Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Witnesses of the Nativity of our Lord

Without the Incarnation (God becoming man), we have no hope for salvation. That is what we celebrate with the Nativity of our Lord, the coming of Emmanuel ("God with us"). Our Lord, the Messiah came to us, became lowly and humbled Himself in order to draw us back towards Him. The Feast of His birth is our hope to attain salvation; this is the real meaning of the Feast:

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

Nativity of our Lord-in-the-Flesh
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While studying the icon above and reading the gospels' accounts of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we are introduced to many who witnessed the occasion. We should emulate their reaction to the news of the source of salvation among God's creation:

Such as the Magi (Wise Men from the East) who searched for the King, having seen His star in the East, came and worshipped Him bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, let us offer our own gifts to those in need, whether it be own time, effort, talents, or financial resources. Let us also, gather in Church to worship God.

Such as the angels who announced the good news to the shepherds and appeared to Joseph in dreams, let us be the bearer of good news sharing the love of Christ and offering praise, saying "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men" (Luke 2:14) and worshipping to God.

Such as the shepherds who heard the good news of the coming of the Messiah from the angels, and came to the place where Jesus lay, and then returned glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, let us not hide the knowledge of the Church with which we have been blessed to witness. Let us not shy away from sharing the good news of our Lord, but do so first and foremost with our actions as Christians, so as not be hypocrites.

Such as Joseph the Betrothed, who was a just man and didnt wish harm to Mary, but also being confident and courageous in what was told to him by the angel in dreams, followed directions, protecting and caring for the Babe Jesus and His Mother, let us be confident in mysteries we may not understand and have faith that Christ has come to offer us salvation.

Such as the Virgin Mary the Theotokos, who gave birth and nursed the Christ-Child, and accepted the will of God as her own, let us offer ourselves as vehicles for God's will in the world.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Offering the Virgin Mother

As we prepare for the Nativity of our Lord-in-the-Flesh, let us find our great offering and thanksgiving to the Christ-child. "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."   - Matthew 1:23

Nativity of our Lord
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"The Theotokos is creation's own chosen Mediatress before the Lord. In a pre-Nativity Vespers hymn, all of creation - rational and irrational, visible and invisible, earthly and heavenly, are represented with their own unique thanksgiving offerings to Christ in anticipation of His imminent appearance on earth:

What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, Who for our sakes hast appeared on the earth as a man? Every creature which Thou hast made offers Thee thanks. The angels offer Thee a song; the heavens, their star; the wise men, their gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger;
and we offer Thee a Virgin Mother.
O Pre-eternal God, have mercy on us!"

Taken from Mary: The Untrodden Portal of God by George S Gabriel (p. 166).

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Antony Bitar - Pop Artist

I've got to give some love to a family friend - Antony Bitar, a singer/songwriter making the scene right now.

An Orthodox Christian pop artist; he's got a great voice and amazing piano skills, with laid back and positive lyrics. His self-titled album released this past September. Bitar also wrote the new single, “On Display,” performed by Melissa Gorga, the newest housewife of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, which appeared in the current season on Bravo TV.

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Bitar just released a new single, his own version of the classic Christmas hit: Silent Night. Feel free to enjoy listening to it HERE.

Official Music Video - Butterflies

Get a nice Christmas stocking stuffer for yourself, family, and/or friend:

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Spread the word and pick up a copy of his album at iTunes HERE.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St Nicholas: The Gift of Giving

Blessed Feast of St Nicholas the Wonderworker (December 6)!

This past weekend, St George Houston hosted our annual Teen SOYO Advent Retreat (Dec 2-4, 2011). 35+ teens from St George Houston, St Joseph Houston, and Ss Constantine & Helen Dallas gathered together during this Advent season to prepare for the Nativity of our Lord. While most people are caught up in the worldly chaos of shopping, decorating, and partying, these Orthodox teens came together to learn, pray, and enjoy Christian fellowship.

