Friday, October 29, 2010

For Even the Demons Know Our Lord...

As the pagan world celebrates Halloween, enjoying the adornment of ghouls, ghosts, and goblins, we should reflect on what the Church teaches about demons.

Throughout Scripture, we read stories and learn about humanity's encounter with demons (devils).  One very telling story from the New Testament describes Christ's encounter with a man possessed of demons.  Taken from the Gospel according to St. Luke 8:26-39, which was the Gospel lesson from last week (October 24th for the Antiochians & Greeks) and this week (October 31st for the OCA) we read:

Then they arrived at the country of the Ger'asenes, which is opposite Galilee.  And as he stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs.  When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me."  For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert).  Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him.  And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.  Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him to let them enter these.  So he gave them leave.  Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.  When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country.  Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.  And those who had seen it told them how he who had been possessed with demons was healed.  Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Ger'asenes asked him to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so he got into the boat and returned.  The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but he sent him away, saying,  "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you."  And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.

As we discuss Halloween and how the world celebrates this pagan holiday, we should know the reality of Christianity and how evil spirits make their attempt to destroy humanity.  They try and use God's gift of free will against us.  Our pastor at St. George Houston, the Very Rev. Fr. John Salem has said numerous times that "the Devil only has as much power as we give him."  When evil enters the world, its due to our lack of love in Christ towards one another.  The demons know God and His power and might.  They recognize Him and know what torments await them for having denied our Lord.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Thursday, October 28, 2010

We're going going, back back, to OKC

St. George Teen SOYO @ OKC Basketball Tournament & Retreat

During the weekend of October 15-17, 2010 our St. George Teen SOYO participated in the 4th Annual DOWAMA SOYO Basketball Tournament & Retreat graciously hosted by St. Elijah Antiochian Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City, OK.  It was a wonderful weekend filled with tough competition, fun with friends, and most importantly, spiritual renewal.  The teen participants enjoyed their discussion sessions led by Very Rev. Fr. Antony Bahou, pastor of Sts Constantine & Helen Antiochian Orthodox Church in Dallas, TX & Spiritual Advisor of DOWAMA SOYO.  The discussions focused on "making time for God in our lives;" although it seems like a pretty straight forward idea, we learned a great deal about time management, the ability to re-focus our priorities, and giving thanks for all things to our Lord.

The weekend also featured a great deal of basketball featuring teams from DOWAMA parishes including St. George Houston, St. Elijah OKC, Sts Constantine & Helen Dallas, St. Elias Austin, St. Peter Fort Worth, St. George El Paso, St. George Wichita, St. Anthony Tulsa, and ... a very formidable "Youth Director squad."

Many thanks to the Parish Community of St. Elijah, their priests, Very Rev. Fr. Constantine Nasr & Hieromonk Jeremy Davis, and DOWAMA & Parish Youth Director, Ms. Erin Learned for their gracious hospitality.  Great job by our players: Michael F., Sliman S., Ronnie S., Paul S., and our MVP Kathrine S., who played every minute of every game. Many thanks to our dedicated and caring chaperones, George Katrib & Mazie Zaid.

Although St. George Houston took home the Championship in 2008 & 2009, we fell short in the final game, placing 2nd to St. Elijah OKC.  A funny story, just to show that Youth Directors are human too:  There is a traveling plaque that gets presented to the Champion to be displayed in the home parish for the year.  Having spent two years dusting and polishing the name tags on the plaque, I assumed the plaque would continue to find a home in my office at St. George Houston.  Hence, I left it in Houston and was unable to present the plague to the much deserved winners, St. Elijah OKC.  Since their parish was hosting the DOWAMA Fall Gathering the following weekend, I asked our Khouria Valerie Salem if she would be so kind to take the plague with her and present it. 
My apologies y'all!    

It was truly a blessed weekend and many thanks to God for our safe travels to OKC; we look forward to attending and competing again in 2011.

Enjoy some photos from the weekend thanks to Mazie Zaid:

St. George Houston SOYO

St. George Houston vs St. George Wichita

Teens just hanging out

The Bahou clan

St. George SOYO chaperones

St. George El Paso Youth Director, PJ Ferris &
St. George Houston Youth Director Paul Fuller
aka the "PFF's"

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Feast of the Holy and Glorious Great-Martyr Saint Demetrios, The Myrrh-Streamer

On October 26 in the Life of the Church, we commemorate the Holy and Glorious Great-Martyr Saint Demetrios, The Myrrh-Streamer.

