Michael Haldas is the author of Sacramental Living: Understanding Christianity as a Way of Life, and Echoes of Truth Christianity in the Lord of the Rings. Michael’s focus is on understanding and applying our faith to everyday living, which supports OCN’s mission to provide material “to provoke discussion and contemplation about the issues we face in daily life.” His work has been featured in Theosis Magazine, The National Herald, Pravmir, and other publications. He is a member of the Orientale Lumen Foundation and the Orthodox Speakers Bureau. He teaches adult religious education at Greek Orthodox Church of St. George in Bethesda, Maryland and his classes are Live-streamed through OCN’s Facebook page each Sunday September through June. He has also worked with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Religious Education Department to create educational lessons and materials.
Sponsored by St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bethesda, MD. These are not classes on high theology that are intimidating or difficult to understand. We focus on the “down to earth” and practical ways we should understand and live our faith. In His parables to the masses, Christ always used practical examples from everyday life to help people understand and draw near to God. We use the same model and spirit in this class. Join LIVE on Sundays at 11:30am-12:30pm EST.
The Lenten Spiritual Journey Part 5 – Climbing The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Falling off a ladder can cause serious physical injury or even death. Falling off our spiritual ladder can be equally damaging. Our union with God, which ultimately leads to the joy and happiness we are all seeking, depends on how well we climb the 30 step ladder St. John Climacus describes in his classic work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. In this Sunday’s class we will examine in detail the Patriarch Jacob’s dream and life story which served as the inspiration for St. John’s ladder. We will also discuss the Orthodox understanding of Christ and the Virgin Mary as the ladder between Heaven and earth and, most importantly, apply what this all means to our daily lives in a practical way that will aid us in our spiritual growth.
Relevant Scriptures: Genesis 25:12-34, Genesis 27:1-46, Genesis 28:10-22, Genesis 29:1-28, Genesis 32:22-32, Ezekiel 43:27-44:4, Proverbs 9:1-11, Galatians 5:16-25
The Lenten Spiritual Journey Part 4 – The Crossroads of the Cross: Making the Choice for Christ
A crossroad is literally the intersection of two or more roads. Metaphorically, coming to a crossroad is a point at which a crucial decision must be made that will have far-reaching consequences. At this mid-point of Lent, when we celebrate the Sunday of the Holy Cross, we are reminded that we are always at a crossroads in our lives where we have to either choose the road leading to the Cross or the road leading away from the Cross. This choice will indeed have far reaching consequences in this life and the next. Suffering wakes us up to the reality of this choice, but comfort dulls our senses. This Sunday we will explore the meaning of the cross in all of its facets and how it applies to our daily lives.
Relevant Scriptures: Luke 9:23/Mark 8:34-35/Matthew 16:24-25; Psalms 22/Psalms 21 LXX, Isaiah 53; Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34/Luke 23:46/John 19:30; Matthew 27:32/Luke 23:26, Luke 14:25-35; 1 Corinthians 1:18
The Lenten Spiritual Journey Part 3 – Exploring God’s call on Our Lives
We all have callings in life. It may be a calling to a certain job or career, a calling as a volunteer, a calling to ministry, a calling as a parent or spouse, and more. We also call these callings vocations. If we believe we receive callings/vocations, do we also believe they come from a caller? In Christianity our vocation is to draw close to God, to love Him and love others. Our vocations are the many different things we do in this life at various stages where we have the opportunity to demonstrate our love of Him and others. As we are now formally into our Lenten journey, we will continue discussing Moses and Exodus story we began last week, and use it to explore how we hear the call of God in our lives, and how we either accept it, or become tone deaf and reject it, preferring self-will over His will.
The Lenten Spiritual Journey Part 2 – Water and Wilderness: Moses, the Exodus, and Us
The stories in the Old Testament foreshadow the fullness of the truth revealed in the New Testament. The stories of the people and events in Genesis and Exodus are particularly important and it is impossible to understand the full truth of the Gospel without knowing them. In this Sunday’s class we will continue to connect certain events in the Old Testament with those in the New Testament. We will further look at the spiritual meaning of the number forty and the symbolism of water, but expand it to understand the meaning and symbolism of the wilderness since so many significant events of the Bible happen there. We will also discuss what all of this means to our spiritual journey as individual persons and members of the body of Christ.
