Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Basketball Superfan's Dilemma

Simply put, I bleed blue! 

If you are a sports fan, then you know the reference.  As a graduate of the University of Kentucky and having the great Commonwealth of Kentucky as my home, Kentucky athletics - basketball is a huge part of my life! 

I watch their games on TV, pay attention to any national press, brag to my friends about how great we are, and wear plenty of UK gear (t-shirts, shorts, sweaters, socks, etc.) while strongly encourage those watching games with me to wear the same apparel. 
This upcoming weekend (April 1-4) is the ultimate college basketball weekend - NCAA Final Four 2011...and its being played in HOUSTON, TX (where I live)!

My dilemma is as follows:

This weekend I will be taking a group of teens from our parish to a Retreat Center (John Knox Ranch) near Austin, TX for a DOWAMA SOYO Lenten Retreat.  So, I'll be out of town when my beloved Kentucky Wildcats come to Houston in the hopes of winning a National Championship!

If sports aren't your thing, you're probably thinking: what's this guy's problem?  But if you can relate in anyway, please keep my suffering in mind.  Since it's Great Lent, I guess I should practice what I preach to my teens:  Great Lent is a time for us, as Orthodox Christians, to refocus our life in Christ.  "Less Me and More Him!"

Oh, and of course...GO BIG BLUE!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Today is the Beginning of our Salvation" - Great Feast of the Annunciation

On March 25th in the Life of the Church, we celebrate the Great Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord.  This Feast is described in the Gospel according to Luke 1:26-38.  Luke tells the story of the meeting between the Archangel Gabriel (being sent by God) to visit with Mary in the city of Nazareth. 

Annunciation of our Lord

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Mary hears the words of the angel Gabriel: "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!"  She is troubled at his words and presence, but the angel Gabriel continues by saying, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus."  Mary is even more confused at this encounter and replies, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?"  The angel Gabriel offers her this explanation, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God."

The laws of nature are suspended, for a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.  This great Mystery reaffirms the love of God for His creation.  Truly God becomes truly Man!  Our Lord will take upon himself our humanity in order to renew our blessed opportunity towards His Divinity.

The major hymns for this Feast are as follows:

Troparion (Tone 4):  Today is the beginning of our salvation, the revelation of the eternal mystery! The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace. Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos: Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with You!

Kontakion (Tone 8):  To Thee the Champion Leader, I thy servant ascribe thank offerings of victory.  For thou hast delivered me from terrors, O Theotokos.  But as thou hast that power which is invincible from all danger set me free, that I may cry unto thee:  Hail, O Bride without Bridegroom! 

Dismissal Hymn (Tone 3):  At the Beauty of thy virginity and at the exceeding splendor of thy purity Gabriel stood amazed and cried out unto thee, O Theotokos.  "What hymn of praise is meet, for me to bring to thee?  What shall I call thee?  I hesitate and I stand in wonder.  Wherefore as I was commanded I cry out unto thee:  Hail, thou that art full of grace!" 

On a more personal note:  While researching for this blogpost I came across some life changing knowledge about myself.  My whole life I've honestly hated my middle name, which is "Evan."  I never used it, rarely told anyone what it is, etc.  But I found out today, that my middle name of Evan is of Greek origin (which totally changes my outlook)!  It comes from the Greek word "evangelion" or its English translation of "good news" as in the Christian gospels or this Great Feast of the Annunciation (Archangel Gabriel telling of the "good news" to the Virgin Mary).

Blessed Great Feast of the Annunciation to all & blessed Name's Day to those bearing the name of Evan!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Monday, March 21, 2011

Want to play a little Golf?? Fore!

St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church will host their Annual Scholarship Fund Golf Tournament on Saturday, May 14th, 2011 at Clear Creek Golf Course.

We routinely partner with the Houston business community in this annual event, and all proceeds go towards undergraduate and graduate students requesting scholarship assistance for the continuing of their education.

A wonderful opportunity to actively participate in a community-sponsored golf outing that offers great fellowship and networking through friendly competition. There will be plenty of contests, prizes, food, and refreshments.  Join us for a great time!

There are two corporate sponsorship levels:

               *Silver Corporate ($250) includes a company sponsorship sign on the tee box.

               *Gold Corporate ($500) includes a foursome team in the tournament, a company sponsorship sign on the tee box, and a commemorative appreciation plaque.

All corporate sponsorships will be thanked in the annual tournament brochure/scorecard which is given out to every player, volunteer, and spectator at the event.

We hope that your company will take advantage of this wonderful opportunity and assist students in their quest to achieve a higher education. We look forward to your presence and participation at this exciting event!

