Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord

unknownToday the Church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration, the glorious vision of our salvation.  On the mount of Transfiguration, on Mt. Tabor, the Lord revealed his divinity.  But in doing so he also revealed the destiny of our own humanity when his own human nature was transfigured and shone brighter than any sun.  He revealed to his Apostles the goal of our human nature: to be transfigured into his glorious image and likeness.

The nature of our salvation is not merely to be saved from hell, but rather to enter into “sonship.”  The Good News is not about “sinners in the hands of an angry God” but as St. Paul wrote “. . . when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:11).

God in Christ invites us to enter into the “. . . the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Jesus Christ . . .”  (Eph. 4:13).  On Mt. Tabor the Lord revealed that fullness to his disciples.  In Christ, we too will be transfigured.  We will put off the body of corruption and we will be clothed in the incorruptible body of his light; an eternal weight of glory!

Today as always on this great feast, this eternal uncreated light has shone again on Mt. Tabor during the Divine Liturgy in the church built on the spot where Jesus was transfigured.  Once again his disciples have beheld the glory of his uncreated light.  Each year on this feast day, during the Liturgy, the divine cloud descends and covers the church and all those who are in attendance at the service.  Within the cloud, people behold the divine light like so many camera flashes appearing around them.  This is a miraculous occurrence every year that bears witness to the wonder of his transfiguration in our history and to the promise of our own future transformation into his image and likeness.

Sadly, just like the Holy Fire that appears at Christ’s tomb every year on Holy Saturday, most of the Christian world, having long ago separated been separated from the One Church, knows nothing about this contemporary miracle of the light and cloud on Mt. Tabor.  Only the Orthodox Church knows and experiences these wonders.  This should never lead us to a spirit of triumphalism but rather to one of repentance and humility for “to whom much is given is much required. . .” (Luke 12:48).  It should lead us to “go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. . .” (Mt. 28:19,20), sharing the Good News of the healing of our humanity in Christ.

As we sing in the Great Doxology, Glory to God who has shown us the Light! – Fr.S.

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My 1 Year Anniversary

One year ago this week I arrived at Kathmandu airport.  As people so often say about their lives, it’s hard to believe that one year has already passed.  It has been a year of adjusting to a new culture, but by God’s grace that has not been so difficult.  I had first traveled to Nepal in 2006.  That trip was both difficult and dangerous.  The Maoists were still at war with the government.  Christians were persecuted and had to live as inconspicuously as possible.  Living conditions were rough.  The same can be said of my trip in 2007.

First Maoists HQ in KTM which they took from the Ed. Institute

First Maoists HQ in KTM which they took from the Ed. Institute

In 2013 as I prepared to travel once again to Nepal, I had mixed feelings as usual.  I knew life to be hard there and I was not looking forward to it.  Living conditions were were still rough, the pollution was and continues to be extremely bad much of the year.  How would I fair?

In the beginning, it was pretty much what I had expected.  I had to put up with a rundown guesthouse so moldy that asthma returned.  But after  5 months, my teacher found a much better apartment for me and I moved at the end of the year.  This apt. has been something of a haven for me.  The immediate surroundings are not nice at all, but the apt. itself is (for Nepal) very nice.  I am on the 5th floor and just above me is a small roof patio and large kitchen for my own use.  The building sits back quite a ways from the main street so I don’t hear the noise of the traffic.  The monsoon season, which is very light this year, clears the air and it remains clear for the rest of the year.Patio view 2Patio view 1Most mornings and evenings I sit on the rooftop for meals.  It is soothing to look upon the mountains surrounding the valley.  The view is new every morning and evening.  In the fall it is possible to see the snow covered Himalayas that tower above the mountains of the Kathmandu Valley.Valley view 1valley view 2valley view 3Valley view 4

The building is just around the corner from my language institute and I can be there in less than 5 minutes.  Unfortunately, I have been informed that I will have to leave the apt. at the end of the year.  The apt. is in a Japanese Language Institute and will be needed for a new Japanese teacher.  That was pretty discouraging news when I first received it a couple of weeks ago.  Please pray that the Lord would lead me to a suitable place.

My typical day consists largely of studying the Nepali language.  Last year I attended classes for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week.  The rest of the day and evening are spent in studying.  After completing the main textbook I took a break and then started up again with the second book, meeting 2 hours a day, 4 days a week.  Although I have completed living here for a year, I haven’t yet completed a full year of language classes.  The progress has been good and I am about where I expected to be at this time.  I cannot speak much Nepali, but for simple everyday needs (directions, food, prices) and very basic conversation, I do alright.  I am a long way from being conversationally fluent and it will also be a long time before I can carry on a conversation about the Christian faith in Nepali.

The biggest difficulty I have is being alone as a Missionary in Nepal.  I have always been opposed to the idea of a person being sent to a new mission field alone.  At least 2 people should form a team so that they can encourage each other.  Being alone means a constant daily struggle with the thoughts, all of which are designed to discourage and defeat the individual and send him back to his own country.