Retreat participants with St Nicholas
Our theme for the Retreat was "St Nicholas: The Gift of Giving." The weekend focused on learning about the Life of St Nicholas and how to use his example in our own lives. There will be more information soon to come in the form of a reflection from the awesome weekend, but in honor of celebrating the Feast of St Nicholas, I'd like to present a very condensed version of our two workshops presented below; hope you enjoy!
St Nicholas the Wonderworker
St Nicholas is closely associated with the Great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas) because his feastday is celebrated during the Advent season as well as his example of fulfilling the Gospel with his own life. He is world-renowned for his charity and love, especially towards children. There are many myths and legends about his life, but he was a real person and is now numbered among the cloud of witnesses - the saints of our Church.

He is important to us not because of his great works, like he was able to do them on his own, but simply because he followed Christ and grace flowed through him to others. St Nicholas grew up in the Church, going to services with his parents, reading the Scriptures, and praying from his youth up. After his wealthy parents fell asleep in the Lord, he gave away all his inheritance to the poor and needy. He was elected as bishop of Myra in Lycia by divine will:

With a vacancy for the episcopacy, the bishops had dreams that the one to succeed the throne would be the first to walk into the Church that particular night and his name would be Nicholas. As was his custom he arrived early for services and upon being greeted by a bishop when asked his name, replied: "My name is Nicholas, Master, and I am your servant."

After his consecration as archbishop, St Nicholas remained a great ascetic, appearing to his flock as an image of gentleness, kindness and love for people. He suffered during the persecution of Christians being imprisoned, punished, and tortured for not denying Christ and worshipping idols. Upon the accession of St Constantine the Emperor, the persecution throughout the Roman Empire ceased and St Nicholas was returned to shepherd his flock once again. Despite his great gentleness of spirit and purity of heart, St Nicholas was a zealous and ardent warrior of the Church of Christ. Fighting evil spirits, the saint made the rounds of the pagan temples and shrines in the city of Myra and its surroundings, shattering the idols and turning the temples to dust.

For a more detailed depiction of the Life of St Nicholas please visit HERE & HERE.

Continue with our 2nd workshop below:

"For God so loved the world that He GAVE His Only Begotten Son that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). "Every good and perfect GIFT is from above and cometh down from Thee, the Father of lights" (James 1:17).

We are able to love and GIVE to others simply because God loves and GIVES to others first. He is our Creator and we are His creation; we take our ultimate example from the Trinitarian God. But we also have other examples of creation, such as the saints, especially St Nicholas. His memorial is kept throughout the world and there are countless stories of his great works. We must remember not just his great works as our examples to be better Christians, but to remember that great things happened through him because he followed Christ.

We are to offer ourselves: our time, energy, and resources. As St Paul tells us in his 2nd Epistle to the Corinthians (9:7): "So let each one GIVE as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful GIVER." As teenagers, you often think: I'd like to GIVE, but I don't have the money to do so. We should all understand that we can give of our time and talents as well. We are blessed to have such active parish communities that GIVE each of us the opportunity to GIVE!

Let me tell you this story I read about, as told by Fr John Abdalah of Pittsburgh: In a discussion about donuts at coffee hour, a parishioner asked me what he gets from the Church besides donuts! “Opportunities,” I replied. "The Church GIVES you the opportunity to be the Christian you were baptized to be."You get the opportunity to gather as the Church of Christ; to praise God and take care of the world and those who live in it. The Church GIVES you an opportunity to be fed by the Word of God with His words and His life. The Church GIVES you an opportunity to serve, to witness to Christ, to love and to live in Christ. If you take advantage of these opportunities you can begin your eternal life now. But for you to take advantage of these opportunities, you need to GIVE. You need to GIVE of your time, energies and resources.

It could be said that you need to GIVE yourself. Without GIVING yourself in cooperating with God, you can’t have anything. In order to join with Christ, you need to detach from anything that would separate you from God. You need to be in Christ, you need to open yourself to having God abide in you as you abide in Him.

Current economic conditions have offered us new challenges to be better stewards of what we have and to share the GIFTS that God has given us. Our Church GIVES us opportunities to be Christian; to praise God and to serve His people. This opportunity is central to our being, learning and growing. It is central to our process of salvation.