The Lenten Spiritual Journey Part 1 – The Meaning of 40 Days and 40 Nights
Next to the number seven, the number forty occurs most frequently in the Bible. It is mentioned 147 times. Further, numbers are not just numbers in the Bible. Every number has a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning. Forty is a particularly meaningful number. There is a reason it is used so much in Scripture. The Biblical use of the number forty heavily influences our liturgical cycle, fasting periods. and church calendar. Most importantly, the number forty has distinct meanings that inform and speak to our human condition as we understand it spiritually within the context of our faith. Because we are approaching Lent and the great 40 day journey, we will begin this Sunday what we will be the first in a series of lessons exploring these meanings in the context of Biblical stories and what they mean to us.
Truth or Consequences – Hard Truth Part 3
Truth or Consequences was an old humorous TV game show that originated in 1940 and ran in various versions off and on until the late 1980s. It is also the actual name of a city in New Mexico. But Truth or consequences in reality is more serious than a game show and much bigger than a city. It’s a condition of life. Christ is the truth and choosing anything less than Him to include half-truths and lies opens us up to the consequences of our wrong choices – the choices Christ wants to save us from. In this class we will continue to discuss the hard truth about the truth and how we can avoid the same timeless wrong choices we see people make in the Gospels.
The Hard Truth About the Truth – Part 2
Last week we covered some very difficult teachings of Christ regarding truth, namely that most of us prefer lies or half-truths over Christ, who both is truth and testifies to the truth. We discussed how the blindness to the truth of the religious establishment and much of the people of Christ’s day is the same today. This week we will go even deeper and further examine the reactions of the people Christ preached the truth to while He was on earth, and examine reactions of modernity to the same message.
The Hard Truth About the Truth
The Gospel of John is the greatest written testimony to the truth. It teaches us what and who truth is, where lies ultimately come from, and why human beings most often prefer lies over truth, darkness instead of light, and truth only in small measure. The famous movie line “you can’t handle the truth” seems to actually be true. But why is that? Why is it so hard to live truth and why is it so easy to accept anything less than truth as okay? In this week’s class, we will explore what John’s Gospel account teaches us about truth and lies, and how both start in our hearts before making their way into the world as actions and behavior.
Our Choices Matter – More Than We Know
As Orthodox Christians we understand God loves us so much and perfectly that He gives us near complete freedom. It is near complete freedom, as opposed to total freedom, because we have freedom of choice but not freedom from choice. Only God has freedom from choice. At any given moment in time we are always making choices. Even a choice not to choose is a choice. In the Gospel accounts, Christ usually presents us with two choices and they always come down to our salvation or condemnation. God can save us from anything except our choices. In this class, we will explore what Christ and the Scriptures teach us about choice, how to make the right ones, and why it is so easy to fall into self-deception that leads to wrong choices.
Relevant Scriptures: Proverbs 15:3, Matthew 7:13-27, Matthew 24:36-44; Luke 12:10, 1 John 5:14-17; Luke 6:20-26, Matthew 6:19-24, 1 Corinthians 1:14-24; Matthew 9:22/Luke 8:48, Mark 5:34, Mark 10:52/Luke 18:42, Luke 17:19
Counting the Cost
Most of us need to be cost conscious. We can’t just spend what we want and when we want without considering costs of things and the impact to our finances. We assess the value of something compared to its cost before we decide to buy it. Christ tells us to do the same thing when it come to following Him. Though He freely offers Himself to us, there is a cost to being His disciple. Sadly, He tells us many times and in many different ways in the Gospels that few of us make this choice because we perceive the cost to either be too high, or we do not see the value of what He is offering. Yet, He never stops offering Himself to us. In this class we will explore in-depth the cost and value of discipleship according to Christ and what is should mean to us.