For the Orthodox, another great problem with being alone is the inability to worship with other Orthodox and to receive the Eucharist.  Presbytera Marilyn was very kind to spend 4 1/2 months here earlier this year so that I could at least serve liturgies with her, especially for Holy Pascha.  Yet both of us agree that even this lacked the fullness that we experience within a larger vibrant Orthodox community.

So why then did I come alone?  The simple answer is because there was and is no one else to come with me.  Vatopaidi monastery sought for 3 years to find a priest who would be willing to come to Nepal and no one responded until I learned about the need.  Over the past year I have had several priests, and many lay individuals and families contact me, all stating that they wanted to come to Nepal to work with me, but to date no one has come.  I am sure in the future that will change.  So the greatest challenge I have just now is to persevere.  It is sometimes discouraging to realize that very few Orthodox believers are supportive of mission work and missionaries, and most of those are only supportive in words.  The reality is that there are very few Orthodox missionaries to begin with, and of those, many are struggling to find enough financial support to go to the mission field or to remain there.  It doesn’t take much money to live on the mission field and there are so many Orthodox who could easily afford to give 10-20 dollars a month, yet do not do so.  I can think of 3 missionaries I know who are still trying to raise enough financial support to depart to their chosen fields, and I myself have just enough to get by on about $10-15 a day.  It shouldn’t be like this, but it is.

A photo taken some years ago before the gates of Vatopaidi monastery on Mt. Athos

A photo taken some years ago before the gates of Vatopaidi monastery on Mt. Athos

On a more positive note, through the generosity of a dear friend, I will be going to Greece next month.  He wishes me to show him the holy places in and around Thessaloniki and to take him to Mt. Athos.  So thanks be to God, I will be spending 2 months there beginning late September and returning late November.  It will be a blessing to be in Greece again and to receive spiritual refreshment from the grace filled churches and monasteries.  If there are sufficient funds (that is, should any of you feel led to contribute!), I hope to purchase some liturgical items for use here in Nepal as well.

Meanwhile, my understanding of the people and the country continues to grow, I gain insights through language study and through spending time with the Nepalis I have met.  I continue to pray that the Lord will establish His Church in this Hindu country, and I ask you to join me in those prayers.

To those of you who have supported me in prayer and with financial gifts in the past year, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Glory to God for your much needed contributions.  If by God’s grace an Orthodox Church should be established here, it will be your support that makes it happen.  It is so true that without your support I would not be here.  And without your continued prayers and financial support I will not be able to remain here.  Thank you all so much. – Fr. S.

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Holy Hierarch John, Pray to God for us!

A few days ago I visited the Kopan Monastery a few miles outside of Kathmandu and up into the hills.  It is one of the well known Tibetan Buddhist monasteries here in the valley.

In the monastery garden.

In the monastery garden.

There are a number of similarities between Tibetan Buddhism and Orthodoxy; more than I will mention here (and of course, there are great differences!).  It’s interesting to note that their shrines are built on the relics of their saints, similar to how we consecrate our temple altars on the relics of our saints.

One of the shrines in the garden.

One of the shrines in the garden.

Kopan shrines 2Like the Orthodox, the Buddhists, both laity and monastic, use prayer ropes.  I was recently asked why I was using a Buddhist prayer rope.  Showing them the Cross on my prayer rope, I then had the opportunity to share something about our practice of the Jesus Prayer.

Like our Orthodox ascetical practice, Buddhist asceticism includes fasting and prostrations.  I often see Buddhists and Hindus touching their heads and then their chests when they pass by one of their temples.  It reminds me of our Orthodox practice of crossing ourselves when we pass by an Orthodox Church.

Young monks on the computer (not one of our monastic practices) under the watchful eye of the Dalai Lama's photo.

Young monks on the computer (not one of our monastic practices) under the watchful eye of the Dalai Lama’s photo.

I sent some pictures of the monastery to family members and also to our Bishop George.  Writing to him I commented that I really longed for an Orthodox Church.  The most difficult part of being a missionary here is being alone and without a parish.  Presbytera Marilyn spent 4 1/2 months here and we were able to serve liturgies together.  What a blessing.  However, she has departed for America for the remainder of the year and so there can be no more liturgies.  But even when we served together, I missed a vibrant parish.  In response to my email, His Grace was kind enough then to send me these pictures:

The Kursk Root icon of the Theotokos.

The Kursk Root icon of the Theotokos.

Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral in San Francisco.

Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral in San Francisco.

The reliquary of St. John Maximovitch

The reliquary of St. John Maximovitch

 

Glory to God.  Here in Nepal, today is the Feast Day of our Holy Hierarch John, who is also the Patron of the Mission to Nepal.  O Holy Hierarch, Father John, speedy helper amid misfortunes, pray to God for us! – Fr. S.

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