Every day God GIVES us opportunities to GIVE. GIVING brings joy and life. This GIVING is not just for December or Christmas-time, but it is for joy at all times. Still, Christmas is an opportunity to relearn the joy of GIVING and to rededicate ourselves to Christ our God. Glorify Him in all that you do, even in serving each other donuts at coffee hour!

Take advantage this Advent season (and throughout the whole year) of the opportunities within your parish community and prepare for the "coming" of our Lord in the Flesh. Without His Incarnation (God taking on flesh and becoming man), we have no hope for salvation. We are able to fulfill the Gospel and GIVE to others because He did so first. He GAVE, therefore we can GIVE. He loved, therefore we can love. "For God so loved the world that He GAVE His Only Begotten Son that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

SOYO Fundraiser: St George Sweatpants on SALE

Ladies & Gentleman, Boys and Girls, check out the latest fashion of St George Houston apparel: SWEATPANTS!

Going on sale this weekend through Christmas, make sure you purchase your pair before we sell out!

Only $25 per pair (sizes S-XL available), these sweatpants have some awesome features including J. Navy color, the "o" in George is the logo for our Church, open-bottom pant leg, and pockets.

All proceeds help with travel costs to Winter Camp 2012 at Camp St Raphael in Oklahoma; please help support our Teen SOYO at St George and get your very own St George sweatpants!

Sweatpants will be on sale on Sundays following Divine Liturgy starting this weekend or contact Paul Fuller (paulf518@yahoo.com) to place an order TODAY!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Saint Nicholas Secret: Book Recommendation

We have a Teen Advent Retreat coming up in a few weeks, themed "St Nicholas: The Gift of Giving." I've been preparing to speak about St Nicholas, his life and the societal transformation into Santa Claus for so many around the world. I needed to do some research on this subject, so I began looking in the St George Houston Library: I scrolled the shelves looking through "Lives of the Saints," "Church History," "Spirituality" sections, but to no avail. Across the room on the lower-level shelves (eye sight for children) was the Children's books section. Would a book be there to help me with my research?

I laughed to myself - I'm going to check out the Children's section; literally having to sit down on the floor to browse the titles - yep, a very odd site!

But I came across the following book: The Saint Nicholas Secret: A Story of Childhood Faith Reborn in the Heart of a Father written by Dennis E. Engelman and published by Conciliar Press. This work can be purchased through Amazon.com HERE.

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A  small book, but very informative. Not written for a child, but actually for a parent. The author gives his own childhood experience of learning that there was no Santa Claus and explains that most children experience some degree of emotional and spiritual trauma. The short narrative continues with the author as a father worrying about that same experience for his own children. But while on a business trip in Europe he learns that St Nicholas was indeed a real person - he discovers his life and how fiction came from fact. The author describes his experience of regaining that lost hope for the miraculous stating that "a world without miracles is a world without anything to hope for or to believe in (p. 24)" and that "faith requires the miraculous (p. 35)."

This book offers insight into the approach by parents of teaching their children about St Nicholas rather than Santa Claus in the hopes of keeping them focused on the real meaning of this Great Feast of Christmas (the Nativity of our Lord, Jesus Christ).

I highly recommend it for all, not just parents. I've made my own notes from this book to include in my talk with our teens during the SOYO Advent Retreat in a few weeks that I believe will be very beneficial for them. It's not just all fantasy and make believe at Christmas time, not just all fairy tales for little children. The real story of St Nicholas can help keep us focused on the Feast of the Nativity: "St Nicholas convinces us that miracles are a natural part of life, something one has every reason to expect and depend on (p. 21)."

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"Some people have a very sad time at Christmas being busy and thinking only of themselves and this world. They get no joy from either giving or receiving gifts because they have forgotten heaven (p. 69)."

I'll end by describing the subject of my research: St Nicholas himself. "As a bishop [Myra in Lycia], he was meek and forgiving of others while bold in defense of Christianity." "To orphans he was a father, to the poor a merciful giver, to the weeping a comforter, to the wronged a helper, and to all a great benefactor (p. 46)."

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Saturday, November 12, 2011

St John the Golden-Mouthed

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

St John Chrysostom
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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 throughout the Church Year is ascribed to Saint John Chrysostom.

