Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christ centered Life - WAMP 2011

WINTER CAMP @ Camp St Raphael

January 14-17, 2011 (MLK weekend)

Join teens from across DOWAMA at WAMP 2011 for a fun-filled experience!

Registration form available at the website for DOWAMA Teen SOYO and cost is ONLY $90 for teens and ONLY $45 for advisors/chaperones.

Participants from the Greater Houston & Dallas/Ft. Worth areas are invited to use the transportation services provided by St. George Houston.  A charter bus ride costs ONLY $100 and seats are limited, so contact the Youth Director of St. George Houston immediately to reserve your spot TODAY!

WAMP Registration and Transportation deadline is Friday, January 7th, 2011!

Enjoy some photos from WAMP - Texas Style (February 26-28, 2010) hosted in Huntsville, TX by St. George Houston Teen SOYO:

WAMP counselors

Teens during Speaker session

Small groups are the best!

His Grace, Bp THOMAS

Great Entrance during Liturgy at WAMP

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Psalms: Hidden in the Liturgical Life of the Church

Ever attended Vespers, Compline, Matins (Orthros), or Divine Liturgy?

Ever read or heard the words from the Book of Psalms?

If you've answered YES to the first question, then its a definite YES to the second question!

I've never done the math to be precise, but I would venture to guess that about 70% of the words used during services either quote directly from the Psalms or relate to themes within this marvelous work ascribed to the great King of Israel, David

At St. George Houston, TX we hold a weekly Bible Study class on Tuesday mornings at 10:00a led by one of our knowledgeable and talented clergy.  This class, usually between 10 and 20 participants, has been one of the great blessings for me since coming to St. George as the Youth Director in the late summer of 2008.  I must admit and please forgive me, I was highly suspect in my requirement for my new job to be in attendance.  Much to my extreme delight, I was horribly WRONG!

The past few months, we've been working our way (slowly and surely) through the Book of Psalms reading from The Orthodox Study Bible, but heavily relying upon the commentary provided by the Very Rev. Fr. Patrick Reardon, pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, IL.  His book entitled Christ in the Psalms offers context and insight while reading through and studying the Book of Psalms.

My main focus for this post is simply to provide you with the lightning bolt that idiotically struck me:

When I attend the Orthodox services at Church, I am reading, listening, chanting, and praying the Psalms!  This book of the Old Testament has been called the "Song Book of the Church;" the words provide us with a great deal of insight into our own humanity.  While going through the range of emotions and struggling to find the exact words to describe how you feel, please rest assured that it can be found within the words ascribed to the great King and Prophet David.  When you are feeling joyful, excited, cared for and any other positive feeling OR very opposite the spectrum, feeling sad, angry, abandoned and any other negative feeling OR anywhere in the vast middle, you are not alone! The Psalmist David has found the words to help you describe, understand, or work through that feeling. 

David's own words truly penetrate the heart, mind, and soul of us all, most especially with our interactions with others and our worship of God.  The examples of too numerous to go into great detail and length, but here are a few:

- "Bless the Lord, O my soul..." (Psalm 103) is read at the beginning of every Vespers.
- Daily & Great Prokeimenon are all taken from the Psalms, such as "Who is so great a God as our God..." (Psalm 76).
- "Have mercy upon me, O God..." (Psalm 50) is read during Matins as the people venerate the Holy Gospel Book.
- "Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered..." (Psalm 67, vv. 2-4) is sung or chanted throughout the Paschal season with the refrain (Christ is risen...).
- "Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens and Thy glory over all the earth" (Psalm 107, v. 6) is said by the priest after Holy Communion has be served.
- "God is the Lord who has shown us Light; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord..." (Psalm 117, vv. 27a, 26a) sung with verses during Matins.
- "Blessed be the name of the Lord, henceforth and forever" (Psalm 112, v. 2) is sung at the close of Divine Liturgy.
- "O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endures forever..." (Psalm 135) along with Psalm 34 are known as the Polyeleos or "Many Mercies" and form the core of Matins for the great feast days of the Church.  This psalm has also become widely popular among Orthodox children and teenagers at Church Camps, such as the Antiochian Village and Camp St. Raphael, sung during Holy Communion and as a processional hymn.

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- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Monday, December 13, 2010

"'Tis the Season"...Yes, You were Saying?

