Last week I had the blessing of speaking virtually to a wonderful group of Coptic youth in Pittsburgh. The servants there asked that I correlate the Afterlife and Christmas, which may seem like an unusual and difficult correlation to make, but in fact not only is there a direct connection between the two, Christmas is even more relevant now. A link to the video presentation / lecture I prepared is provided below. Continue reading
In the U.S.A., we are less than one week away from selecting a new president. During the primaries, as hopes of my favorite candidate becoming president faded, a young friend made a remark that made me think. He said (and I paraphrase), “No matter what ends up happening, we know that God is behind it and He will do what is best.” As I was preparing a lesson on Romans 13, where St. Paul says “there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God,” I wondered: could it be that all rulers, good and evil, are placed in power by God’s direct will and intention? Continue reading
Who hasn’t experienced the distraction caused when a young child cries or gets too noisy? From the priest, to the deacons, and all the way down to the people surrounding the father and/or mother with the child, the tension and frustration is almost palpable. The parents too are distracted, not just by their noisy child, but by the emotional disturbance they feel when inundated with all of the varying glances they receive, with all those eyes telling them: “Quiet that child down, or leave.” And if it is deemed a sufficient nuisance to the priest (at least in the Coptic Church), many, if not most, will give the parent the “silent treatment”—that moment in liturgy when the priest stops praying, joining the chorus of dissenters in silence, sending a clear message to the parent(s) in the absence of prayer: “Your baby is distracting me and the entire church. We won’t move on until you’ve done something about it.”
What is the church to do? From the clergy to the lay person attending the service, how has the church historically viewed noise in church, and the place of children? Today, what should be our stance? Continue reading
Tell me, where is St. Mary buried? If you know anything about the ancient Apostolic Churches, you’ll know that they love to pay respect to the relics of heroes of the faith, “of whom the world was not worthy” (in the words of St. Paul [Hebrews 11:38]). You would think that with all the honor and adoration given to St. Mary, the Orthodox and Catholic Churches would be lining up in droves to get a glimpse of her bodily remains! Well, the answer to “where is St. Mary buried” explains why we celebrate her in August (15th in Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches, 22nd in the Coptic Church).
The answer is: Continue reading
The other day Suzy and I had the opportunity to meet a lovely young lady who asked us: “What are the main differences between Protestantism and Orthodoxy?” (paraphrase). Talk about a hefty undertaking!
“Where do I begin,” I thought out loud.
One of the biggest differences is that the Orthodox turn to a slew of Christian leaders over the past nearly 2,000 years to understand the faith, so there is a wealth of depth that has accumulated over time, that is unfortunately overlooked by many Christians today.
To show her what is lost by not having the benefit of thousands years of Christian teaching, I asked her a question that I’ve asked non-Orthodox Christians for years, and I have yet to ever receive the right answer. And when they realize what it is I’m asking, and the answer they are giving, their intrigue is always peaked as they realize something is missing regarding an integral aspect of their understanding of salvation.
Here’s the question:
“Where did good people in the Old Testament go after they died, before Christ’s manifestation in the flesh and the salvation He accomplished for us?”
People like: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel, Solomon, Levi, Moses, Jonah? Adam? Eve? Where did they go when they died?
The answer I usually get:
There’s been a sudden eruption in purported afterlife accounts produced by major publishers, and they have been making millions. Some people wonder if all these accounts are true, and many have had their suspicions as they’ve noticed discrepancies between those stories and Scripture. It is rare to see someone, especially a young child, have the courage years later to admit that one such experience was actually something they fabricated. Yet that’s exactly what happened for the book, “The boy who came back from heaven—a true story,” published by Tyndale House. The boy in the story is named Alex, and he and his father Keven Malarkey are named as co-authors. Ironically, the word “malarkey” means “meaningless talk” or “nonsense,” which Alex admitted his fictitious account turned out to be. You can read all about it in a variety of news outlets (see further below for more info). Not only was there a book, but as is becoming more common these days, even a movie was made about this now debunked story. Here is how Alex broke the news:
15 years ago, before the afterlife became mainstream fanfare with books and movies about heaven and the like, my journey to understand what has been taught and experienced by Orthodox Christians for the last 2,000 years about life beyond was just beginning.
During my college years (as my friends can attest) I was living a very sinful life away from God. Think of the typical, worldly college experience: that was me. My eternal future didn’t matter because I was enjoying satisfying my present.
Recently I presented a few lectures derived from a book my wife bought me titled “Evidence for Christianity” by Josh McDowell (for PowerPoint lessons see below). He is a professor who teaches on this subject and collected his wealth of knowledge into a book. He is not an Orthodox Christian but most of what he writes does not disturb Orthodox theology or teachings, but for a few things here or there that should be obvious or are otherwise mostly benign. He presents evidence in support of the Bible, Christ, and His Resurrection from a historical and scholarly perspective, bringing to light writings and some archaeological finds that reflect the validity of the historical underpinnings of Christianity. I highly recommend his book, especially if you are seeking to stabilize your beliefs upon more solid evidentiary grounds. Believing on faith is best, but if you need evidence, there’s plenty of it!
Here is a list of the most interesting highlights I found in the book:
An expounder of false teachings, a man named Atef Aziz, who was excommunicated and whose teachings were formally condemned by the Church of Alexandria’s Holy Synod of bishops in 2002, has recently emerged particularly in the United States of America and has gained some ground and following in the hearts of some. On June 1, 2016 many Copts (by way of CopticWorld.org) and others received a communication from the bishops of North America warning Copts not to have anything to do with Atef Aziz (who has changed his name several times) or his followers or teachings, or otherwise be subject to suspension and possible excommunication. (To learn more about this heresy and recent controversies related to him, see the end of this post). (I got wind of this initially when I, as many others, heard the news of a beloved priest who was originally implicated with Atef Aziz’s teachings but has (as I understand it) since clarified to the Coptic pope his position and remains accepted within the flock.)
Guest post by my dear friend Kerolos Ibrahim, a.k.a “Key”
The interpretation of Jesus’ phrase, “Do not cling on to me…” has been so often misconstrued and deprived of it’s profound meaning that I thought a true explaining is not only warranted but quite overdue by now.