Chickahominy River, Fr. Seraphim Rose, Gospel of Matthew, gratification, Hiking, York River

Delayed Gratification

From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priest and scribes and be killed and be raised on the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”  But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan!  You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Matthew 16:21-23

“Do you want your reward now, or in heaven?” “In heaven, of course,” Gleb would reply.  “But, can’t I have a little of it now?”  At this Eugene would only shake his head, “It’s now or then.  Take your pick.”

Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, pg. 383

On my morning and evening walks at York River State Park, I like to park my car near the Contact Station and take Backbone Trail into the woods away from the river. Then, I loop back to the Visitor Center by hiking the Beaver and Woodstock Pond Trails.  I begin my journey going down and up a small ravine with a small stream.  But when I turn the corner just past the Mattaponi Trail head down the hill, I am greeted with a broad piece of York River shoreline as I make the final stretch to my desk.  West Point’s paper mill and Eltham Bridge can be seen upstream.  In the other direction is the Gloucester County bank with historic Wererrocomico, Almondsville, and Capahosic.  My favorite waterfowl, canvasback ducks, are in season.  So, I’m really loving the rewarding view.

Treating myself to this broad vista is an inspiring way to start and end the workday at the park. But before the treat, I tread a narrow trail with a mere trickle that disappears and comes back into view among a canopy of hardwoods that block the sun.  Nothing blocks the sky and waters at the end of my journey.

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Being God, Our Lord could have come into the world as a full grown man with total dominance over us all. He could have immediately imposed the kingdom of heaven on us all without breaking one bead of sweat, much less a drop of His own blood.  But for our salvation, Jesus showed solidarity with mankind by coming into the world in the same way we did and receiving total glory by His death, burial and resurrection.  While humanly preferring an easier and painless route, He committed himself to obedience to the Father (1).  Because of this, Jesus was given the name above every name (2).

The delayed gratification of Jesus is a stark contrast to that of Adam and Eve. Despite having all that they wanted in Eden, the serpent tempted them into believing they could be like God without obedience and patience.  By taking the easy way of enlightenment apart from the source of all things, they found themselves vulnerable and fearful of being exposed to God and each other (3).

We still have not quite learned from the failure of our ancient parents. In the 1960’s, many of the counter-culture tried using LSD and other drugs to open their minds the greater perception.  Our consumer culture encourages us to spend money we don’t have on items that will make our lives better.  Sadly, even among Christians there is a strange idea that we can gain blessings and good feelings from God without any effort.  It is true that we did not and cannot earn salvation.  However, Jesus clearly declares the price to pay in claiming His name: “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (4)  Unless we are willing to delay gratifying ourselves in life, we cannot know the grace that He provides.

Does this mean we sell all that we have and become monks and nuns? God may be calling more of us to monasticism than we realize.  But, not all of us are called to be such spiritual athletes.  The NFL has its great quarterbacks.  No one needs to be in a stadium to throw a football to a friend.  What is necessary is to take the time to do it, grip the ball correctly, aim as you throw, and make adjustments as you get it right.

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In developing the virtue of delayed gratification we can start by saving something we really want until later. In time, we may put off enjoying whatever it is a little longer.  We may put off enjoying something else we want in the same manner.  This is why we Orthodox Christians fast most Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year and during special seasons such as the Nativity and Great Lent.  When we enjoy special meals, in particular Christmas and Easter (the feast of the Nativity and Pascha), we do so with very grateful hearts knowing the significance of what we have arrived to.  My parents, both Baptist Deacons, make it a habit not to purchase anything special they want for themselves from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day as this is the season to give to others.  From such practices in and outside of our Christian traditions, we can add another means or two of self-denial.  Always seek guidance from the Holy Spirit and advice from a wise spiritual father or mother.

  1. Philippians 2:8
  2. Philippians 2:9
  3. Genesis 3:1-10
  4. Matthew 16:24
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Diaconate, Uncategorized, unscheduled hikes, York River

The Diaconate & River

The Colonial Parkway between I-64 and Yorktown has always been one of my favorite places in the state. As a kid, my family would drive from Richmond to my Uncle Bill and Aunt Edith’s house in Gloucester for weekends of crabbing, fishing, and swimming.  Brenda and I spent a day of our honeymoon with a great drive and picnic.  Even today, I can’t help but admire the York River on a rough and windy afternoon.  Looking up-river from Indian Fields Creek, I am awestruck that such a body of water comes from a couple of smaller rivers that can be wadded across at the King William and Caroline County borders.

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I hadn’t planned and plotted this time in nature. It just seemed like a good place to enjoy in route to my church, St Basil the Great Orthodox in Hampton, to practice my role as a deacon during the Divine Liturgy.  My ordination to the Holy Diaconate will be Sunday, December 9th at the Hierarchal Divine Liturgy led by Bishop Thomas of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic.