It's that time of year again, ya know, for Christmas and all the joy it brings, such as Santa Claus and his reindeer, snow-falling, presents, hideous festive sweaters, caroling, decorations, work parties, Christmas bonuses (well maybe not so much in this economy), etc.

With all that joy, what's an Orthodox Christian to do during such a season?  What's that you say Church, you want me to not eat certain foods (Nativity Fast), donate more to my parish community, wrap presents for kids that I don't know, avoid Christmas parties and dancing?

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I don't know how to respond to such nonsense.  All my friends are at the mall shopping, my family is busy decorating our Christmas tree and house, and I'm a little preoccupied making my Christmas "wish list" for Santa!

'Tis the Season...Yes, You were Saying?  There's another "reason for the season" you claim?  Well, don't keep me in suspense, let's hear it!

Put Christ back into Christmas!  Remember the real reason for the season is that Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, came into the world and dwelt among men, taking on Himself the sins of the world so that we might have life in Him.

“God is with us! Understand O nations and submit yourselves, for God is with us!” (Isaiah 8:9)

Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Young Adult Ministries (YAM) of Houston Christmas Dinner & Toy Drive 2010

Join us for our Annual YAM Christmas Dinner & Toy Drive on Thursday, December 9th hosted by Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral from 6:30p till 8:30p.

It will be a great evening, so bring your friends and families (especially the little ones)!

Dinner, Fellowship, Lecture, and Toy Drive to support the Children's Assessment Center (CAC).  This organization provides professional and compassionate treatment of sexually abused children and their families.

Christmas Tree @ AGOC

Toys collected for the children of CAC

Group photo time!!

Visit the CAC website HERE for more information.

Contact Fr. Nicholas Hadzellis, associate pastor of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral for more information regarding our YAM Christmas Dinner at OR visit our YAM Fellowship website HERE.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Monday, December 6, 2010

Who is Your Patron Saint?

A patron saint is regarded as a heavenly intercessor of a person, nation, occupation, organization, or activity.  As Orthodox Christians, we should have a patron saint (usually its your first or middle name which you share in common with a Saint of the Church). 

A great article was posted internationally with The National Post concerning Orthodox Christians and their patron saints.

Apostle Paul, my patron saint

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Recently, in our High School Sunday School class I asked our teens if they knew who the name of the patron saint, his/her feastday on the Church calendar, any information about the life of this saint.  The variety of response was astonishing!  Some easily responsed, like answering correctly in school, others simply recited their first name, but knew nothing else, and yet some were completely lost at the question.

Our Life in Christ is a very tangible.  While in Church, we smell the incense, hear the words read, chanted, or sung, see the icons, liturgical "tools," and colorful vestments, hold in our hands a bulletin or prayer/service book, and so much more.  Our knowledge of a personal patron saint is very tangible in a sense.  We learn about his/her life; how their struggles relate to our own and can receive special guidance when dealing with temptation.

Examples of Patron Saints:

Your Parish Community bears the name of a Saint (St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church Houston, TX)
Teen SOYO (St. John Chrysostom)
Orthodox Christian Fellowship (St. Catherine of Alexandria)
Fellowship of St. John the Divine
Order of St. Ignatius
Chefs or Cooks (St. Euphrosynos)
Physicians (St. Panteleimon)
Iconographers (St. Luke)
Soldiers (St. George)
Travelers (St. Nicholas)
Singers (St. Romanos the Melodist)

If you have a patron saint, increase your knowledge about his/her life and make an effort to include this saint in your Liturgical Life.

If you don't have a patron saint or don't know of one, discuss with your parents, godparents, and parish priest.

There are numerous traditions associated with having a patron saint, such as attending services on their feast day, having their icon in your house, and reading/singing their troparion in your daily prayers.

For more information regarding patron saints, visit HERE.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

OCF Orthodox Coffee House 2010 - Revisited

On Thursday, November 18th St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, TX hosted its Annual OCF Orthodox Coffee House.

We began the evening with Daily Vespers in St. Elizabeth Chapel commemorating the Holy Prophet Obadiah & Martyr Barlaam of Caesarea (November 19th) with over 40 college students and young adults "actively participating" in the service by taking turns reading the Stichera during "O Lord, I have cried" and the Aposticha, as well as singing the responses.  It was truly a blessing to witness!

