Friday, May 2, 2014

History of St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, TX

History of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America

The Faith of Orthodox Christianity reached the New World through the missionary activities of the Russian Orthodox Church. Early merchants and explorers were sent from Russia to expand and explore unknown regions to the east of Russia. A small group of missionaries arrived at Kodiak Island in 1794. The Alaskan mainland and the islands of the coast were inhabited by a number of native tribes, especially Tlingits, Aleuts, and Eskimos. The mission in Alaska was perhaps the most important missionary endeavor of the Orthodox Church in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At a time when much of the Orthodox Church throughout the world was confronted with political systems and rival religions that prevented much missionary work, the mission in Alaska heralded the entrance of Orthodox Christianity into a new land.

For more information on the Russian mission in Alaska, please visit HERE:
The foundation of Orthodox Christianity in the continental United States was established during the last quarter of the 19th century. During this time, the focus of Orthodoxy dramatically shifted from Alaska to the major cities of the continental United States. The principal cause of this was the massive influx of immigrants from Greece, Russia and Eastern Europe and the Middle East. These parishes were established chiefly by immigrants who were determined to preserve their Orthodox Christian faith in the New World.

Following in the footsteps of many Europeans who left their homelands in search of a better life, many Christians from the Middle East landed on the American shores in the late 19th century. The formation of the Syro-Arabian Mission under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church helped to keep these new immigrants attached to their Orthodox roots. In 1895, the Syrian Orthodox Benevolent Society in New York City contacted a young Syrian priest (Fr Raphael Hawaweeny) serving as professor of Arabic Language at the Orthodox Theological Academy in Kazan, Russia, inviting him to come to New York to organize and pastor the first Arabic-speaking parish in America. At the request of Archbishop Tikhon, Fr Raphael was elected to serve as his vicar bishop, to head the Syro-Arabian Mission. His consecration as “Bishop of Brooklyn” took place in 1904, thus becoming the first Orthodox bishop of any nationality to be consecrated in North America.

St Tikhon, then Archbishop of North America, with Bishops Innocent
of Alaska and Raphael of Brooklyn
He traveled all across the United States and Canada, and Mexico, visiting his scattered flock and gathering them into parish communities. Although brief, Bishop Raphael’s ministry was extremely fruitful, having established over 30 parish communities in various places, such as New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas, and Nebraska. Bishop Raphael fell asleep in the Lord on February 27, 1915, at the age of fifty-four. In 2000 Bishop Raphael was glorified as a saint by the Orthodox Church in America with participation from hierarchs of the Antiochian Archdiocese. His feast day is celebrated on the first Saturday in November (AOCA) and February 27 (OCA).

Following the tragedies of the First World War and Bolshevik Revolution, financial and administrative hardships were brought upon the Orthodox communities in America. Movements arose in every ethnic group to divide it into ecclesiastical factions. It would take sixty years from the death of Bishop Raphael for total jurisdictional and administrative unity to be restored for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Some communities desired to remain under the jurisdiction of the Russian Diocese, while others sought stronger ties with their Arab Christian roots seeking to be received into the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch. In 1975, Metropolitan Philip (Saliba) of the Antiochian Archdiocese of New York and Metropolitan Michael (Shaheen) of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Toledo, Ohio, and Dependencies signed the Articles of Reunification which restored administrative unity. The Antiochian Archdiocese was led for over forty years by His Eminence Metropolitan Philip Saliba, prior to his falling asleep in Christ on March 19, 2014. Today, the faithful of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America are served by nine hierarchs and over four hundred clergy in 266 churches and missions throughout North America.

Metropolitan Philip (+2014)
Photo Source

St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, TX

In 1928 a small group of immigrants, mostly from Syria and Lebanon organized into an Orthodox community in Houston, Texas. These families had settled in Houston, opening “mom and pop” stores selling merchandise of all kinds, as well as finding work in the oil boom which hit Houston in the early 20th century. While living and working in Houston, these families desired to keep the language, culture, and religion of their forefathers. Fund raising efforts began, mainly from the efforts of Arab women by cooking and selling Middle-Eastern foods and specialties. In 1936 the faithful of this Orthodox community purchased a building on the corner of Chestnut and Harrison Streets on the north side of Houston.
Growth within the St George community continued as more families immigrated to Houston seeking work and a better life. The needs of the community demanded a larger property to include a sanctuary and church hall for social events. Prior to 1954 the following clergy served the needs of the Orthodox faithful at St George Church: Frs Thomas Abodeely, Gabriel Barrow, Gabriel Debes, Essa Kanavati, Nicholas Nahas, George Taweel, and James Rottle. In September of 1954, property was purchased in the City of West University, southeast of downtown Houston (the parish’s current location). The current sanctuary of St George Church was built in 1968.