Saint Demetrios suffered in Thessalonica during the reign of Galerius Maximian (c. 306). He belonged to one of the most distinguished families of the province of Macedonia and was widely admired not only because of his noble ancestry and grace of bearing, but also for virtue, wisdom and goodness of heart surpassing that of his elders.

The military expertise of Saint Demetrios led Galerius, as Caesar of the Eastern Empire, to appoint him commander of the Roman forces in Thessaly and Proconsul for Hellas. But for all this, Demetrios remained ever aware of the underlying realities of life. Since faith in Christ had touched his heart, all the glory of this world meant nothing to him, and there was nothing he preferred to teaching and preaching the word of God.

Despite the persecution directed against Christians by the Emperor, Saint Demetrios brought a large number of pagans to the faith. His words convinced them because they saw in the righteousness, peace and brotherly love that marked his life an illustration of the truth of which he spoke.

The Emperor Maximian had just won a series of brilliant victories over the Scythians and was on his way back to Rome when he halted at Thessalonica to receive the acclamations of the populace and to offer sacrifices in thanksgiving to the idols. A number of pagans, envious of the success of the Saint, took advantage of the Emperor's presence in the city to denounce Demetrios as a Christian. Maximian's astonishment gave way to violent indignation when he was told that Demetrios' was making use of his official position to spread the faith. Demetrios was summoned and confined in a cell, located in the basement of nearby baths.

Maximian arranged for games and gladiatorial combats to take place in the amphitheater of the city. He had brought with him a man of gigantic stature and Herculean strength called Lyaios, a Vandal by origin. Such was this man's strength and skill in single combat that no one could withstand him. There was in the city a young Christian called Nestor, who observing the empty pride of the Emperor in the victories of his champion, made up his mind to show him that real power belongs to Christ alone. He ran to the baths where Demetrios was imprisoned and asked for the protection of his prayer in going to confront the giant. The Martyr made the sign of the Cross on the brow and the heart of the boy, and sent him like David before Goliath. He reached the amphitheater just as the heralds were crying out on all sides for any who would stand against Lyaios. Advancing towards the Emperor, Nestor threw his tunic to the ground and shouted, "God of Demetrios, help me!" In the first encounter, at the very moment the giant rushed upon him, Nestor slipped aside and stabbed him to the heart with his dagger. There was uproar and amazement at the marvel, and people asked themselves how a mere child, relying neither on strength nor weapons, could so suddenly have brought down the barbarian.

Rather than yield to the sign of the sovereign power of God, the Emperor flew into a rage and ordered the immediate arrest of Nestor and his beheading outside the city. He had heard Nestor calling upon the God of Demetrios and, supposing the Saint had used some kind of witchcraft, Maximian ordered his soldiers to go and thrust Demetrios through with their lances, without trial, in the depths of his prison cell. There were some Christians, including Demetrios' servant Lupus, present at his martyrdom, and when the soldiers had gone, they reverently buried the Saint's body.

It was God's will that the grace with which He filled Saint Demetrios should remain active even after his death. This is why He caused to flow from his body a myron with a delightful scent, which had the property of healing all who took it as an unction, with faith in the intercession of the Saint. Time and again, during sixteen hundred years, Saint Demetrios has given proof of his benevolent care for the city of Thessalonica and its inhabitants. He has defended them from the attacks of barbarians, he has preserved them from plague and famine, healed the sick and comforted the afflicted.

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Life of St. Demetrios taken from Greek Orthodox Archdiocese website

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Friday, October 22, 2010

St James the Just - Brother of our Lord

On October 23rd in the Life of the Church, we commemorate the Holy Apostle James the Just, Brother of our Lord.

Holy Apostle James, the Brother of God (Adelphotheos) was the son of Righteous Joseph the Betrothed of the Most Holy Theotokos.  From his early years James was a Nazarene, a man especially dedicated to God. The Nazarenes vowed to preserve their virginity, to abstain from wine, to refrain from eating meat, and not to cut their hair. The vow of the Nazarenes symbolized a life of holiness and purity, commanded formerly by the Lord for all Israel. When the Savior began to teach the nation about the Kingdom of God, St James believed in Christ and became His apostle. He was chosen as the first Bishop of Jerusalem.

St James presided over the Council of Jerusalem and his word was decisive (Acts 15). In his thirty years as bishop, St. James converted many of the Jews to Christianity. Annoyed by this, the Pharisees and the Scribes plotted together to kill St James. They led the saint up on the pinnacle of the Jerusalem Temple and asked what he thought of Jesus. The holy Apostle began to bear witness that Christ is the Messiah, which was not the response the Pharisees were expecting. Greatly angered, the Jewish teachers threw him off the roof. The saint did not die immediately, but gathering his final strength, he prayed to the Lord for his enemies while they were stoning him. St James' martyrdom occurred about 63 A.D.

