fr vladimir berzonsky


May 30, 2012 + Our Chance to Give Glory

by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, May 1971

Pentecost means graduation, in a way. It is the time when the earthly life of Jesus Christ is fulfilled, and our life in Christ begins. We have honored his life of devoted service to fulfilling the will of the Father in heaven: now we should know and see clearly what God wants from our lives. It is our turn.

What do we respond; that we are too weak or too few, that we need to learn more, or that the forces of evil are too great to overcome? Remember Jesus’ words: “Be brave, for I have conquered the world.”(John 16:33).  The victory is already won; we have only to complete it. Do we say we cannot do anything ourselves? Do we now claim humility and weakness? “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you every thing and remind you of all I have said to you.” (John 14:25). It means that you are never alone; not only is that said for your comfort, but for the means by which you personally can do the will of God in a way that nobody else but you is able.

April 25, 2012 + Womanly Courage

by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, April 1968

“Now on the first day of the week at early dawn, they came to the sepulcher bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold two men stood by them in dazzling garments; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them: ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’. . . And they remembered His words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”  (ST. LUKE 24:1)

SOMETIMES we are too hasty and pass lightly from our Lord’s crucifixion to the resurrection. Before the joy and the victory of the good news that “He is risen,” Jesus’ followers felt total despair that accompanied the tragedy of failure.

For two reasons we cannot afford to forget the disciples’ sense of abandonment on that unique Sabbath: if ye dare assume that by baptism we have been adopted into the family of His followers, we must make their emotions our own; secondly, by empathy with those in the Upper Room, by knowing their fear and confusion after the One person who gave their lives meaning, direction and beauty had been murdered, we can begin to deal with tragedy when it enters our personal lives. 

January 18, 2012 + Let God Be God

by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, February 1967

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” (St. Matthew 6:34)

How many of us spend precious time on this earth inside a dark cloud of anxiety, worrying about things over which we have no control? Do we really believe in God?

If we say we believe that God exists, we should know that He is in command of our destiny. True believers live with an inner peace, because they know that God is the Ultimate Lord of history. If we doubt God’s Plan, we begin relying on our own scheme for the future.

Too many of the brief days of our lives we spend in worrying and planning. It is enough to be afraid of what we have really to fear. Anxiety is a nebulous fear, an irrational state of mind, leading to more serious mental breakdown.

If it were told us that we are trying to be little gods, doing what only God can do, we would deny it. Yet, that is what we do when we put our trust in our own ideas. Even more, when what we had desired doesn’t come about, when we have to abandon our own ideas, we blame God for rejecting us, or else we deny His Omnipotence.

Our age is an age of anxiety, because nearly all people in our world are agnostics. We cannot see God at work in our world, so we do God’s worrying and planning for Him. Only because we have no faith, can we ask all the fruitless “What if” questions that lead eventually to alcoholism, depression, or worse. Such questions are:

“What will happen if I should become ill for a long time?”

November 2, 2011 + Ask A Busy Person

by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, November 1969

The master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master . . . For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ (Matt. 25:21, 29)

Have you ever looked into the eyes of a saint in our icons? They are always direct, responsive, piercing. Never are the saints portrayed in profile. A saint is one who responds to God’s demands on him, accepting the challenge to be a responsible being.

In a parish, the responsibility for getting things done always falls on the shoulders of just a few people. Periodically, we look around for talent, hoping to get others, as many as possible, involved in planning and carrying out decisions.

What happens is that several projects won’t be accomplished, or else just half finished, thrown together at the last minute. The end result is giving the duties back to the old reliables, all of them having five or six activities going on simultaneously, proving once more the old maxim:  “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”

September 21, 2011 + The Church, Vertical and Horizontal

by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, May 1967

“Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with... ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at table. But when the disciple saw it, (they said) “Why this waste? This ointment might have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor. Jesus said... ‘She has done a beautiful thing to me. For the poor you always have with you, but you will not always have me.’” (Matt. 26:6)

Generally, there are two types of critics of the Church, both of whom see the Church imperfectly.

On the one side, there are the activists, whose idea of Christianity is almost exclusively that of social welfare. They see the need for action and reform at every level of society. Salvation as a goal is replaced by human improvement. Christianity is to witness to the world its concern for humanity.

The Church for the activists fails because it concerns itself with dogmatic Truths that are not “relevant” for “modern man.” The Church as an institution no longer “relates” to society; therefore, it must redeem itself.

At the other extreme are the contemplatives, who see everything in the light of eternity. This world is sinful and corrupt; it has always been so, and will be this way until the Second Coming. All this will pass, so there is no need to be concerned about world conditions… “God will provide” is their motto, so we waste our time getting involved in the world.

June 1, 2011 + "And Ascended Into Heaven"

by Rev. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, May 1969

“And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll. . . And between the throne and the four living creatures I saw a Lamb, standing, as if it had been slain.”  (Rev. 5:2)

The very fact of our Lord’s ascension into Heaven, and His “sitting at the right hand of the Father,” is the source of great joy and profound optimism to the faithful believers. What happened when our Lord returned to Heaven? Revelation gives us some insight.

St. John, the spiritual leader of the churches of Asia Minor had been taken from his churches and exiled to the tiny island of Patmos, in the Mediterranean Sea. Sunday morning comes a time when he is normally preparing himself to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with his faithful gathering. Closed around by his own gloom, he is startled by a voice as loud as a trumpet, behind him. It is the Lord Himself, radiant and transformed in appearance, who takes him to an open door in Heaven for a view of the Heavenly Court.