Location of St George Church
Map Source

Since the early 1970s the parish has seen a steady increase in membership, especially due another wave of immigration of Arab Christians from Palestine, primarily in the villages of Ramallah and Taybeh. With the influx of these Arab Christians, as well as other immigrants from predominantly Orthodox countries, such as Bulgaria, Ethiopia, and Russia, the parish community has grown over the decades of the late 20th century. In addition to the increase of immigrant Orthodox Christians, St George Church has always fostered outreach to the Greater Houston community, which has seen many American converts “come home” to Orthodoxy.

The parish has truly been a model of a mission-oriented community for Orthodoxy. As Houston’s population has greatly increased, and new suburbs created, the parish (clergy and laity) have created many “daughter” mission churches in the area: St Anthony Orthodox Church of Spring, TX (north of Houston), St Joseph Orthodox Church in the west side of Houston, and Forty Holy Martyrs (of Sebaste) Orthodox Church of Sugar Land, TX (southwest of Houston) are vibrant Orthodox communities who call St George Church their “mother.” Many prominent Antiochian clergymen of the Archdiocese once served at St George Church, including Frs Thomas Skaff (1959-1968), John Namie (1969-1979), Anthony Sabbagh (1979-1983), Joseph Shahda (1983-2000), John Salem (2000-2011), and James Shadid (2011-present).
St George Church, while starting missions in Greater Houston, has also been a leading community in ministry for the youth of its parish. This parish has had a full-time paid Youth Director since the early 1990s, including Dn Thomas Joseph (now Auxiliary Bishop of Charleston, WV), Khouria Gigi (Baba) Shadid, daughter of the parish and now married to the head pastor (Fr James Shadid), Fr Michael Sakran (son of the parish and now assistant priest of St Elias Orthodox Cathedral in Ottawa, Ontario), and myself (Paul Fuller) who served from 2008 till 2013 prior to attendance at St Vladimir Orthodox Seminary. The parish community of St George is a beacon for pan-Orthodoxy in America, as a multi-ethnic community, as well as begun numerous missions to serve the needs of Orthodox Christians living in Greater Houston, and leading the cause for youth ministry in a parish setting.

For more information on the history of St George Church, please visit HERE:

St George Orthodox Church (Current State of Affairs)

St George Orthodox Church continues to be a vibrant Orthodox community of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. The parish is under the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America (Bishop Basil, Auxiliary Bishop). The parish currently has approximately 600 families who call St George their home parish, as well as 300 members in regular attendance at Divine Liturgy on Sundays.  On staff at the parish include Rev Fr James Shadid (pastor), Rev Fr Symeon Kees (associate pastor), Rev Fr Christopher Eid (attached), Ms Grace Tannous (Youth Director), Ms Octavia Battles (Church Secretary), and Mr Alvaro Palencia (Grounds Supervisor). Clergy who also serve at the Altar of St George Church include V Rev Fr Joseph Shahda (pastor emeritus), Rev Fr George Dahdouh (attached), and Dn Joseph Carter (attached).

Interior of St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, TX
 The parish has several ministries and organizations that offer service to the community: Parish Council, Ladies Altar Society, Order of St Ignatius, Fellowship of St John the Divine, Church School program, Choirs and Chant (English and Arabic), St Nicholas Men’s Society. Under the leadership of the clergy and Youth and Young Adult Director, ministry is offered to the youth and young adults of the parish community. Organizations are broken up into age-specific groups, including JOY (Junior Orthodox Youth) Club (ages 7-12), Teen SOYO (ages 13-18), OCF (Orthodox Christian Fellowship) (ages 18-22), and YAM (Young Adult Ministries) (ages 21-40).
St George Houston teens win "Chapter of the Year 2009" with Bishop Basil
Orthodox Young Adult Book Club 2012 with Bishop Thomas
 The parish has an active liturgical life including Great Vespers on Saturday evening, Matins and Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, and Daily Vespers on Wednesday evening, along with Divine Liturgies for feastdays during the week. The parish also offers catechism courses for those converting to Orthodoxy, and Bible Studies. In the fall, the parish hosts a weekly Family Night program on Wednesday evenings which include Daily Vespers, educational classes for all ages, and fellowship/dinner.
Clergy of St George Houston