Relevant Scriptures: Matthew 4:18-22, 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:8; Luke 14:25-35, Matthew 10:32-39, Genesis 11:27-12:4, Luke 9:57-62; Luke 8:4-15, Matthew 22:1-14, Luke 18:1-8,Luke 17:12-19; Mark 10:17-29, Mark 10:35-45; Philippians 3:1-21
Dealing with the Disorder of our Souls ”Out of Order”
We’ve seen this sign or message on vending machines, ATMs and other contraptions, and it requires a skilled repairman to fix them. If we could look inside of ourselves, we may see a sign on our souls that says the same thing. Do we feel out of order? Some of us may, some of us may only at times, or maybe we don’t feel that way at all. Our Orthodox Christian faith tells us that despite how we may feel, we are all disordered within and we need Christ to repair this disorder. In this class we will explore the principles of order and disorder as taught to us in Scripture and our Holy Tradition, how disorder affects us like an illness, and why order and proper alignment are vital to spiritual health and well-being.
The Perniciousness of Pride
Pride is typically named first in the list of “the seven deadly sins.” It is the first sin ever committed according to Scripture. Although many people give intellectual assent to the harmfulness of pride, our culture also celebrates pride in overt and subtle ways. What place, if any, should pride have in our lives? What is okay to be prideful about? Does pride have a positive and negative aspect? In this class we will explore pride in all of its facets, why the Church considers it the deadliest of all sins, and how pride and self-will are intertwined and stunt our spiritual growth and lead us away instead of toward God.
Relevant Scriptures: Proverbs 6:16-19 (Proverbs 6:20-23 LXX), Proverbs 8:13, Proverbs 11:2, Proverbs 16:18 (16:16 LXX), Proverbs 29:23; Proverbs 3:34 (3:37 LXX), James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5-8; Isaiah 14:12-14, Ezekiel 28:12-16, Revelation 12:7-9, Genesis 3:1-8;
Relevant Articles: True Autonomy is Achieved Through Humility; Submission to the Will of God
Woundedness and Transformation: Encountering Christ as the Wounded Healer
The Orthodox Church teaches that out of love for us God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, left the comfort of paradise, became one of us, and shared completely in our humanity. Out of love He bore our sins, allowed Himself to be wounded beyond measure, and died to save us. We all suffer wounds and woundedness in this life. The question for us is will we bear them with love or with bitterness. Depending on our choice, our wounds can be debilitating or transformational. In this class, we will revisit the nature of woundedness and what Christ, the Gospels, and the Scriptures as a whole teach us.
Relevant Scriptures: John 20:24-29, John 11:8-16; Genesis 3:15, Deuteronomy 32:39, Psalm 147:2-3 (Psalm 146:2-3 LXX), Isaiah 30:26, Job 5:17-18; Genesis 32:22-32, Luke 18:1-8, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Isaiah 53:5, 1 Peter 2:24, Matthew 5:10-12
Relevant Articles: Understanding and Living Our Orthodox Faith: Embracing Woundedness
Evangelism and the Orthodox Church
The words evangelist, evangelical, and evangelism mean different things to different people. But what is evangelism and its place in the Orthodox Church? The Orthodox Church is a sacramental church, but is it also an evangelical church? Is the Divine Liturgy for evangelization or those who are evangelized? Are clergy the only people truly qualified to evangelize and what actually qualifies to evangelist? How do our gifts and talents fit into evangelization? We will address these question and more as we explore the all to unfamiliar topic of Orthodox evangelism.
Relevant Scriptures: Luke 4:18 and Isaiah 61:1, and Mark 1:14-15; Acts 5:12-16, Acts 6:1-7, 2 Timothy 4:5; Ephesians 4:11, Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13; Romans 8:14,Galatians 5:16-26; 2 Timothy 1:6-7, 2 Timothy 3:5
Words Matter: The Experience of our Faith Through Language
But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give and account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37). Commentary by several Holy Fathers on this passage shows that they took this statement by our Lord literally. If you take life expectancy stats, shave off a few years for the years before we learn to talk, take some stat about how many words men and women use a day, it easily nets out to the fact we will use hundreds of millions of words in our life time. That’s a lot of opportunity for idle and hurtful words that condemn us. In this class, using various Scriptures as a basis, we will explore the sacredness of the Word and words, how misuse and misunderstanding of words, especially those in Scripture, has led, and continues to lead, to multiple problems for us as persons and communities.