This has a great deal of influence upon modern Orthodox Christians, while many denominations either attempt to turn to traditional styles or get "modern" and "fresh" 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.

St John Chrysostom
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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 proclaim this as they celebrate Pascha, the Feast of Feasts - 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 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

Thursday, November 10, 2011

St George Food Pantry Drive

At St George Houston, did you know:

There is a Food Pantry?
Where the Food Pantry is located?
Who the Food Pantry helps out?

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Right now, we have a competition going on with our Church School program to assist with participating in the ministry of stocking the St George Food Pantry!

Each class is asked to collect items for the Parish Food Pantry; there's a competition for the next few weeks between the classes. It is a wonderful and simple ministry that our parish community offers to those in need. Please look through the following list and bring items to participant this Sunday and the next few Sundays:

Breakfast Items        Lunch/Dinner Items 
Cereal                      Peanut Butter
Granola Bars             Jelly
Instant Oatmeal         Crackers (cheese, peanut butter) 
Pop Tarts                  Saltine Crackers
Shelf-Stable Milk        Macaroni & Cheese (pre-made)
Juice                        Can Vegetables
                                Can Chunky Soups
General Items           Can Meat/Tuna
Bottled Water            Can Meals 
Hand Sanitizer           Instant Rice
Paper Towels             Instant Potatoes
Kleenex                     Pasta
Toothpaste                Spaghetti Sauce
Toothbrushes             Can Fruit
Deodorant                 Can/Jar Gravy

Join us in participating in this worthy ministry!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Monday, November 7, 2011

Holy Archangels & Angels: Feastday

The Synaxis of the Chief of the Heavenly Hosts, Archangel Michael and the Other Heavenly Bodiless Powers: Archangels Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Selaphiel, Jehudiel, Barachiel, and Jeremiel was established at the beginning of the fourth century at the Council of Laodicea, which met several years before the First Ecumenical Council. The 35th Canon of the Council of Laodicea condemned and denounced as heretical the worship of angels as gods and rulers of the world, but affirmed their proper veneration.

Synaxis of the Holy Archangels & Other Heavenly Bodiless Powers
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A Feastday (November 8th) was established in November, the ninth month after March (with which the year began in ancient times) since there are Nine Ranks of Angels. The eighth day of the month was chosen for the Synaxis of all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven since the Day of the Dread Last Judgment is called the Eighth Day by the Holy Fathers of the Church. After the end of this age (characterized by its seven days of Creation) will come the Eighth Day, and then "the Son of Man shall come in His Glory and all the holy Angels with Him" (Mt. 25:31).

The Angelic Ranks are divided into three Hierarchies: highest, middle, and lowest.

The Highest Hierarchy includes the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones; the Middle Angelic Hierarchy includes Dominions, Powers, and Authorities; the Lowest Hierarchy includes Principalities, Archangels, and Angels:

ARCHANGELS (1 Thess 4:16) are messengers of great and wondrous tidings. They reveal prophecies and the mysteries of the faith. They enlighten people to know and understand the will of God, they spread faith in God among the people, illuminating their minds with the light of the Holy Gospel.

ANGELS (1 Pet 3:22) are in the lowest rank of the heavenly hierarchy, and closest to people. They reveal the lesser mysteries of God and His intentions, guiding people to virtuous and holy life. They support those who remain steadfast, and they raise up the fallen. They never abandon us and they are always prepared to help us, if we desire it.

Over all the Nine Ranks, the Lord appointed the Holy Archangel Michael (his name in Hebrew means "who is like unto God"), the faithful servitor of God, as Chief Commander. He cast down from Heaven the arrogantly proud Lucifer and the other fallen spirits when they rebelled against God. Michael summoned the ranks of angels and cried out, "Let us attend! Let us stand aright before our Creator and do not consider doing what is displeasing unto God!" According to Church Tradition, and in the church services to the Archangel Michael, he participated in many other Old Testament events.

My home parish in Louisville, Kentucky is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. I was baptized, grew up serving as an altar boy, participated in Church School and Teen SOYO, read and chanted at St. Michael's. It is truly a blessed parish community, known as one of the largest Pan-Orthodox communities in North America.