Please visit HERE for more information on playing in the tournament and/or sponsorship.

Enjoy some photos from our Tournament in 2010:

Charlie Saman (Committee Chairman)
 & Mark Foteh with teammates
Joe Nassar & George Salfiti with teammates
Nora Kean, Joe Abdalah, Paul Fuller, and Michael Araj
Ronnie S. and Michael F. with a ringer from high school
Congratulations - 2010 Tournament Champs!
Arturo Bucaram & George Kaleh with teammates
Michael Perkins (Parish Council President) with team
Mr. Turtle had a pretty good handicap
Mr. Turtle's teammates

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Photos courtesy of our Teen SOYO

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patty's Day!

Saint Patrick - Enlightener of Ireland

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Saint Patrick was an ascetic and missionary in the land of Ireland during the 3rd & 4th centuries.  His feastday is celebrated on March 17th, the day of his repose in the Lord.  While this day has been transformed into a modern secular holiday associated with Irish culture, such as green clothing and beer, as well as parades, it is important to remember Who the celebration should focus on - GOD!

St. Patrick traveled and endured much hostility as he preached the "good news" of the Christian Faith in the Irish land of pagans.  The life of St. Patrick can be found HERE.

St. Patrick is often depicted holding a shamrock.  He used the shamrock to illustrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Its three leaves growing out of a single stem helped explain the concept of one God in three Persons.

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Rarely due we get to sing/hear the liturgical hymnography for St. Patrick in our Orthodox churches, but due to the Liturgy for the Pre-Sanctified Gifts last night, we certainly did.  It was a great reminder of those who have the zeal, humility, and desire to spread the Gospel to people who do not know the Risen Lord, such as the early Apostles and St. Patrick a few centuries later.

Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) has set up a program for local chapters to spread the word about the "real" St. Patrick; find out more HERE.

Our Holy Father among the Saints, Patrick, pray unto God for us!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Monday, March 14, 2011

Metropolitan Nicholas - Memory Eternal!

His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas of Johnstown, PA, primate of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople) reposed in the Lord on March 13, 2011 after a courageous battle with cancer.

Metropolitan Nicholas

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Please visit the Diocese's website for more information about the life and ministry of Metropolitan Nicholas, as well as funeral arrangements HERE.

While in college, I was blessed to meet His Eminence when he visited the OCF College Conference at the Antiochian Village.  I approached him, asked for his blessing, and kissed his hand; he was kind enough to speak with me for a few minutes.  His Eminence was the guest hierarch, where he presided over the liturgical services and spoke with the college students in attendance, offering words of wisdom on the struggles faced by Orthodox youth. 

I honestly can't remember most of his words (forgive me!), but I do remember that His Eminence spoke about the Virgin Mary being the "Burning Bush" of the Old Testament where God tells Moses that he is standing on holy ground and to remove his shoes.  His Eminence offered this theological understanding as a great warning for the Orthodox youth in this country, who constantly obsess about our clothing and appearance in the eyes of our peers.  When we attend services in an Orthodox Church, we are standing on "holy ground" and should be watchful not to bring the "dirt" of our society into Christ's Holy Temple.

The OCF College Conference takes place post Christmas (Dec. 27-31), and although as a bishop using the Old Calendar (Feast of our Lord's Nativity being celebrated on Jan. 7), he offered his Nativity greetings to us all saying, "Christ is Born!" with our response being, "Glorify Him!" 

We were all sitting on the ground in the Chapel of Ss. Peter & Paul at the Antiochian Village Conference Center, and as we responded to his Nativity greeting, he jokingly asked, "Is that the best you can do?" making us repeatly respond "Glorify Him!" louder and louder till it met with his approval!

May this kind Shepherd of Christ's holy flock be remembered with great love and may his memory be eternal!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Monday Morning Quarterbacking" - Low Turnout at Events

I must confess that I get easily discouraged when I feel there is a lack of participation at some of our activities.  We have numerous activities each month at St. George Houston, as well as with the ministry programs for our teenagers, college students, and young adults.

As the Youth Director, its literally "my job" to run these programs, which include setting up activities.  And although the monthly calendar is full, especially with Great Lent upon us (averaging 5 days per week of liturgical services), we still add to it.

When I do feel this discouragement, I begin to offer my own "Monday Morning Quarterbacking" and go through a range of emotions, including, but limited to:  frustration, disappointment, and confusion.  I ask myself, "where did I go wrong?" OR "why didn't it work out like I planned?" OR "why don't others think it's important to show up?"