Relevant Scriptures: Matthew 12:36-37, Matthew 15:18; James 3:1-12, Proverbs 18:21,Proverbs 15:4, and Ephesians 4:29; John 1:1, Genesis 1:1-3, Proverbs 8:22-30, Wisdom of Solomon 9:1, Genesis 2:18-20; Psalms 42:10 (41:11 LXX); Matthew 5:48, Matthew 6:13,Luke 2:14, Luke 17:20-21
The Natural versus Spiritual Man: The Experience of Self and the Division Within
United we stand, divided we fall. Most people think of that expression in the context of community and nation. Many feel we are in a national crisis due to the division in our country. However, this expression most readily applies to our individual selves and goes beyond any national crisis. The crisis we all suffer from is in reality a global crisis of the human heart that has plagued us from the beginning. In Sunday’s class we will explore our division within and what the Bible calls the natural/carnal versus spiritual man. We will also discuss the obvious and subtle causes of internal division, the damage internal division does to ourselves and others, and how we heal the division within and acquire the mind of Christ.
Relevant Scriptures: Genesis 25:29-34, John 6:63-64, Romans 8:1-8, 1 Corinthians 3:1-4; Romans 7:1-25, Galatians 3:19-29, Mark 3:20-25, John 15:1-8; Ecclesiastes 12:11-14, John 5:39-40, John 21:25; 1 Corinthians 2:13-15, Philippians 2:5-11, Romans 8:27
Relevant Articles/Blogs: The Downside of Books and the Written Word, From the Book or From the Heart
The Experience of Orthodoxy: Understanding our Faith at Its Core
We are taught that Orthodox Christianity must be lived to be learned; that it is to be experienced more than studied; that it is formational rather than informational. Yet, we live in a world which measures so much by the benchmark of intellectual knowledge and pursuit and uses rationalism above all else to understand itself. Not that these are bad or even wrong, but they can be stumbling blocks to us experiencing our faith and therefore become an obstacle to our relationship to God, especially when it comes to really embracing the truth of the sacraments and the sacramental life. In this class we are going to take a deep dive into what Orthodoxy really is, and how it is an experience of God of which language can be a poor medium to express but we will try!
Sin, Society, and Stillness – Getting Past Life’s “Motion Sickness” to Live as Christ Teaches Us to Live
Motion sickness. If you have ever had it to any degree you know it is one of the worst feelings in the world. Yet it’s a feeling we seem to be seeking now. Two brothers who authored a book write, “In our world of constant activity, we are suffering from a certain level of motion sickness. We go from one thing to the next and never take time to catch our breath…the first step to fixing our attention on our Creator is to be still in His presence and experience a firsthand relationship with the God who made us.” Believe it or not, there is a relationship to perpetual motion and sin in our lives. Sin means to “fall short” or “miss the mark” and our constant activity can cause us to sin, knowingly or unknowingly, by missing the opportunities God has for us. In this class, we will discuss what our faith teaches us about sin and stillness and how to deal apply its truth in today’s pace driven society.
Relevant Scriptures: Genesis 4:7, Genesis 4:7 (LXX), 1 Peter 5:8; 1 Kings 1:11-19 andPsalms 46:1-11; Hosea 6:6 and Matthew 9:13; Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18, andMatthew 22:37-39; John 13:34, and 1 John 3; James 5:19-20 and 1 Peter 4:8
Experiencing the Challenge of Teaching and Preaching Christ
Who do you say I am?” Christ asks that of His disciples (Matthew 16:15) and He also asks it of us. The answer to this question determines so much in our lives here and hereafter. It determines how we live the faith in our homes and teach it to our loved ones. The answer to this question is what allows us to navigate safely and spiritually intact through the myriad belief systems existing today, or to become shipwrecked on the shores of so many “truths” that we do not know what to believe. It even determines our health and well-being. Perhaps most importantly, it determines the present and future of the Church because shockingly, many inside the Church do not believe what the Church teaches about Christ. In this Sunday’s class, we will explore our own experiences and challenges to understanding and living the truth of Christ, and what we say and do when challenged by those closest to us.