Following Vespers, we listened to talks on the Advent Season and the Icon of the Nativity of Christ by Rev. Fr. Nicholas Hadzellis, associate pastor of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral and Rev. Fr. Symeon Kees, associate pastor of St. George.

We then headed to the Church Fellowship Hall for our Orthodox Coffee House to enjoy delicious sweets/desserts, an assortment of fruits, flavorful coffee and tea, lively conversations, and fun-filled games. 

Many thanks to our area clergy for their support and all those who attended!

Enjoy some pictures courtesy of Ivette Mekdessi, President of OCF at the University of Houston:

Fr. Nicholas discussing the Advent Season

Smile Timmy...

Like these guys are smiling!

George obviously enjoys the evening - two big thumbs up!

Happy Birthday Monica...

Anddd Joseph, Happy Birthday!

Making sure the game is fair - I'm a competitive Taboo player

Our Game Moderator for the evening - some people
can't handle the pressure apparently

Who gave them a knife? - Yikes!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teen SOYO Advent Retreat

St. George Teen SOYO is hosting an Advent Retreat (December 17-19, 2010) at our Church in Houston, TX.
Adoration of the Magi

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"For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him." 
-Matthew 2:2

Our Advent Retreat will Discussion & Small Group sessions focusing on emulating the Magi (Wise Men) described in the Gospel according to St. Matthew.  Topics include their following the Star to the Christ-child, their gifts to honor His coming, and offering worship to our God.

Retreat speakers are Rev. Fr. Symeon Kees, associate pastor and Paul Fuller, Youth Director of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church Houston, TX.

For more information, please visit our Facebook Event under "St. George in Houston Teen SOYO" or click HERE.

Enjoy some pictures from SOYO Advent Retreat 2009:

Jabra Tannous, Youth Director of St. Anthony in Spring, TX
leading a small group session

Such attentive teens - let it soak in guys!

Who asked that guy to talk??

Chanting Session

Service Project - Sending Christmas cards
to our Troops bravely serving overseas

Small group discussion

Girls too cool to partake in outdoor time

Playing Angleball (YaBoy!)

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Monday, November 29, 2010

How Do You Wear Your Cross?

It's difficult to reflect upon the title question above with any humor or light-heartedness, although leave it to me to try.

No, seriously, I'm asking you:


Comments (anonymous or otherwise) are greatly welcomed OR if you are one of my teens, college students, or young adults, further individual discussion is strongly encouraged. 

This blog post is not meant to be judgemental on my behalf and I'll put my money where my mouth is (so to speak) and prove it.

Recently during one of my confessions (don't worry ya'll I'm definitely not going to share any juicy details), while discussing what I would consider "normal" struggles in my daily life, the priest asked, "do you wear a cross around your neck?"  Ashamed and embarrassed, I responded with "no."  With no judgement (thank God), he asked why not and allowed me to give it my best attempt to justify my reasoning.  So I gave it my best attempt to justify my rationale.

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"I'm ashamed to see, feel, or think about a cross around my neck with the way I think, talk, and act."

"I don't want to bring negative attention to my Faith, Church, and Christ through my words or actions."

"I might want to avoid questions from strangers about my faith."

Interrupting me (I guess worried that I could continue with other "justifications"), he said, "well, that's the point!"

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The priest went on to explain that the cross is my lifeline when temptations arise.  I'm not supposed to feel comfortable while wearing a cross around my neck; I'm supposed to be constantly aware that I have a cross on me.  The cross allows me to have that extra reminder before I think bad thoughts, say mean things, and act selfishly or unkindly towards others.  The material around my neck in the shape of a cross, whether it be gold, silver, or fabric won't in itself stop me in my tracks beforehand.  However, the knowledge of what the cross stands for, and more importantly Christ's humiliating death upon the Cross and His glorious Resurrection offers me the ONLY opportunity for Salvation (attainment of the Kingdom of Heaven).  We now refer to that death upon the cross as the "Life-giving Cross!"

St. Luke Orthodox Church, Palos Hills, IL

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"Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master; and Thy Holy Resurrection, we glorify!"

Although, my daily struggles of trying to live a life worthy of Christ continue, I take great comfort and refuge in that cross around my neck. 