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Like a tiny spring fed stream, my start in the Orthodox faith didn’t seem like much. I had inquired about it simply to add to my prayer life and was curious about the African saints.  Like the Atlantic, I have found myself in an incredibly deep ocean of Christian love, spirituality, and wisdom.  Leaving a secure African-American pastorate of 17 years to become a layman in a predominately white congregation was more than unheard of.  Martin Luther King Jr. bemoaned the fact that 11 o’clock Sunday Morning was the most segregated hour in America.  It seems to me that Orthodox Christianity with its ancient roots and other-worldly perspective and worship is the best place for that barrier to be broken down.

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I didn’t expect my pastoral credentials would immediately transfer from the Baptist denomination. As a layman, I immersed myself in the life of my parish; a motley crew of first and second generation eastern Europeans, Ethiopians, and Catholic and Protestant converts in a jurisdiction based in Syria.  I learned Byzantine Chant, devoured the wisdom of the desert fathers, found out that incense and icons were wonderful elements of public and private worship and expressions of faith.  As well as my personal prayer rule and study, completing the St. Stephen’s Certificate course with the Antiochian House of Studies has grounded me in the doctrine and prepared me for this chapter of my life.

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The essential faith that learned in the black church remained intact as I came into Orthodoxy. Constantly crying out, “Lord, has mercy?”  That was learned in the tobacco fields and whipping post.  The joy in the midst of great sorrow experienced under the Romans and communist is the same as what we dealt with during slavery and Jim Crow.  The power of the Lord’s body and blood in the Eucharist is what I love most when I think of my grandfather, Deacon Joseph Gresham, carefully cutting the bread and filling up the glasses every first Sunday of the month.  Prayer as a necessity of Christian life and serious study of the scriptures was instilled in me by my parents, grandparents, and other elders who raised me.   It was a bit painful to leave my former congregation and church experience.  But, because of the way I was raised, I flowed right into Orthodoxy.  And now, the flow continues as I become a part of the clergy.

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So, my journey in Christ continues to flow like the river I love. I can’t stop here.  There is more to do and a greater destination to reach.

Hiking, Newport News, Noland Trail, scheduled hikes, Teen SOYO, Uncategorized, urban hiking

Noland Trail: The Good of Urban Hiking

Some hiking enthusiast turn their noses up to city parks.  They are not in wilderness areas, or even a rural county.  Except for somewhere like Pittsburgh or San Francisco (I guess), there are no significant elevation changes.  Urban and nature are two terms that do not seem to match very well.

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To those hiking snobs out there can continue to act that way about the City of Newport News that has two very good parks with great trails.  Yesterday, I took my Teen Society Of Young Orthodox (Teen SOYO) for a day outdoors at the Mariner’s Museum Park and the Noland Trail.  Firstly, the park is tucked neatly away from the main thoroughfares of I-64, Jefferson, and Warwick Avenues.  This area of the city is fairly quiet with Christopher Newport University, Riverside Hospital, and the Virginia Living Museum not far away.  In case of foul weather, the Mariner’s Museum is a fantastic place to visit.  It was raining off and on for most of the day.  Two of boys are Boy Scouts.  There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing.  We had rain jackets; the hike was on.

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It was well worth the almost 5 mile loop (we took the short cut as I was a little pressed for time).  The bridges and overlooks offered serene vistas of Lake Maury.  The foliage was not in full peak.  But, evidence of the coming autumn color was all around us.  There were great blue heron active as well as Canada geese.  The Lion Bridge made for a great contrast between the quiet lake and a white-capped James River.  Naturalist that I pretend to be, I found the stand of juvenile long leaf pines to be very interesting.

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The hike was more of a bonding hike for this motley crew of teens.  Of the half that live in Chesapeake, two are priest kids who play basketball with one of the Greek Orthodox Churches in Tidewater.  Another plays saxophone in the marching band.  A pair of brothers from the peninsula include our president and Eagle Scout with his lady friend.  His brother is following his footsteps and has published a book of poetry.  I could have easily bombarded them with my outdoor educator’s volume of knowledge.  Taking and reading “Prayers by the Lake” every quarter mile would have been another option of overkill.  Instead, I let them enjoy the trail and themselves; sharing a few things about nature and prayer.

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No, the weather was not what I wanted it to be.  The last time I took a walk with someone was with Mother Katherine Weston, a Serbian Orthodox Nun from Indianapolis.  We had great weather.  But, we walked along a 4-lane road to a very small trail in from of a school in Columbia SC.  Conditions of the natural world are not always the picture perfect as a hike on the Appalachian Trail or Back Bay & False Cape.  What matters most is that you step out and, when possible, have someone to walk with.  The same can be said for prayer, in a way.  Make the step and you will always find someone walking with you.

Uncategorized

Cold Mountain: My First Backpacking Adventure

A classic story of my love for hiking

Baystride Images Journal

I had always done day trips.  I had imagined an overnight excursion somewhere like False Cape or kayaking to camp one of the barrier islands on the Eastern Shore.  But, a mountain hike and camping trip?  What the heck.  It would earn me a little “street cred” among my co-workers around the state.  The Chesapeake Bay Sierra Club had a trip to go along with a class I attended a month or two ago.  The group seemed friendly and the leaders knowledgeable.  So, everything would go like clockwork.  Right?