Feastday information taken from OCA Feasts & Saints.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Are You Smarter Than an Orthodox 5th Grader?

In September of 2010, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life published their U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. This 15 question quiz spaned all sorts of religious beliefs for Americans. After taking the quiz myself HERE, I got to thinking about certain facts about Orthodox Christianity that some may not know, and others take for granted. 

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This is a basic quiz that I presented twice to the teens of St George Houston.  I won't divulge the results of any individual teen, but let's just say there was great variety in the number of correct answers, and more telling, of which questions most teens failed to find the correct answer.

Try to take this brief quiz "honestly" and hopefully regardless of your personal results, we can all come to the same conclusion:  We can all learn more about our Faith and how this knowledge should affect our lives!

1. Who is the 1st Christian martyr?

a. Peter                    b. Stephen
c. David                    d. Mary Magdalene

2. When did Christianity become legal in the Roman Empire?

a. 33 AD                    b. 70 AD
c. 313 AD                  d. 1054 AD

3. Who is the first follower of Christ to see him risen from the dead?

a. John the Beloved Disciple       b. Apostle Paul
c. Mary Magdalene                     d. Mary, His Mother

4. Who is referred to as the “new Adam” in some Liturgical texts within the Orthodox Church?

a. John the Baptist                            b. Jesus Christ
c. Emperor Constantine the Great      d. Prophet Moses

5. What is an icon?

a. an image depicting a holy person or holy event
b. picture of a famous person
c. a warrior or fighter
d. written text from a Holy Father of the Church

6. In reference to Mary, what does “Theotokos” mean?

a. God-bearer                   b. Giver of Jesus
c. Righteous woman          d. Mother of Humanity

7. Who is the first called of the 12 Apostles of Christ?

a. Peter                         c. Matthew
c. Andrew                      d. Judas

8. What was Peter’s occupation before becoming a “follower of Christ?”

a. tent-maker                b. carpenter
c. farmer                      d. fisherman

9. Why do Orthodox Christians gather on Sundays to worship during Liturgy and celebrate the Eucharist OR what do we commemorate every Sunday throughout the year?

a. the Creation of the World
b. the Escape of the Israelites of out Egypt
c. the Resurrection of Christ
d. the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ

10. As Orthodox Christians, we say “God is the Trinity: three ________, one God.”

a. Spirits                  b. Persons
c. Gods                    d. Angels

11. Which prophet is commonly ascribed as the author of the Book of Psalms from the Old Testament?

a. David                     b. Solomon
c. Moses                     d. Abraham

12. Which city is NOT considered to be one of the first five patriarchates (important centers) of Christianity?

a. Rome                     b. Bethlehem
c. Jerusalem               d. Alexandria

13. What Great Feast in the Life of the Church is celebrated on November 21st (New Calendar)?

a. Transfiguration of our Lord             
b. Entrance of our Lord into the Temple
c. Nativity of the Holy Theotokos       
d. Entrance of the Holy Theotokos into the Temple

14. What is Communion (Holy Eucharist)?

a. Bread & Wine                                                  
b. Body & Blood of Christ
c. Symbolic of the Body & Blood of Christ    
d. Any meal shared together with family

15. What does “Liturgy” mean?

a. work of the people           b. gathering together
c. worshipping God               d. listening to God

The Answer Key is below, please highlight to view:

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

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Friday, October 28, 2011

SOYO Advent Retreat in Houston


December 2-4, 2011      Houston, TX

St Nicholas: The Gift
of Giving

Hosted at St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in
Houston, TX by the St George Teen SOYO

Cost is $30 per Participant; Registration and Medical
Release Forms are Mandatory

+ + +

Contact Paul Fuller at 713.665.5252 or paulf518@yahoo.com

Registration/Medical Release Form due by Monday, November 28; visit DOWAMA SOYO website (under the Retreats tab) to print out flyer and form.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Great-Martyr Demetrios, the Myrrh-Streamer

Saint Demetrios, whose feastday is celebrated on October 26 in the Life of the Church, 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.

St Demetrios, Great-Martyr
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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.

Relics of St Demetrios in Thessaloniki
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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.