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Boy Who Didn't Want To Go To Church

This past Sunday at St. George Orthodox Church in Houston, TX I had a very "thoughtful" encounter with a little boy about 10 years old as Divine Liturgy was starting. 

I'm walking down the hallway towards my office and I notice a little boy sitting in a chair - more like laying down in a chair, he was comfortable to say the least - playing on a handheld video game.  He was all by himself, just enjoying his game.  As Youth Director, I obviously felt obligated to correct his error of not being inside the Church during Liturgy with his family. 

And boy, was he not happy that I stopped to talk with him.  I went over to him and held out my hand to greet him good morning.  It was apparently too much for him to pause his ever-important game and reach up and shake my hand.  The coversation with "Little Billy" as we shall call him - a safe name to use at St. George so no parents call me yelling - went down like this:

Paul:  "Are you waiting for your parents to park the car?"

Little Billy:  "Nope."

Paul:  "Where are your parents then?"

Little Billy:  "I don't care."

That response didn't really answer my question, but OK!

Paul:  "Why aren't you in Church? Ya need to get into Church and sit with your family."

Little Billy:  "I don't want to go Church."

Paul:  "Listen, its important for you to be in Church; that's the reason why you're here.  Not to just sit here and play with your videogame."

Little Billy:  "I don't care."

Paul:  "Are you planning on taking Communion today?"

Little Billy:  "Ya, what time is Communion?"

Apparently there are some people who have it timed down when Communion starts at St. George (or any other Orthodox Church), which is impressive considering I pretty much attend every Sunday Liturgy and definitely don't know what time Communion starts!

Paul:  "I don't know what time it starts, but if you are taking Communion you definitely need to be inside the Church!"

Little Billy:  "Oh, then I'm not taking Communion."

Paul:  "Come on...stand up, let's go!"

I walked him back into the Church to sit with his parents as I went back to my office to print what I needed for Sunday School.  Not 10 minutes passed and I'm walking towards the Church from my office and who do I see??

Little Billy sitting in that same chair with his video game!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Reason for the Season: Journey through Advent

The six weeks prior to Christmas (the Nativity of our Lord in the Flesh) is a fasting period that many call Advent. Advent means “coming.” It is that period of time when we find ourselves waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. For this reason, it has a different character than other fasting periods. Although there is an element of preparation involved, it is not the same as the Great Fast that precedes Holy Week and Pascha.

Nativity of Christ

The liturgical preparation is limited to the two Sundays before the Nativity and the five days leading up to the feast. Those two Sundays we are reminded of the Holy Ancestors of God and the Holy Fathers, Patriarchs, and Prophets who played a role in the coming of the Messiah. In the hymns of the Sunday cycle of services, we hear of their great faith and are called to build our own.

For most of us, we are anxious to get to the feast — we want the days to rush by. Our preparation usually consists of shopping and decorating, not to speak of the endless parties that we are invited to attend. Here is where the notion of waiting comes into play. We must discipline ourselves through self control and patience. We are to read the Scriptures, specifically the prophecies that speak of the coming of the Messiah. We are to turn our focus to a Godly way of life that calls for sacrificing and almsgiving (acts of mercy). Let us think of charity and the giving of our time, talents, and resources to others that may be in need. There is no better way to imitate Christ than to be loving and charitable towards others.

A word to the wise — put Christ back into Christmas. Find the meaning of the feast by understanding the importance of the Son of God taking on human flesh. Remember the real reason for the season is that Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, came into the world and dwelt among men, taking on Himself the sins of the world so that we might have life in Him.

“God is with us! Understand O nations and submit yourselves, for God is with us!” (Isaiah 8:9)

Reading stolen from the Antiochian Archdiocese website

Your local parish community offers numerous opportunities to increase your prayer life, discipline your mind and body, and offer charity to others.  Please check your calendar of events at your parish for dates and times to attend such activities and services.

For a wonderful time spent during the Advent season find a book to read and slowly, but surely you will make your way through it(much like your Lenten journey). I suggest Fr. Thomas Hopko's The Winter Pascha. It is truly a blessed "benchmark" to return to daily as life gets more chaotic as you struggle through your Advent season.

Snow in Houston '09

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Friday, November 12, 2010

Saint John Chrysostom: Author of the Divine Liturgy

On November 13, in the Life of the Church, we commemorate our Holy Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople.