Anyone who knows me or read my last entry knows that nothing goes like clockwork for me.  I was lollygagging in Charlottesville waiting to buy a map from Blue Ridge Mountain Sports.  Then, I wasted more time looking for a Route 51 off of Route 60 (directions given to me by an online map and seemed to be the best way…

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Hiking, scheduled hikes, St Nikolai Velimirovich, Wahrani Nature Trail

Wahrani: Pursuing Purity and Light

“Separated from the virginity of the soul and the light of the heart, the mind is the shadow of the Son of God and the reverse of Wisdom.” Saint Nikolai Velimirovich Prayers by the Lake LXIII

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In preparation for today’s hike on the Wahrani Nature Trail, I figured I’d find a prayer I could keep in mind along the way. The word of the modern Serbian sage Nikolai Velimirovich seems to have a finger on what is wrong with our society.  Our minds are detached from what brings life.

Our Lord was pure as was His Mother and Forerunner.   But, that purity meant more than just not having sexual contact.  Christ and the saints did not put their minds to toxifying their souls.  Even those holy people, known and unknown, pursued a path of purity practicing repentance when they fell rather than make and live in excuses for sins.  They understood that if the mind was put on the right path, the rest of their being would follow.  Christ and the apostles encouraged disciples to walk in light and live as children of light.  No matter how many times one fell short, the standard of brightness from righteous living was to guide the heart of all believers.

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Satan tempted man with the idea that they could be like God even though they were unable to make things exist from nothing. Had the minds of Adam and Eve been on their deep virginity and light from God, they may have known better than to fall for such a false promise.  They were not watchful over their wonderful gifts and exchanged them for the corruption that robbed them of immortality.

We have not learned from their story. We do not pursue purity and light.  Instead, we use our minds to concoct all sorts of excuses for chasing after power and indulging in desires.  As we apply the name of Jesus to our distortions rather than be remorseful and repent.  By doing this, we prove ourselves to be as rotten as the rest of the world we have given into; criticizing the specks in each other’s eyes without removing the beams in our own.

Oh Lord, let me not contribute to the problem. Keep my mind away from self-justification.  Obedience to You grants life, not the empty words of a snake.  Direct me in the ways of  purity and light that I may walk in your ways and fully repent when I stumble.

Hiking, Stanford University Study, Trisagion

Your Home in Nature

Too often, when people think about spending time in the great outdoors, they think of one of the well known national parks such as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone.  Others will daydream of an African safari or a Patagonia journey.  For those who are lucky enough to live near or afford to go to such places on a regular basis, enjoy your blessing to the fullest.

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The rest of us need not feel cursed.  The Psalter teach that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness there of” (Psalms 24:1).  Wherever there is a place that God owns, we can find his presence there.  This point is also made in the first of the Trisagion prayers, “Oh Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth who are in all places and fills all things.”  While the Appalachians or Denali are places of great majesty, the presence of the holy can be found in one’s municipal park and back yard.

The Stanford University Study comparing a walk in a natural versus urbanized area didn’t take place in extreme, far-flung locations.  One subject walked in a wooded lot near the campus while the other strolled along a busy thoroughfare also near the school.  Also, the person in the natural area was not engaged in rock climbing, white-water kayaking, or some other extreme activity.  She was taking a walk.  A road trip and camping excursion to the upper Missouri River sounds terrific.  But, to make a home in the natural world, it is impractical unnecessary.

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Start with where you are and where you can go most often.  The frequency and amount of time spent is up to you.  Urban gardens may not offer miles of hiking.  But, they are useful to sit and collect one’s thoughts and say a prayer.  When you have found that special local place, make it yours .  Take a few photos as the seasons change.  Keep a journal dedicated to your place to jot down thoughts, poems, or even try a sketch or two.  Get involved with a group that beautifies and protects it.

Your outdoor healing place may never be listed as one of the 7 wonders of the world.  It doesn’t matter.  As long as you walk away from it better than you were when you walked into it, nothing else matters.

Hiking, scheduled hikes, Wahrani Nature Trail

First Hike: Wahrani Nature Trail

Pathseekers Wahrani Hike Flyer

You’d think I’d start inviting people to hike and pray where I work.  York River State Park is an excellent place to explore and seek peace in mind.  I will take this ministry there soon in some way or another.

But, I want to begin at a good little trail in my back yard.  Wahrani is just below West Point in New Kent.  It used to be the nature trail for the Chesapeake Corporation.  According to Hiking Upwards, the origin of the name is a little interesting.  I like the ravines and am a sucker for little non-tidal streams.  The nearly 3.5 miles do not have the most impressive views.  But, this is a good place for locals to walk, pray, and feel free to ask a question or two about Orthodox Christianity and how I came to the faith.

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No, I will not hold a gun to anyone’s head and expect a conversion.  Hey, if you want to bring your Bible, devotional booklet, prayer book, or whatever from your particular denomination and faith tradition, go ahead.  I am only inviting people to walk and pray in the natural world.  If interested, call or send an e-mail.