Life of St Demetrios taken from Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Friday, October 14, 2011

Greek Church & Port Authority Reach Deal to Rebuild

Deal Struck to Rebuild NY Church Destroyed on 9/11

Manhattan, NY (AP) - It took a decade, but a deal has finally been struck to rebuild a church destroyed on 9/11, the church and a public agency announced Friday.

St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
minutes before the Towers fell on 9/11
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The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said they have resolved their long dispute over how to rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a small, 85-year-old chapel that stood across the street from the World Trade Center and was destroyed when the towers fell.

The church and the public agency had been at odds over the details of a land swap that will move the church slightly down the street to make way for some of the giant construction projects now under way at ground zero.

The settlement, mediated by the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will end a lawsuit filed by the archdiocese earlier this year. Under the deal, the Port Authority will pay for site-work and below-ground infrastructure. The cost of that work is estimated to be about $25 million, according to the governor's office. The archdiocese will pay for the construction of the chapel.

The new church will be about 3½ times as large as the old one, and also house a nondenominational bereavement center.

The leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, Archbishop Demetrios, said the church's continued presence at the trade center site will be "an affirmation of the significance of religious freedom and experience for all New Yorkers and all Americans."

"We will again light many candles in the new St. Nicholas Church and remember those who were lost to us, and those heroes who so nobly sacrificed their lives," he said.

ABC Article reposted from HERE

Governor Cuomo & Archbishop Demetrios
Official Signing of Agreement
Floor Plans for New Church Construction
Greek Hierarchs with NY Government Officials
Photos courtesy of the Governor's Office; more can be seen HERE

For more information regarding this deal to rebuild the Church, please visit the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese HERE.

- A Day in Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Troy Polamalu Comes to Life

Some Requirements for being Orthodox:

1. Believe in the Trinity!
2. Attend church services regularly!
3. Be a HUGE fan of Troy Polamalu!

Okay, maybe that third requirement isn't real, but it should be, especially after watching the following video clip:

Video courtesy of YouTube

Lately, Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers has become the face (more properly, the hair) of Head & Shoulders Shampoo commercials. During a recent shoot, Polamalu showed his lighter side -as opposed to his hard-hitting tackling skills on the field.

- A Day in the Life of the Steelers Fan

Monday, October 3, 2011

Orthodox Prayer "at the Bowing of Heads"

During the Vespers service, we hear: "Let us bow our heads to the Lord."  We respond, "To Thee, O Lord."  And then the priest recites the following prayer:

"O Lord our God, who didst bow the heavens and come down for the salvation of mankind, look down upon thy servants and upon thine inheritance. Unto thee, the fearful Judge who lovest man, have thy servants bowed their heads and submissively inclined their necks, awaiting not help from man, but entreating Thy mercy and looking confidently for Thy salvation. Keep them at all times, both during this present evening and the approaching night, from every enemy, from every adverse power of the Devil, and from vain thoughts and evil imaginations."

This prayer offers a great deal of insight into our need for God and His divine help.  Although within the context of this prayer, it seems that we are helpless and have no control over our own lives, I can't help but be reminded of the biblical quote: "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me." - Philippians 4:13

My strength lies within Christ; He alone gives me gifts and talents I possess. Through His grace and blessing, I can perservere through the struggles of my life. If I keep my focus on Him (living a Christ-centered life, and not live selfishly) I can look "confidently for Thy salvation."

Our constant need is Christ, the Anchor which sustains us through the stormy seas of life.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My Experience of C.S. Lewis

Up until a few weeks ago, this blogpost title would have been non-existent; I had close to no experience of C.S. Lewis. Of course I'd read some of his famous works (The Chronicles of Narnia) as a child, but when others would speak of C.S. Lewis, I didn't even know he wrote those works.

C.S. Lewis

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During conversations with other Orthodox youth, especially with our OCF (campus ministry) at the University of Kentucky, they would speak of C.S. Lewis with a certain "awe" in relation to Orthodox Christianity. I would listen as they described their experience reading his work and how they felt it related to their own understanding of Christianity. I could never relate and found myself asking them: "Who is this author? Is he Orthodox?"