Ladies Altar Society of St George Houston
 The parish offers numerous opportunities for ministry to those in need through the programs of the parish. Monthly visits by the clergy and laity to elderly who are sick or shut in, and visits to the Houston Food Bank and Star of Hope Community Center. Large number of parishioners “serve” during liturgical services, such as altar servers, choir and chanters, and ushers. The Church School program educates over 150 children and youth on Sundays, and Vacation Bible School during the summer. This program is a joint effort between St George Church and Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral which offers a week long program for over 200 children.
Vacation Bible School 2013
The children and youth of the parish also participate in summer camping programs at Camp St Raphael near Tulsa, OK and Antiochian Village near Pittsburgh, PA. The teens of the parish are extremely active both on a parish and diocesan level, participating in various Teen SOYO retreats, service projects, and fellowship throughout the year, including the annual Diocesan Basketball Tournament and Retreat, Advent Retreat, and Winter Camp. The OCF and YAM groups have hosted retreats and conferences for college students and young adults in the region, as well as OCF Coffee House and Game Nights, Orthodox Young Adult Book Club, and monthly service projects in downtown Houston.

St George Houston teens at Winter Camp 2012
 The parish community has also been a “hot spot” for visiting hierarchs and national gatherings for the Archdiocese and other jurisdictions and organizations. Over the last decade, the parish has hosted visits from the patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, as well as fundraisers and meetings of the following organizations of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North America: IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities), OCF, OCMC (Orthodox Christian Mission Center), OCPM (Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry), and Camping and Youth Committee. Most recently, the parish hosted the 51st Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese Convention in the summer of 2013.
The parish is extremely active interacting with local Orthodox churches in Greater Houston, which has 21 Orthodox communities from various jurisdictions. The clergy meet on a monthly basis, as well as host annual events throughout the year to support the witness of Orthodoxy in Houston and surrounding cities, such as Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers and Fellowship, Vacation Bible School for children and youth. In 2003, as part of our 75th Anniversary Celebration, His Grace, Bishop Basil presided over the groundbreaking for the new Administrative and Educational Building. In November of 2005, His Grace returned to bless and dedicate our new wing. In 2006 the Parish Hall was completely updated and renovated. Continuing the need for expansion the parish community voted in the fall of 2013 to expand the sanctuary which is scheduled for completion by January 2015. St George Church continues to grow, thanks to the leadership of clergy and laity, who strongly desire to worship God and serve His creation. Glory be to God!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Theophany (Baptism of our Lord) Quiz

Blessed Great Feast of Theophany (Baptism of our Lord)
- January 6

Please enjoy this fun quiz related to this Great Feast in the Life of the Church and feel free to share among your family and friends!

1. Which Gospel does not record the Baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ?

A. Matthew        B. Mark
C. Luke              D. John

2. Which animal symbolizes the "Descent of the Holy Spirit" during the Baptism of Jesus?

A. Eagle          B. Dove
C. Hawk          D. Turkey

3. In what river was Jesus baptized?

A. Jordan      B. Nile
C. Tigris        D. Lakhish

4. Fill in the blank: According to the Gospel narratives of the Baptism of Jesus, a voice is heard from heaven saying, "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well ____."

