LAYING ON OF HANDS: What St. Paul calls an “elementary principle” of Christianity—neglected, forgotten, or rejected by so many Christians today.

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Many may have heard or read of the “laying on of hands,” but how many Christians understand its significance? St. Paul, in listing out what he called the “elementary principles of Christ,” mentions the “laying on of hands” as being as fundamental to Christianity as “repentance … faith … baptisms … resurrection of the dead, and … eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1-2).

Really? As fundamental as “faith” and belief in the “resurrection of the dead?” Yes. Yet, if you are reading this and consider yourself a Christian, do you understand what the laying on of hands is? And for those who recognize this as a familiar practice, I ask you this: is it being practiced by your church the way it was practiced by the apostles and their legitimate successors?

Here is its history and significance:

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Making Christmas Great Again: How the Coptic rite of Praises before Christmas (Kiahk Praises) does just that

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I have never been so excited to stand for 7 hours to praise God and honor His mother during the Coptic month of Kiahk (in our parish it is from 5pm until midnight)! And at our parish we are trying to return to the original method of praise, which gave the Kiahk Praises the alternative title “7 and 4” (you can read more about that here)—we may be the only or one of the quite few parishes in the entire Coptic Church doing this.

I’ve been spoiled here in the United States, where Christmas is a prevalent holiday. However, it is riddled with cultural traditions that are quite secular and have nothing to do with the reason for the season: Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, Light of Light, True God of True God, who existed before all ages, never created but is the Creator with the Father and the Holy Spirit, took flesh from a humble woman named Mary, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, so that the Divine became incarnate.

But I can’t imagine what it was like for the earlier Christians when Christianity was not a prevalent religion, or in places outside of the United States where other religions are the majority, or atheism is rampant. In such places the thoughts and words that come out of people’s mouths and linger in their minds is (and God forgive me for writing these words): “Jesus Christ is just a man, like other good men,” or “Mary did not give birth to God, just to a man that people made out to be God although he wasn’t,” or “There is no God; all of this Christmas stuff is nonsense.”

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Orthodox Guilt & Despair: Is Heaven Really That Difficult to Reach?

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Is Heaven really that far away? For an Orthodox Christian it can feel so distant, leading us to a frequent sense of guilt and despair, never feeling we have done or can do “enough.”

In a sense Heaven is both far and near. On the one hand we are baptized and bear God inside us, becoming adopted heirs and children of God’s kingdom (Gal 3:26-29), being transformed into heavenly citizens (Phil 3:20) and are ambassadors of Heaven (2 Cor 5:20); also we walk into church and worship among the angels (Rev 7:11) and touch the body and the blood of Christ (John 6:32-70). But on the other hand we read ominous warnings throughout Scripture that tell us plainly of what awaits sinners (Gal 5:19-21); and on top of that, when we talk about people “who made it to heaven” in the Orthodox Church (“the cloud of witnesses“), we almost exclusively hear about only the loftiest of saints as being certain of their eternal place, and rarely hear about “regular people” in Heaven.

While the requirement to strive to enter Heaven and pursue holiness will never go away, from my surveying the afterlife experiences of “regular people,” and looking into Scripture and the Fathers, I think Heaven is a lot closer than we tend to think.
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Eclipse: Evidence of God. Did an Eclipse also prove Christ is God during His crucifixion?

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Eclipse-fever is sweeping across the United States as regions in 14 states will be able to experience a total solar eclipse. Some people are scoffing at all the excitement and anticipation, and others like myself are getting prepared for the big event. I bought certified sun-viewing binoculars, and certified paper glasses to make sure I safely view the eclipse.

Why am I so excited? Of course, as with most others, I’m looking forward to the immense beauty and remarkable occurrences that accompany an eclipse (for a few minutes during totality, the temperature drops around 15 degrees, darkness envelops you, stars are visible, and normally unseen outer edges of the Sun which dance around become apparent).

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Top 15 Religious Experiences During My Visit to Egypt and Paris (with PHOTOS)

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My wife and I had the blessing of visiting Paris as well as various parts of Egypt this year. It was our first visit to both places (I was born in Egypt but hadn’t returned since coming to the U.S. when I was about 4 years old; my wife, Egyptian as well, had never been to Egypt). I encountered a number of expected and also unexpected sights that had a notable impact on me from a religious perspective. Both Paris and Egypt have a lot to offer in that regard, and here are my top 15 experiences:

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Salvation = Grace + ??: Do We Orthodox Focus Too Little on the Redeeming Blood of Jesus and Too Much on Righteousness?

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The other day in Sunday school, as I was discussing a phrase that the early Fathers often spoke—”There is no salvation outside the Church”—and also spoke about the need to strive for righteousness so we can be ready on judgment day, someone asked: “What is the role of the blood of Jesus in all of this?” “Where is grace?”

“It goes without saying,” I said, “that grace of Christ’s death and redeeming blood is the foundation of salvation.”

But they challenged that assumption and responded: “In the Orthodox Church, it is not spoken of enough.” Is that a fair statement, do you think?

As I was preparing this post, a friend of mine reached out to me because he was challenged with the same type of concern brought forward by some Orthodox Christians, that somehow the Orthodox Church is undermining grace when we emphasize the fact that “works” (being righteous) is necessary for salvation.

I think these questions and challenges often stem from the extent to which Evangelicals and other similar non-Orthodox Christian denominations emphasize “nothing but the blood of Jesus” (as the song goes) and “justification by faith in Christ” as being all that is needed to reach heaven, while excluding the need for the Church and righteousness, although Scriptures teach otherwise. And so, when we Orthodox are continually exposed to this message with such a singular focus on the issue of salvation, many are persuaded that maybe they are right: we are justified to enter heaven by faith in Christ, and that’s all we need.

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My Intriguing Visit to an Ethiopian Orthodox Church—A First-Time Coptic Visitor’s Perspective

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What a remarkable experience I had visiting the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church! A friend of mine gave my name to an Ethiopian Orthodox priest, suggesting that I give the after-church sermon to the youth. He invited me to attend the service, which I did, and by the end of it I had so many questions I wanted answered due to all the intriguing things I witnessed! Here are all the fascinating things I learned, and my observations upon further reflection:

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Corporate / Work Life and Christianity: The Delicate Balance for Succeeding in Both in Light of “Treasure Sunday.”

CorporateWorkLifeandChristianPursuits.pngEver since I left working for the government as a public defender and a prosecutor (for 7 years) and entered into the workforce in Corporate America, I have struggled with the balance between succeeding and increasing in wealth, and maintaining a Christian heart and perspective on all my endeavors. I’ve spent nearly 4 years in the corporate world, and today I was struck by the message I heard this Sunday, often referred to as “Treasure Sunday” in the Coptic Church, and thought about how to apply it to the delicate balance for succeeding in work life and in Christianity, not to the exclusion of either. Continue reading

How much of the Coptic liturgical text today is Greek? I just tallied the number and the results are surprising.

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If you didn’t already know, the Coptic Liturgical text today is filled with Greek. But how much of it is Greek? People have been giving and receiving all kinds of answers to that question, so I set out to get an actual answer. Here are the results, tips on telling the difference, and what the numbers may or may not tell us: Continue reading

This Afterlife Story Just Got Very Real

Coptic_Choir_Accident_Heliopolis_Egypt_1999-MariamSobhy.pngA friend of mine sent me a kind message regarding my book and then shocked me as she revealed she knew one of the girls in the book whose afterlife experience had been recorded. My friend Mira was asking me for more details, but I was the one eagerly seeking to learn more. Continue reading