a parish community, we are going to work on rebuilding our bridges in this precious Cathedral.  Though we may rely on communication platforms, such as Zoom and Google Meet, etc., instead of normal, in-person gatherings, we have windows of opportunities open.  One of them will be directed toward our teenagers, 14 to 19, give and take, called “The Relationship Project” with resources by Faithtree.

May our Lord strengthen all of you and be with you!  May He abide in us, at all times!

With Love in Christ,

+Fr. Alexander