A. Loved              B. Pleased
C. Concerned       D. Desired

5. What does "Theophany" mean?

A. God becoming man         B. Descent of the Holy Spirit
C. Baptism                          D. Appearance/Manifestation of God

6. If Theophany is celebrated on a Sunday, which Liturgy is called to be served?

A. Liturgy of Basil the Great                              B. Liturgy of John Chrysostom
C. Liturgy of James the Brother of our Lord      D. Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts

7. What is blessed by the clergy in the weeks following the Great Feast of Theophany?

A. Cars            B. Grapes
C. Homes         D. Flesh-meats and cheeses

8. Who baptized Jesus in the river?

A. Joseph           B. John
C. Joachim         D. Zachariah

9. The person who performed the baptism, how is he related to Jesus?

A. Cousin               B. Brother
C. Grandfather       D. Uncle

10. How old was Jesus when He was baptized?

A. 2         B. 12
C. 18       D. 30

11. What is blessed/sanctified during the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus?

A. Water          B. Candles
C. Crosses        D. Palms

12. Following the Baptism of Jesus, how many days does He spend in the wilderness?

A. 3        B. 9
C. 20      D. 40

13. Whose feastday called the "Synaxis of ____" is celebrated on January 7th, the day after the Great Feast of Theophany?

A. Prophet David           B. Joseph the Betrothed
C. John the Baptist        D. Virgin Mary

14. The Gospel of Matthew describes Jesus being ministered to following His baptism while in the wilderness, stating: "____ came and ministered to Him" (4:11). Who ministers to Jesus?

A. Holy Spirit         B. Angels
C. Disciples            D. Satan

15. What is another common descriptive term/title used for the person who baptized Jesus?

A. Betrothed           B. Disciple
C. Forerunner         D. Wonder-worker

The Answer Key is below, please highlight to view:

1. D   6. A    11. A
2. B   7. C    12. D
3. A   8. B    13. C
4. B   9. A    14. B
5. D  10. D   15. C

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Quiz

'Tis the Season...please enjoy this Christmas Quiz:

1. Of the gifts listed below, which one is NOT what the Magi (Wise Men from the East) brought to the Christ-child?

a. gold     b. myrrh
c. silver   d. frankincense

2. Into what country did Joseph and Mary take baby Jesus to flee the persecution of King Herod?
a. Lebanon    b. Syria
c. Egypt         d. Jordan
3. When does the Nativity Fast (Advent) begin?
a. November 15    b. November 20
c. December 1      d. December 10
4. What does "advent" mean?
a. going       b. hoping
c. waiting    d. coming
5. When is the feastday of St Nicholas?
a. December 1     b. December 6
c. December 20   d. December 25
6. In what town was Jesus born?
a. Nazareth       b. Jerusalem
c. Bethlehem    d. Bethany
7. What led the Wise Men (Magi) to worship the Christ-child?
a. a star       b. the moon
c. the sun    d. a compass
8. Which ruler was searching for the Christ-child (Messiah) to kill him?
a. Pontius Pilate    b. Caesar Augustus
c. Caiaphas            d. Herod
9. What does "Emmanuel" mean?
a. Messiah        b. God with us
c. Jesus           d. Savior
10. What does "nativity" mean?
a. birth                  b. death
c. being created    d. blessing
11. Fill in the blank: "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of _____, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1).
a. Joseph    b. Mary
c. David      d. God
12. Which prophet said: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel?"

a. David      b. Jeremiah
c. Elijah      d. Isaiah

13. Upon learning the news of Mary's pregnancy, Joseph contemplates sending her away secretly, not wanting to disgrace her. Who tells him that "the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit?"

a. the high priest     b. an angel
c. his friend             d. his cousin

14. Fill in the blank: Angels appeared to the shepherds in the fields telling them the good news of the birth of the Messiah. They were praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, ______ towards men" Luke 2.14).

a. goodwill    b. salvation
c. love          d. joy

15. In Orthodox theology, what does "incarnation" mean?

a. the Anointed One       b. birth
c. God becoming man     d. salvation

The Answer Key is below, please highlight to view:

Answer Key:
1. C   6. C   11. C
2. C   7. A   12. D
3. A   8. D   13. B
4. D   9. B   14. A
5. B  10. A  15. C

- A Day in the Life of the "Former" Youth Director Now Turned Seminarian

Thursday, April 11, 2013

OCF Real Break Constantinople 2013: College Student Reflection

Our guest blogger is Alexa Janda of Houston, TX. She is a sophomore at the University of Texas-Austin, studying Nutrition. She has been an active member of the parish community of St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, TX. Alexa recently traveled to Istanbul, Turkey to participate in Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) Real Break. These "real breaks" serve as alternative destinations/trips for college students throughout the US & Canada to offer service to their "neighbor." Please enjoy reading her reflection upon coming home from this amazing experience, as well as the awesome pictures:

My decision to serve with the OCF Real Break mission trip to Constantinople was one of the best decisions of my life.  Initially, my spring break plan was to spend a week in Alaska with my parents.  However, my plan changed last Christmas break when I found out my two good friends Mary Catherine Huneycutt and Mary Dahdouh were going on the OCF trip.  I shared the Real Break information with my parents who instantly recognized what an amazing opportunity this trip would be for me.  I registered for OCF Real Break not realizing that this mission trip would be a life changing experience. 

