In this life there are many things to prepare for, but the most important is for our entrance into the kingdom of heaven. I will take you with me, should you want to come along, on my personal journey to the door which will lead to eternity, through which every soul must pass. Where the angel of death waits to ask the all important question, "Are you prepared for the Kingdom?"

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Location: Anacortes, Washington, United States

Two years ago I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was one of the fortunate ones who survived surgery along with chemo/radiation treatments. Recently, it was discovered that the cancer had returned and although I am again on chemotherapy, in all probability I have perhaps one more year to live. During these last months I would like to share what I have learned about the most important thing we'll ever do in this life and that is, prepare for the kingdom of God.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Unceasing Prayer

Recently I've been very busy writing icons and am finding it difficult to sit down and write something here on the blog. So I've decided to share my experience of iconography with you.

Writing an icon is and should be a spiritual work. Unlike an artist who seeks to create or interpret a work of art as he sees it, the iconographer seeks to portray the holy image as directed by the Holy Spirit. We do not think in terms of how I wish this to be, but how the image itself wants to be portrayed. This may sound a little strange, but when writing an icon the focus is prayer, unceasing prayer.

We are to work as though the Lord Himself were right there watching. The atmosphere is quiet and a candle is lit. At times some spiritual music is played. I usually play Gregorian Chant, the soundtrack from the Passion of the Christ or music from the Divine Liturgry. These help to keep me in a prayerful state of mind.

There are specific times during the writing of the icon when the Jesus Prayer is said, "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Often, I find that prayers from the Divine Liturgy are going through my mind. This year during Lent I was writing "The Bridegroom" icon and most of the time my mind was praying Psalm 140 from Vespers and also prayers from the Liturgy of the pre-Sanctified.

This gift of iconography has taught me how to pray unceasingly, how to keep the mind from wandering into any distractions. This is part of the discipline of writing icons.

But you don't have to be an iconographer to practice unceasing prayer. In the book, "The Spiritual Life," St. Theophan the Recluse calls unceasing prayer the unceasing remembrance of God. This is what he has to say:

In this remembrance of God, it is necessary to fortify oneself in every way until it does not leave the mind. God is everywhere and always with us, by us, and in us. However, we are not always with Him, for we do not remember Him and, because we do not remember, we allow ourselves to do many things that we would not allow ourselves to do if we remembered God. Take upon yourself the labor of making this habitual. Just do not forget that remembrance of God is not like remembrance of other things, that it must be combined with the fear of God and reverence of Him.

To make it easier to acquire the habit of remembrance of God, there is a special method, that is, the unceasing repetition of a short prayer of two to three words. Most common is "Lord, have mercy!" "Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!" From long practice of this, the words will fasten themselves to the tongue so that they will repeat themselves. This has a very settling effect on the soaring and wandering of the thoughts. Again, do not forget to combine this prayer with reverence.

I invite you to take some time each day and say this prayer. As he says, soon it will become habitual and will keep your mind in remembrance of God.

There was a day, last May, Mother's Day to be exact, when I thought it was my last and in my pain the one thought that came to my mind was "Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." Truly, at that point, there was nothing else to say. This prayer is a gift. Receive it, learn to pray it and thank God for it. It will come to your aid when nothing else can.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Divine Love

Recently I watched a movie, a musical called "Rent." Because of it’s controversial content I wasn’t sure whether to watch it or not. For those of you who haven’t seen it, "Rent" is a story about a group of people who have AIDS and are being evicted from the building where they have been living, which is more or less a big multi-story warehouse, for failing to pay rent for the past year and refusing to pay rent at all. The landlord wants the building back to turn it into a business venture and the tenants are rebelling.

You may wonder, what does this have to do with Divine Love. I will get to that in a little bit.

As I watched the lives of these people and the devastation they faced, the thought that occurred to me was, "guard your heart." A strange thought I suppose, but a necessary one, as I was soon to discover.

The main characters consisted of a professor, a journalist, a musician, an exotic dancer hooked on drugs, a lesbian couple and a transvestite. All have AIDS except the journalist and the lesbian couple, one of whom is a lawyer.

Basically, these people are trying to help each other through some very difficult times while experiencing their own struggles. Of course sex is implied throughout the movie and sometimes more than implied.

Ok, now to why I’ve chosen to write about this.

This movie generates a feeling of sympathy to those who are suffering from AIDS and we should feel sympathy. However, here is where guarding the heart comes in. As I watched one of the main characters die, who by the way was the most kind and generous of them all, I couldn’t help but wonder about our need as human beings to be loved and to love another human being. But what kind of love is this movie suggesting?

There is a song that they all sing about how many minutes are in a year and how to spend them. They sing "How about love." In other words spend them loving. They also sing a song about having only now, "right now" in reference to getting emotionally and sexually involved with another person. And this is where the light went on for me.

As someone who has less than a years worth of minutes to live, I believe I can speak about experiencing the knowledge of imminent death in the foreseeable future. This is not the time to be considering sensual pleasures. This love, as it is called is not love at all. Why would one want to satisfy a body that is doomed to death in a short time if not to simply satisfy an insatiable need? When are we going to understand that no matter how sympathetic we might feel to the lack of love in our lives or how lonely we might be, it is not the body that can satisfy that need. Becoming sensually involved with another person should be the last thing on our minds. That is, if one considers that there is more to his life than just a world of the senses.