My friends would describe his works, ending each desciption of him by saying, "he was an 'anonymous' Orthodox." Their meaning was that his words and thought process was completely Orthodox, but that he wasn't a baptized member of the Faith. They strongly recommended that I read some of his works, especially Mere Christianity.

Although an avid reader, I was very prideful about mainly reading only Orthodox authors. So I thought it was just silly to read any book about Christianity not written by someone who shares my Faith. I'm not really into fiction, and although I enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, I wasn't interested in taking the time to read anything else. There are plenty of great Orthodox authors, what's the need to read about Christianity by someone who wasn't?

All that changed a few weeks ago as I finally decided to pick up a copy of Mere Christianity (with great reluctance).

When I'm wrong, I'm wrong. This work excels with its simplicity; very genuine in its approach to living as a Christian in society. Truly a timeless work in that I'm able to place his personal experience within my own context. 

Some quotes from this work:

“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

“If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.”

"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?"

"Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man."

"Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call "good infection." Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else."

I'm very appreciative for the persistance of others in their desire for me to experience this masterpiece and I highly recommend it to others!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Competition: When Emotions Are High

We are a sports-centered society; we live for the competition, and nowhere else does it show better than in sports. Whether it be a little league game, high school rivalries, college games, or the professional stage, SPORTS is EVERYWHERE!

Most likely, you've grown up playing some form of organized sporting activity: tee ball, volleyball, tennis, basketball, football, or track and fields (just to name a few). Maybe you excelled in a certain game and played while in school - old "boys" love to remember their glory days of yesteryears. 

Emotions run high during competition, it can get intense, there is no question about it. On the playing field, there's definitely sweat, blood, and tears. Whether actually playing the game or cheering for your team, we feel invested in the game that is being played. "Fan" comes from fanatical, and if honest, our emotions due get fanatical. We've all had an outburst or two (maybe more) that we'd care to forget. So if you can relate, take a few minutes and compare the below sports stories:

1. A few weeks ago, athletes at the highest level competed in the sport of tennis at one of only 4 Grand Slam events: the US Open held in Flushing, New York. Stakes are even higher at the biggest events. During the final match for the female division between Serena Williams (American) and Samantha Stosur (Australian), there was an ugly incident which many continue to discuss (although I will admit, many commentators have blown it greatly out of proportion).

Serena Williams won a point during the match, but was overruled by the umpire for a foul (in very laymen's terms). You can view the incident and follow-up stories HERE. I must also admit, that I personally thought that the umpire's call was ridiculous and wrong, and that Serena Williams' reaction wasn't as bad as it could have been, and certainly not as bad as I've seen by other athletes in competition.

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With all that said, I'd like to compare and constrast with another sporting incident and reaction.

2. One of the greatest individual achievements in sports is a perfect game in baseball, which is where the pitcher allows not one single hit. Its rare and held in special honor among baseball players, coaches, and fans. Back in June 2010, the Detroit Tigers Major League Baseball team had such an incident. Detroit pitcher, Armando Galarraga was looking to join that elite class with a perfect game. Late in the 9th inning, during the final out the batter hit the ball, Galarraga raced over to cover first base and touch the bag with ball in hand for an out - and his perfect game. However, the umpire called the runner safe, ending his hope for the coveted perfect game. It was the wrong call, the umpire made a huge mistake.

Galarraga's reaction was unthinkable, to be perfectly honest. He was wronged, and he knew it, but how did he react to his dream being shattered? He didn't scream and curse, he didn't throw down his glove or hat, he didn't stomp his feet. He simply smiled!

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The following day, the game went on. The Detroit Tigers played again, and the umpire called the game. A short video clip of the exchange can be found HERE. Before the game, there was a touching interaction photographed below:

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Sportsmanship is a term often overlooked. In simple terms, its being grateful for being on the field of play in the first place. Thankful for the competition, thankful for hard, fair, and safe playing.

By comparing these sports stories, I'm not trying to pass judgement upon Serena Williams and praise upon Armando Galarraga. I'm just trying to relate for others (and myself) that where there is competition, emotions are high. Sportsmanship and perspective are always greatly appreciated.

- A Day in the Life of the "Tee Ball All-American" Youth Director