Experiencing the “Light and Dark Sides” of Grace
Most of us are familiar with the mythology of Star Wars and the light and dark sides of the Force. But what about the light and dark sides of grace? Does grace even have a dark side? The answer is yes and no; yes because of our limited perspective and narrow vantage point at times and no because grace is from God and therefore it is always good. This week will discuss what grace is, explore our experiences of grace that are easily identifiable as such, and also focus on our experiences where grace seemed hidden and removed and only revealed itself in retrospect and through suffering.
Time and our Faith Experience
“There’s not enough time in day!” “I need more time.” “Time is running out.” “Have a great time!” “You caught me at a bad time.” “It’s just a matter of time.” “Time is of the essence.” This list of expressions and idioms about time in our culture is nearly endless. The volume of expressions shows just how much time is a dominant part of our thought and daily reality. How we understand and experience time reflects deeply our understanding and experience of God and our faith journey though we may not think about it this way. This week we will explore the notion of time and share our experiences on how it influences our relationship with #God and others, and either serves to grow our faith or undermine it.
Relevant Scriptures: Deuteronomy 30:19, Matthew 12:30, 1 John 2:17; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Matthew 6:11, Matthew 6:34, James 4:13-14, Philippians 4:6-7, 2 Corinthians 6:2;Ephesians 5:15-16 , Colossians 4:5; Revelation 22:12-13
Relevant Articles/Blogs: The Mystery of Time
Experiencing God through the Bible
Do you own a Bible? Do you actually read it or does it just gather dust? If you do read it, how do you read it? Is there a right way or a wrong way? What does Christ say about the Bible? What does the Bible say about itself? Can we experience Liturgy and our Holy Tradition without knowing the Bible? Even though the meaning of the word Bible is “ the books” if it is just a book to us, we are misunderstanding what it is andits purpose. This week we will explore our corporate and individual experiences with God through the Bible and discuss the Bible’s proper place in our Sacramental journey.
Suggested Readings: Take Up and Read: The Sounding Blog
Relevant Scriptures: 2 Timothy 3:15-16, Acts 8:26-39, Luke 24:27 and Luke 24:44-45, John 5:39, 1 Corinthians 11:2 and 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 2 Peter 1:21
When God Seems Absent in Our Lives
Last week we explored what it means to encounter the Divine Presence and share our personal experiences of the presence of Christ in our lives. But what does it feel like when God seems absent from us? Is it even possible for this to be so? Many Christians, clergy and laity alike, from ancient to modern times, have described periods in their life of pain and suffering when God seemed distant and remote, or not there at all. This week we will explore this topic and share our experiences of when God seems absent and what we did (and can do) to get through these rough periods in our spiritual lives.
Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34
Psalm 21 LXX or Psalm 22
The Dark Night of the Soul
When God Seems Absent
The Presence within the Absence. Dealing with Feeling of Abandonment
The Shared Experience of the Orthodox Christian Faith
This week’s lesson: God is everywhere present and fills all things. The Orthodox Church believes that Christ is truly present with His people in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Every Sunday, we say, hear, and understand these things to be true. But what is the extent of our personal revelation of Christ? How well do we know and experience Him as opposed knowing about Him? What is the depth of our relationship with Him? This week we are going to explore what it means to experience the Divine Presence and share our personal experiences of the presence of Christ in our lives.
We say our Orthodox Christian faith is formational yet we tend to share and teach as if it were informational. The institutional and cognitive elements have taken hold in much of Orthodoxy, and in a sense we often miss the point of faith which is relationship, and real, experiential connectedness with the Lord and each other on a visceral, pre-cognitive level. No one comes to faith informationally; we come to faith relationally. Even the information we read or hear takes hold because it gives language and expression to what we already know in our hearts is true based on our experience but often cannot articulate. Therefore, each week as it pertains to the topic, we will explore our faith by sharing and examining our personal experiences and the experience of others, and how these experiences draw us into a deeper union with Christ.
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