The holy Apostle James composed a Divine Liturgy, which formed the basis of the Liturgies of Sts Basil the Great and John Chrysostom. The Church has preserved an Epistle of St James, one of the books of the New Testament.

Life of St. James taken from OCA - Feasts & Saints

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A special shout-out to my best friend, Dr. James Salman on the occasion of his Name's Day!  God grant you many years!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Church Humor...hope you enjoy it!

Church Bulletin Bloopers:

The sermon this morning: "Jesus Walks on the Water." The sermon tonight: "Searching for Jesus."

Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be "What Is Hell?" Come early and listen to our choir practice.

Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.

Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new tithing campaign slogan last Sunday: "I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours!"

Potential Church Signs:

Little John the Baptist:

“Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receive Me." -Matthew 18:5

Johnny's mother looked out the window and noticed Him "playing church" with their cat.

He had the cat sitting quietly and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work. A while later she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the open window to see Johnny baptizing the cat in a tub of water.

She called out, "Johnny, stop that! The cat is afraid of water!"

Johnny looked up at her and said, "He should have thought about that before he joined my church."

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I basically stole these from the church website of St. Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church in Palos Hills, IL...much thanks to them for their humorous items on the website, check them all out!
-A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Loaded Question: “How often DO you…?”

I cringe when I hear the question, "How often DO you...?"; maybe you can relate to this reaction.  Feelings of guilt, shame, anger, maybe even jealousy usually creep up on me.  I start to think about how if I’m honest with myself in answering that dreaded question, it would come out like “not nearly enough!”  Can you relate to this feeling when at work, in school, daily life, or most importantly, being a Christian?

Examples for work:
“How often do you offer your friendship by listening to someone’s problems OR help out a co-worker on a project OR stay late to finish an assignment?”

Examples for school:
“How often do you practice your Spanish OR study for your exams OR pay attention during class?”

Examples for daily life:
“How often do you exercise OR eat fruits and vegetables OR call your parents while away at college OR say please and thank you?”

Examples for being a Christian:
“How often do you read your Bible OR attend Church services OR give to the poor and needy?”

Especially as a Christian, these “How often do you…” questions relate to offering your gifts and talents to those less fortunate; attending Church services; reading your Bible, writings of the Church Fathers and the lives of the Saints; offering a ride to the elderly; donating a toy at Christmas; praying for those who love us AND those who hate us; helping a friend in need; saying thank you to your parents…feel free to add your own ideas here...

But before you get discouraged and the shame and guilt quickly pour in, may I suggest a very drastic and “eternal” alternative question?

Would you rather hear “How often DID you…?” at your Last Judgment?

As Orthodox Christians, we have an opportunity to increase our response whenever asked questions about reading the Bible, going to Church services, giving to the poor and needy, offering our service and talents (whatever they may be).

This concept is taken directly from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31 through 46. These verses describe the King gathering all the nations and separating them, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will say to the sheep on his right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” Then the righteous ask the King, “when” did we do all these things for you? The King responds, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” And the King told those on his left hand (the goats) to depart from Him because they did not do those things to Him. “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

In The Orthodox Study Bible, the footnotes for this section of the Gospel states this “is not simply a parable, but a prophecy of the universal judgment that will indeed come…The standard of judgment is uncalculated mercy towards others.”

At our Last Judgment, we certainly don’t want to hear the “eternally” loaded question of “How often DID you…?”

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October is Youth Month

St. George Houston Teen SOYO has nominated and elected their 2010-2011 Officers:

President:  Danielle S.                                 
Vice President:  Vanessa H.
Secretary:  Salaam S.
Treasurer:  Sliman S.
Historian:  Ibrahim Z.

Congratulations to our new SOYO Officers;
we look forward to putting your talents to good use this upcoming year!

We also want to offer a big THANK YOU to our out-going 2009-2010 SOYO Officers:

President:  Nicola S.
Vice President:  Issa Z.
Secretary:  Vanessa H.
Treasurer:  Salaam S.
Historian:  Ronnie S.

Thanks for your hard work and effort; we look forward to your continued participation in Teen SOYO, as well as those now in college, your presence and involvement with OCF of Greater Houston.

Please enjoy this video for Teen SOYO on occasion of its 40th Anniversary (2009).