If your world revolves around your bodily senses, then what I have to say will probably not fit your agenda. But I ask you to consider for just a moment that which we are called to. We are called to believe in more than just "right now." I saw this movie as a call to no hope in anything but the here and now. Yes, they cared about each other, but to what extent? It’s easy to think you love someone who is satisfying your sensual needs. But we are called to something much greater than this. We are called to reach beyond what we call human love to Divine Love.

It has become very clear to me that terminal illness gives us the opportunity to realize how quickly the sensual pleasures of the body dissolve into nothing. If we continue to look for these emotional and tangible feelings even in the face of death, then we are surely to be pitied. The body is dying and will soon be in the grave. So what is left? I invite you to answer that question.

Divine Love takes us to a place where we can meet God. Divine Love is God. So I ask you, in the face of death, why would one choose human love over Divine Love? In the tragedy of our illness we are given the chance to make peace with God. Here is the chance to recognize the things that we have succumbed to for fear of being alone and unloved. Here is the opportunity to prepare for the Kingdom. It is never too late for us while we are still here in this life. He waits to hear our plea for His mercy and kindness. He waits to hear our cry for help. He waits to hear our sincere apology for the ways in which we have offended Him. He waits, so that He can come and show us His Divine Love.

"Guard your heart." Do not be taken in by "feelings of sympathy or self-pity." Divine Love is not about feelings. It’s about humility, which consists in facing our weaknesses and weeping over them before God, who will then and only then, with kindness and true compassion, come and fill us with His Divine Love that we so desire.

With a heart filled with sorrow, let us take this opportunity to be real with ourselves and with God, trusting in His mercy. And may we be filled with the willingness to reach beyond the "here and now" and not settle for the things of this world, but strive in our weakness for the things that are Eternal.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Recently I was asked about my iconography. So there is now a site where some of my work can be seen. If you would like to take a look go to

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Heartfelt Prayer

The following is from Thomas Merton’s book, "New Seeds of Contemplation." It’s a little lengthy, but I found it very beautiful and well worth sharing.

"Justify my soul, O God, but also from Your fountains fill my will with fire. Shine in my mind, although perhaps this means, "be darkness to my experience," but occupy my heart with Your tremendous Life. Let my eyes see nothing in the world but Your glory, and let my hands touch nothing that is not for Your service. Let my tongue taste no bread that does not strengthen me to praise Your great mercy. I will hear Your voice and I will hear all harmonies You have created, singing Your hymns. Sheep’s wool and cotton from the field shall warm me enough that I may live in Your service; I will give the rest to Your poor. Let me use all things for one sole reason: to find my joy in giving You glory.

Therefore keep me, above all things, from sin. Keep me from the death of deadly sin which puts hell in my soul. Keep me from the murder of lust that blinds and poisons my heart. Keep me from the sins that eat a man’s flesh with irresistible fire until he is devoured. Keep me from loving money in which is hatred, from avarice and ambition that suffocate my life. Keep me from the dead works of vanity and the thankless labor in which artists destroy themselves for pride and money and reputation, and saints are smothered under the avalanche of their own importunate zeal. Stanch in me the rank wound of covetousness and the hungers that exhaust my nature with their bleeding. Stamp out the serpent envy that stings love with poison and kills all joy.

Untie my hands and deliver my heart from sloth. Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me, and from the cowardice that does what is not demanded, in order to escape sacrifice.

But give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love. Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for You alone.

For there is only one thing that can satisfy love and reward it, and that is You alone."

Today I began praying this prayer. I think it covers just about everything we could possibly ask for. I invite you to join me and may the Lord be pleased and grant us the love that we desire in this heartfelt prayer.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Time and Eternity

As I was coming home from the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, my son John and I were discussing time and eternity. During our discussion he made the point that because there is no time in eternity that at the moment of death our time for making any changes runs out.

Now you may think, well that's obvious, but actually this really struck something within me. Sometimes I'll hear a word and suddenly the light inside will go on. I suddenly realized the importance of making good and right choices in this life at all times. especially the choice to believe in God.

During my first trip after 20 years to Mt. Tabor, I had an experience similar to this, but more intense. I remember standing in the church during one of the services and suddenly realized that although I was in a state of terrible sins, the one that was the worst, was that I had stopped believing in God. It just hit me so intensely that I started to cry. It was true and I could not deny it. The feeling was one of sincere remorse and a little bit of panic. It was then that I knew that I was in serious need of reconciliation with God.

I think about my life before that time, and what might have happened if I would have died in my sins and faced this realization in eternity. There would have been no time left to change my mind. I would have stood before God and known that I had been wrong but with no time left to change my life. To me, this is a terrifying thought and it should be. We are not here to do whatever pleases our senses. Our senses will be gone with our body at death, then what will we have left? Only the soul and how will that look before the judgment seat of Christ? That will depend on the choices we've made in the here and now.

I often hear that many people want to be "spiritual" but not "religious." So to these people I say the following. To be "religious" means "accountability." But to be "spiritual" or "one with the universe" or whatever the trend happens to be, does not require accountability. And without accountability human nature runs wild. There are some, but very few, who can do what is right without having to be accountable to someone. Accountablity is necessary in order to control our human nature. Without it, we are doomed to a disasterous life here and in eternity.

Be not deceived. There is a judgment. And we will all face it. But if we choose to believe in Christ who has shown us the way to God, whom He calls Father, we can be assured that we will not be alone and will encounter a merciful God who will welcome us into his Kingdom.