After he does his best to adequately describe the scene before him: the Throne of the Father, the twenty-four presbyters, the four living creatures and the host of angels, he hears a challenge by a mighty angel: “Who is worthy to open the seals of the scroll?” (Upon which is written the prophecy of the destiny of the universe.)

Nobody in Heaven or on earth was worthy to reveal the future, and John wept, for not even one person had been found worthy. Except, in the center of the Heavenly court, a Lamb was standing as though it had been slain.

February 23, 2011 + Great Lent Meditation

by Rev. V. Berzonsky
from The Word, February 1969

Little by little since the Sunday of Zaccheus we have been preparing ourselves for Great Lent, which in turn is the movement towards the Feast of Feasts, the Pascha, Easter. The first Sunday of this preparatory period, the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican, has as its theme: Christianity as humility. The second Sunday, the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, has the theme: Christianity as return or conversion. The third Sunday has the theme: Christianity as judgment. The fourth Sunday has the theme: Christianity as forgiveness. These four themes are essential in our preparation for Great Lent.

Let us approach Lent with a proper understanding of this period. Let us not reduce this Lent to giving up something for Lent: for this idea fills man with such pride that he loses all the benefit he was supposed to achieve and even more. Let us not reduce Lent to our personal problem.

Lent is a time for slowing-down, for taking ourselves to account, in order that we may be spiritually prepared for the feast to come. Lent is the time when the Church withdraws from the New Testament into the Old Testament. Lent is the time when we become nostalgic for communion.

In a larger sense, Lent is a permanent dimension of Christianity. It is not a spiritual bath. Lent expresses the church as pilgrimage, as movement, as exodus. Lent opens our eyes to the things that we do not see. Let us remember the idea of Church as fast and feast, as expectation and fulfillment, as humility and glory.

February 16, 2011 + The Right Attitude for Lent

by Rev. V. Berzonsky
from The Word, February 1971

Before the Great Lent begins the Orthodox Church reserves three weeks in order to encourage in its members a proper mental preparedness towards the season of intense prayer, meditation and fasting. We must learn not merely to accept lent as a spiritual obligation, an intrusion into a life of fun and diversion, but rather we must learn to welcome its discipline if we are to benefit by it spiritually.

Let us first mention certain misconceptions regarding this period: the great danger of keeping a strict lent is that one tends to become self-righteous. Wisely the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee is put at the very start of the Triodion Cycle to impress upon our minds the distastefulness of self-righteousness. It would be far better not to observe the lent than to have it result in an arrogance, a ‘holier-than-you’ attitude.

Neither is Lent intended for scoring points in heaven. The hairs on our head may be numbered, as the Lord tells us; but it is highly unlikely the angels keep track of whether we had a cheese sandwich or boloney for lunch. We sometimes tend to keep the letter of the lent and fail to develop an over-view, a general framework for understanding why we deprive ourselves of certain foods and pleasures.

December 29, 2010 + Thank You God, For the Mystery

by Rev. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, December 1968

“As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.”     (ST. LUKE 2:19)

The very birth of Jesus was a gift to the world. Not only the Christ-child Himself, but the way that the birth took place; on a trip, in a stable in the most calm, joyful and peaceful night the world has known.

The mystery of the night was God’s way of protecting the blessed happening for those who see with eyes of faith.

Can you imagine the birth of the Christ-child in our times? All the indignity, the vulgar exposure and lack of publicity the Holy family would be forced to suffer?

Picture yourself watching the late news on television. The announcer would say: “Finally, a news item from the Near East. A young woman from Nazareth, on her way to register as a citizen in the capitol, just gave birth to a baby some are claiming as the promised savior of the world. Take it away, Matthew Luke, in Bethlehem.”

December 1, 2010 + The Saint Who Was Santa Claus

by V. Rev. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, December1971

Dominating our Christmas, rather “holiday” season, (we do not want to be offensive to our non-Christian and non-believing friends), is the Santa Claus legend. The Santa figure and the gift giving displays find their source not in Jesus Christ as much as in the story by Clement Moore, “The Night Before Christmas,” which is itself a distorted derivative of the actual life of the great Orthodox bishop Nicholas who lived in the small coastal town of Myra in what is today Turkey.

In the Moore poem, a modern family is invaded by a well-meaning old man who leaves gifts nobody seems to have asked for or even want. This is the first distortion of the real situation. May we all live our lives and lack nothing! Yet if we can penetrate the stories told of the actual fourth century bishop, under the layers of legend that cover St. Nicholas throughout the centuries, we find one feature common to each tale, no matter how distorted: Bishop Nicholas always aids those in dire need. Despite the myths surrounding the event, the extreme circumstances of those in the tales of St. Nicholas are much more like the life we know than the family in the Moore story.

October 13, 2010 + I'm Sorry... But

by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, November 1968

“Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee:. . .  From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matt. 4:12, 17)

The chief problem in communicating today is that people do not always say what they mean. Just notice how often people begin a sentence with, “I’m sorry, but ... I was here first;” or, “I’m sorry, but . . . you’re in my way.” What they mean is that they are not sorry at all. They use the word to pretend they are sympathetic to your plight, but in fact they take the opportunity, while they are still speaking, to argue in behalf of their own personal interests.

Sorry does not mean just sorrowful. One who is truly sorry for his acts recognizes that his behavior is wrong and regrets his actions. In no way does he justify his deeds. On the contrary, he repents, seeking a new course of action.

The very first words spoken by our Lord at the beginning of His ministry were, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17). Those to whom he spoke knew what He meant. He was demanding a total conversion of the inner self, which includes: (a) recognizing that one’s way of life is contrary to God’s plan for man: (b) giving up all self-reliance and surrendering unconditionally to our Creator: (c) converting one’s whole being to the Will of God.