This OCF Real Break trip to Constantinople is unlike any other Real Break trip as Constantinople is a city steeped in Orthodox history.  Tragically, Christ’s beautiful and significant faith is being rooted out from Turkey.  Today, about 1% of the population maintains to be Orthodox.  Our trip had three primary objectives:  to serve the Church of Constantinople, to experience Constantinople’s extensive Orthodox history, and to meet His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. 

OCF Real Break team with His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

College students meet with and receive a blessing from Patriarch Bartholomew

His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
The first objective of this and every OCF Real Break mission trip is service in the form of manual labor.  However, unlike the other mission trips, we did not work to clean and refresh an orphanage, monastery, or church.  Instead, as requested by the Patriarch, our 22-member team spent our time restoring an unkempt and vandalized Orthodox cemetery.   To me, this seemed a little odd at first.  Why weren’t we disposing ourselves to the living rather than to the dead?  I quickly began to realize the importance or the assignment, or rather, I thought I did.   I figured that by restoring the graves, we offer respect, remembrance, and reverence to those brothers and sisters who have gone before us (and who have limited or no family left in Turkey to keep their graves).   Our efforts would also encourage hopefulness that one day Christianity will be restored in Turkey.   Although these reasons are true, I didn’t realize what the greatest benefit would be until we actually began working.  Each passing day would give me more of an understanding into the Patriarch’s unusual request.

One of the students in our group eloquently addressed our mission when she wrote on paper what each of us wrote on our heart:

“The work is humbling because we’re not here to receive praise or rewards. We are here to care for the bodies of our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep and to commemorate them as they await the Resurrection. Graves are physical, tangible reminders to the living that life is fleeting and one day we will all rest in the ground. As Orthodox Christians, we also value human bodies as icons of Christ, sanctified by the very act of the Incarnation, and strive to care for them even after the soul has departed. Caring for the dead concretely demonstrates our theology and eschatology to the rest of the world and is the least we can do for the small Orthodox presence in Constantinople. Finally, our work is an excellent analogy to preparation for Lent. Just as we are using rakes, rags, and shovels to uncover these broken stones in order to piece together the graves, our Lenten journey is also a tool designed to help us uncover our broken hearts in order to piece ourselves back together by the grace of God. This is a never-ending journey of physical and spiritual restoration which will not cease until we, too, are laid in the ground awaiting the Resurrection.” 
- Alison Sailer Bennett (OCF Real Break participant) 

OCF Real Break group

Orthodox Christian Cemetery at the Phanar (in great need of repair)

Fr Mark Leondis (group leader) playing the role of lumber jack

Group effort is effective!

Orthodox Cemetery at the Phanar
As our focus changed from worker to tourist, we visited the Church of the Panagia (Mother of God) Vlacherna, the Chora museum, the Orthodox seminary on Halki Island (which has been closed by the government for over 40 years), the Church of St Mary of the Spring, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, and both the Spice and Grand Bazaars.  Each and every one of these sites was so very different and so very captivating.  Each spoke to us of its history.   But as you can imagine, of particularly great import was our visit to the Hagia Sophia.  The architecture of this once active Orthodox Church turned mosque turned museum was amazingly exquisite.   Most of the gorgeous mosaics were, and still are, covered in plaster.  Unfortunately, the overall condition of the Church is both disheartening and politically eye opening.