John Chrysostom

The Life of John Chrysostom is well recorded through his own writings and orations and the writings of numerous Church Fathers. Because many of these writings have been translated to English in the past century, great interest has been shown in this prominent Father. Saint John was surnamed Chrysostom ("Golden-mouth") because of his eloquence. He made exhaustive commentaries on the divine Scriptures and was the author of more works than any other Church Father, leaving us complete commentaries on the Book of Genesis, the Gospels of Saints Matthew and John, the Acts and all the Epistles of Saint Paul. Numerous teachers of the Church have written homilies of praise in his honor. Besides his feast today and on January 27 (Translation of his Holy Relics), he is also commemorated on January 30, together with Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory the Theologian on the Synaxis of the Ecumenical Teachers & Hierarchs.

The Service of Divine Liturgy celebrated on most Sundays and on special feast days during the week throughout the Church Year are ascribed to Saint John Chrysostom.  
This has a great deal of influence upon modern Orthodox Christians, while many denominations attempt to turn to traditional styles/get "retro" in their style of worship, as Orthodox Christians, we have a practice of worship that dates back to the time of John Chrysostom in the 4th century A.D.

This rich history of Holy Tradition is what many Protestants and other forms of Christianity seem to miss out on.  Some Protestant Christians make great strides to attempt to relive or recapture the "Spirit" of Christianity in the early Church, simply by reading the Bible and making their own understanding of Church Life fit in their current way of living.

For Orthodox Christians, the early Church is OUR current Church; we have the "Holy Tradition" passed on from the Apostles of Christ to the Bishops (leaders of the Church), one of whom is John Chrysostom.  The practice of worship, the written works of the Bible, and Christian living was worked out and codified during the instrumental years of the 4th century during the times of such masterful teachers, preachers, and shepherds as our own John Chrysostom.

Icon by the hand of Nicholas Papas

What we believe as modern-day Orthodox Christians is the same as what our Church Fathers learned from the Apostles and taught to their flocks; that succession of belief and faith is what allows us as followers of Christ to proudly state on the first Sunday of Great Lent during Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers:

"This is the Faith of the Apostles; this is the Faith of the Fathers; this is the Faith of the Orthodox; this is the Faith which has established the Universe!"

Saint John Chrysostom's Paschal Homily is one of the great orations of the humility of the soul and desire to receive Christ.  For centuries, all Orthodox around the world promclaim this as they celebrate Pascha, the Resurrection of our Lord.

Our Holy Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom has made a major impact on Orthodox Christianity, as the Apostle Paul and Emperor Constantine the Great did before him.  Not only do we look back on his life as inspiration for living our own life, but as we gather for worship with our parish community, we are constantly reminded of the love Saint John Chrysostom had for his Church, his flock, and his God.

Troparion (Tone 8):
Grace shining forth from your lips like a beacon has enlightened the universe. It has shown to the world the treasures of liberality; it has revealed to us the heights of humility. Teaching us by your words, O Father John Chrysostom, intercede before the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls!

Through the prayers of our Holy Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom, intercede with Christ our God, that our souls may be saved!

- A Day in the Life of Youth Director

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

If you like coffee and dessert, you'll love the Orthodox Coffee House

OCF of Greater Houston 
invites you to an
Orthodox Coffee House

As the season of Advent in preparation for the Nativity of our Lord begins, let us gather together in Christian fellowship and enjoy the comfort of friends, the joys of sweets/desserts and coffee/tea, and enhance our understanding on the Incarnation of Christ our Lord in the Flesh.

Thursday, November 18th, 2010
7:00p till 9:30p
St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church
Church Fellowship Hall
5311 Mercer Street
Houston, TX 77005

Now, that's a cup of coffee

*Delicious sweets & desserts
*Flavored coffee & tea
*Board games & Christmas music
*Orthodox Trivia Competition with Prizes
*Advent/Christmas Discussion with Rev. Fr. Symeon Kees

Enjoy some pictures from our previous OCF Orthodox Coffee House:

Delicious sweets & desserts

OCF group photo

Assortment of coffees & teas

We even celebrated a birthday...

Cover of GQ Winter edition

Plenty of board game fun, especially backgammon (tawleh)

Smiling pretty (part 1)

Smiling pretty (part 2)

Happy Birthday Christina...she was very surprised!!

Plenty of fun last year...hope you can join us this year!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director