Again, I must admit, it can get pretty bad. 

I remind myself of two very important things; focusing on each concept in the hopes of calming down, lowering expectations of others, and keeping the strong desire to do better next time:

"For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).

"Don't get so upset over it, I mean really, even our Lord only walked around with 12 Disciples." - an anonymous clergyman

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Friday, March 4, 2011

OCF National Day of Prayer - Begin Your Lenten Journey!

                                                                                                          As Great Lent begins, our spiritual journey towards the Resurrection of our Lord (Pascha), we are given a blessed opportunity for communal prayers with Orthodox Christian college students and young adults.

Join us on Monday, March 7th from 12:00p till 1:00p at the A.D. Bruce Religious Center (3800 Cullen Blvd) on the campus of the University of Houston.

OCF has a national program called "Day of Prayer" -     a 24-hour cycle to begin Great Lent in which local chapters from across North America participate by signing up for an hour time slot and hold a prayer service (usually on campus).

If you have experienced it before, then you know how refreshing it is from our normal busy school or work schedule to gather together during the day in prayer with other Orthodox Christians. If you haven't experienced it before, join us this Monday, March 7th to begin your Lenten journey in prayer.

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- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I am a Village camper, that's what I'll always be...

A few days ago, AV Camp Directors, Fr. Anthony Yazge (current) and Fr. Michael Nasser (former) visited St. George Houston, TX during the OCF Executive Board meetings.  I was able to reconnect with them and discuss the ever popular topic of the Antiochian Village.

The good ol' days at the Antiochian Village; a place dubbed names, such as:  "Home Away From Home" and "Heaven on Earth." The time I spent at the Antiochian Village is without doubt the most influencial in my life.  I know its such a cliche, but I can honestly say that I'm the person I am today because of my experience at the Antiochian Village.

St. Michael, Louisville, KY group (1995) -
I'm the youngin in the bottom right with
the backwards baseball cap

Cabin 48 (2000) - 1st row, 2nd from the left

Old friend from St. George Houston,
Bianca Bucaram (1996)

I have many people to thank for making my summer camping experience so amazing, but to name only a few:  my parents (Gill and Leslie Fuller), my siblings (Aaron and Adriane Fuller), my parish priest from St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church (Very Rev. Fr. Alexander Atty), my first camp counselor (Khalil Samara), my "boss" as counselor, Head Counselor, and Program Director (Dn. Nicholas Belcher), Camp Director and boss (Very Rev. Fr. Michael Nasser), Camp Nurse (Mrs. Pat Gombita) - I was a camper/counselor who found himself ill a great deal.
These people along with the many friends, campers, counselors, program staff members have contributed to my life in ways known and unknown.

Cabin prank (1996) - middle with backwards baseball cap

Eldest Girls' Cabin w/ Male Staff (2002) -
bottom left corner

The best siblings (1999)

Staff Sibling Photo-op (2003) - PA & KY connection
with 3 of us now living in the Houston area

Due to my experience at the Antiochian Village, I've been able to take the lessons learned and share them through my job as Youth & Young Adult Director with the ministry I humbly provide to the children, teens, college students, and young adults at St. George and the Greater Houston area.

At the AV, together we worship, create relationships, have fun, and strengthen our desire to be a "follower of Christ." 

There are many people who have related their experiences of spending a few weeks in the summertime at such a remarkable place.  Years later, I had the blessed experience of taking a few teens from St. George Houston to Western Pennsylvania during the cold winter at the AV Winter Camp.  It was an amazing feeling to be back "home!"  Seeing the campgrounds (thank God, upgraded to awesome facilities), visiting with former fellow campers and counselors, praying at the numerous shrines, and most closely to my heart - hearing the youth singing beloved "camp hymns" during Liturgical services.

St. George Houston boys - AV Winter Camp 2010

Tomb of St Raphael (patron saint of Camp St Raphael)

Former AV Counselors - Paul Fuller, Charles Abdelahad,
and John Abud
I'm not sure when I'll be able to visit the Antiochian Village again, but I take great solace in the infamous camp lesson of "taking camp home with you."  I, for one, have a home in my heart for the Antiochian Village and how it has shaped me.  For that, I am eternally grateful and blessed!

Below is a YouTube video that offers a short glimpse of the beauty of Orthodox youth worshipping the One True God; enjoy:

AV Camp Vespers 1994 served by Very Rev. Fr. John Namie (1st camp director), the loving force behind the development and guidance of the Village program, which is the foundation of the program still used today.

I would love to hear your camp stories; feel free to share!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director