I must confess that the absolute pinnacle of the entire trip for me was our audience with His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew at the Phanar, the headquarters of the Patriarchate.  Knowing that I was blessed to stand beside His All-Holiness, a truly God-fearing, humble and influential man, still blows my mind.  The fact that he made the time to meet with us and thank US for giving our vacation time to help him minister to his flock is beyond words.  He told us that we are a witness to the remaining Christians in Turkey that they are not alone.  That Orthodoxy IS alive.  The Patriarch instructed us to be the “leaven to the bread” of our world, to rise above the earth’s sinful nature.  My initial nervousness calmed into a feeling of welcome and love as this amazing man spoke.  His All-Holiness is a true inspiration.

This trip offered so many wonders packed into a mere 5 days.  The work, the friendship, the spirituality, and yes, many, many laughs combined to make this trip one of, if not the highlight of my life.  We laughed as our bus driver spoke Turkish to the church grounds keeper who would translate Turkish to Arabic for someone to translate Arabic to Greek and then to someone who would bring the comment home to our English.  (We did wonder just how closely what we heard in English matched the original Turkish.)  We prayed daily.  We worked ‘til we ached.   We marveled at how a group of 22 strangers from all over the United States could bond so closely to each other in such a short period of time.  We cried at the restored cemetery when we prayed the Trisagion before our final exit for we knew that our group had become a family and our prayers were sincerely offered for our beloved brothers and sisters resting here until the Resurrection.  But mostly, we thank those Orthodox who have gone before us and those courageous ones currently struggling for preserving our Faith in a non-Christian land.   
Skyline of Istanbul, Turkey

Iconastasis at a local Orthodox Church

Hagia Sophia

Venerating an icon at a local Orthodox Church
In the end, I learned that it was not I who had served those who lay at rest, but they who had served me.   Without uttering a word, they gave me new insight into our Faith.  They helped me understand as a young adult what I had been taught as a child.  Now, I grasp that their lives and those of all Orthodox live on in the Faith.   I am beginning to “get” the Divine Liturgy.  My ears are open and I hear the Liturgy as I’ve never heard it before.  No longer are the Litanies just tedious words followed by a “Lord Have Mercy.”   These short and fervent prayers are meaningful, necessary and timeless.  Through death, I have discovered life, my life in Christ and His Holy Orthodox Church. 

So did I serve on OCF Real Break?   No, not at all.   I was blessed by it.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Friday, March 8, 2013

Psalter Reading Group: Lent 2013


As our Lenten journey is fast approaching (pun intended), we will have another Psalter Reading Group with the Orthodox community in Houston, especially our teens and young adults at St George Houston.

It's a simple concept: you will be assigned to read various small selections from the Book of Psalms DAILY ON YOUR OWN throughout Great Lent. So that during your Lenten journey, you will end up reading through the entire Book of Psalms TWICE. The really cool concept is that if everyone sticks with it and reads their different selection of psalms each day, the entire Book of Psalms will be read by the group EACH & EVERY DAY of Great Lent. Get it??

If you are interested in participating in this Lenten program, please respond and let me know. I will put together a list of participants and assigning the selection of psalms. I will email out the final list prior to the beginning of Great Lent (March 18), so please let me know!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Winter Camp 2013: Teen Reflections

During President's Day weekend (February 2013), a group of over 100 teens from across the Diocese of Wichita & Mid-America gathered for Winter Camp at a YMCA Camp called Takatoka outside of Tulsa, OK, or as we all know it, especially when we are present: Camp St Raphael (YaBoy!). Please enjoy reading a few teen reflections from their experience and pictures from all the festivities:

Winter Camp 2013
"'I’ve got my ticket for the long way ‘round, the one with the prettiest of views. It’s got mountains, it’s got rivers, it’s got sights to give you shivers, but it sure would be prettier with you.' Camp St Raphael (YaBoy!) is a beautiful place on its own, but even in the dead of winter, it blooms with the presence of campers from across our diocese.

Prior to President’s Day weekend in February, I was counting the days and hours until we boarded the plane for Wagoner, Oklahoma: the small town in the middle of America, where everyone at Camp St Raphael can call home. Winter Camp is the ideal getaway from this hectic life, to retreat into the woods and find friendship, faith, and love.

I’m so glad to have gone to Winter Camp because I got the chance to make and strengthen friendships with people from Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. These are the friendships that last, for these friendships are connected by a bond stronger than we can measure. Fr James Shadid made our lessons fun and an interactive way to learn the Gospel. Where else could you find the Prodigal Son being portrayed by a guy from Houston, Sawageds acting out Adam and Eve, and an analogy relating Christ’s love to Lady Gaga’s 'Bad Romance?' Now I’m restless to return this summer!"   -Written by Pilar Z.