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day/Canadian Thanksgiving (2nd Monday in October)

Today, the second Monday in October is a big day in North America...

In the U.S. we celebrate Columbus Day...

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In Canada they celebrate Thanksgiving Day...

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Of course, I didn't realize it was Columbus Day as I chose to run some errands today, such as going to the Post Office in the hopes of overnighting a package and going to the bank to make a deposit, but to no avail as the sign on both doors read:  Closed in Observance of Columbus Day.  Just my luck, eh?

Anyway, have a Happy Columbus Day!

And if you're up north across the border, have a Blessed Thanksgiving Day!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Friday, October 8, 2010

Righteous Forefather & Patriarch Abraham: "Father of Many Nations"

On October 9th in the Life of the Church, we commemorate our Holy Righteous Forefather & Patriarch Abraham.

The life of Abraham can be found in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, Chapters 12-25.  His constant obedience to God has earned him the title of "Righteous" and is a wonderful example so that we may offer our own obedience and love to God.

Most know of only this "Forefather" Abraham in the history of mankind, and his famous Gettysburg Address: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal..." citation

But long before "Honest Abe" Lincoln, our God created a covenant with our Forefather & Patriarch Abraham that he would be the "father of many nations" and that his people (seed) would inherit this land ["the Promised Land"].

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Through the intercession of our Holy Father among the Saints, Righteous Abraham, O Christ our God, have mercy upon us and save us!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Unfamiliar Parables of Jesus - at least "unfamiliar" to me :)

"All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying 'I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.'" -Matthew 13:34-35

We all know the common parables spoken by our Lord to the multitude, such as:

The Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45-46)
The Ten Virgins  (Matthew 25:1-13)
The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37)
The Pharisee & the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14)

Be sure to view the links...enjoy!

I was recently telling and encouraging my teens to read their Bibles on a regular basis, and I figured why not take my own advice. I came across some "unfamiliar" parables told by Jesus that I honestly had never even heard before (confession on my part) and I thought I would share them. 

The Creditor & Two Debtors (Luke 7:40-43):
And Jesus answered and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." So he said, "Teacher, say it."  "There was a certain creditor who had two debtors.  One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both.  Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more."  Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more."  And He said to him, "You have rightly judged."

The Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9):
He also spoke this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.  Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none.  Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?' But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.  And if it bears fruit, well.  But if not, after that you can cut it down.' "

Be Lowly (Luke 14:7-11):
So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: "When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, 'Give place to this man,' and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher.' Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.  For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Biblical quotations taken from The Orthodox Study Bible.

-A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

OCF of Greater Houston @ Greek Festival 2010

Join Houston area college students and young adults at the 44th Annual Greek Festival at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral this Thursday, October 7th starting at 7:00p for dinner and fellowship.

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Visit our or the Original Greek Festival in Houston website for more information.  The Festival is at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral (3511 Yoakum Blvd. Houston, TX 77006) and runs from Thursday (10/7) till Sunday (10/10).

Come out at support our Greek friends and enjoy the company of Orthodox Christian college students and young adults...OPA!

Family Night 2010 @ St. George Houston

"We are a People of the Resurrection"

Join us this Fall on Wednesday evenings beginning September 15th

Vespers at 6:30p followed by 
Teen Discussion Series and Food/Fellowship

As Orthodox Christians, we should “be eager to present a life worthy of Christ.” As the Church, we guard and must maintain the teaching of the Resurrection and how it truly affects our lives. Some discusses we will partake in:

Resurrectional Gospel lessons…
Eternal Life vs Eternal Damnation…
Death: “the great divide” and its emotional toll…
Orthodox Funeral service and its hymnography…
Living as Christians: not wasting our talents…

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Blog Re-activated...Prepare for the Funny

This blog was used a few times by my predecessor, the former Youth Director at St. George, now Dn. Michael Sakran, soon to be Fr. Michael Sakran (ordination scheduled for Thursday, November 11th, 2010 at St. George in Houston - Axios!) to document Teen SOYO activities.

I have never blogged before, so please offer only constructive criticism, as my fragile ego might easily allow me to give up this endeavor. I decided to attempt this blog because people know me to be a bit of a talker with tons of stories. Never more true than working day in and day out in a Church setting. I don't mean to ridicule people, but some of the things you hear are too good to pass up; and I thought sharing might lighten the day for some. Hope you enjoy!

I shall start slowly and share a quote from today:

"Father, I know I need to schedule a baptism for my daughter, but the Godparents my daughter has chosen are Jewish."

-A Day in the Life of the Youth Director