Photo bomb by Fr James (look closely!)

Teens visiting the Outdoor Chapel

Epistle Reading during Divine Liturgy

"'Friendship is like standing on wet cement. The longer you stay, the harder it is to leave, and you can never go without leaving your footprints behind.' Winter Camp 2013 was filled with some of the best memories of my life. As a 4 year camper, I have been to many retreats, but of all the retreats, this one was by far the best.

Winter Camp St Raphael is a retreat that DOWAMA annually plans located at Camp Takatoka in Wagoner, Oklahoma. Many people from various cities in our diocese, such as Wichita, Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas, and Denver joined together to be surrounded by fellow Orthodox Christians who share the same beliefs. It gives us Orthodox Christians a chance to escape the real world and be surrounded by our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Each participant is very welcoming, introducing themselves to people they don't know and making everyone feel at home. Everyone met new people and enjoyed the time spent with each other. Music would be playing in the dining hall as someone played the tubleh and everyone would clap, sing, or dance along. Hiking with your friends, laughing and learning during discussions, and showing people a good time at the hafleh made this weekend one of the best yet. Having a 'Riff-off' around the campfire just brought everyone closer than ever. Although I enjoyed every part of WAMP, my all-time favorite part was cabin time. Cabin time was filled with laughter, from jokes about being Arab to the struggles of hiking. That time was a strong bonding time for me, where strangers and old friends really became sisters. The memories in cabin time, sharing secrets and 'eating our feelings away,' were memories that I will never forget.

Neon Hafli (such bright colors!)

St George Houston group picture

We were lucky enough to have Fr James Shadid of St George Houston as our speaker for Winter Camp. Although he claims to 'not be prepared,' he did a fantastic job getting all the teenagers involved in the discussion. Fr James focused on 3 words: Sin, Exile, and Redemption. On the first day of WAMP, he asked one simple question to the campers, 'what are we NOT going to talk about at this retreat?' Answers varied from 'door handles' to 'Ke$ha' to '2 Chainz' to even 'Yo Mamma!'  He made a promise that if he didn't talk about each topic that we weren't supposed to talk about, he would pay each parish $100. Of course, he kept his promise and made sure to talk about every single topic!

Not only did Fr James made everyone feel welcomed, he made sure everyone had a chance to participate. He passed out 'Pick Me' signs to people who wanted to participate. There was only one rule: if you wanted to participate, you had to do exactly what Fr James told you to do! One girl received a piece of chocolate while another got water splashed on her face! Some had to do push-ups while others were forced to actually throw water on Fr James's face! He had many volunteers to reenact lessons from the Bible, which gave everyone a hilarious visualization of the stories. Fr James taught everyone that 'God is a stalker' and we will always receive His grace no matter what.

The last day of Winter Camp was bittersweet. Best friends were forced to go back to their home town and face reality on their own. Getting teary-eyed as each bus left Camp St Raphael (YaBoy!) was probably the worst part of the retreat, but I know that the memories from this retreat will be kept with me for the rest of my life. 'It's fine by me, if you never leave, we could live like this forever, it's fine by me!'"
   -Written by Julianna Z.

Advisors doing what we do - advise!

Neon Hafli group picture

The fellas of St George Houston!
At camp, you make friends, more strong bonds between older friends, and learn how to live your life in accordance to Christ. It is the perfect place to go when you need a retreat from life. The friends you make there are going to be with you for life. Your camp friends share something that most of your friends don’t. We share our beliefs, our cultures, and our lifestyles. You never really have to explain at camp why, no matter where you are, when you hear the tubleh, you form a dabke line.

In addition to the friendships that you form at camp, you also learn teachings that stay with you for the rest of your life. With great speakers giving the talks each day at wamp, you learn lessons that add meaning to the term 'Orthodox.' Whether Fr James has to throw water in your face, or jump on you to get you to learn these lessons, he will, and has shown that he will. That’s because the teachings are important, and it helps us grow as Christians. Camp has a magical feel to it. When you are there, you feel an incredible sensation throughout your whole being that makes you smile."    -Written by Alexander Z.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director