Thursday, June 23, 2011

He Must Increase, but I Must Decrease: The Life of John the Baptist

In the Life of the Church, we celebrate the Nativity of John the Baptist on June 24th. Born to righteous parents, Ss Elizabeth & Zachariah in their elder age, John's mission in life was to proclaim and announce the coming of the Messiah.

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"He must increase, but I must decrease"; this verse taken from the Gospel according to St John the Theologian (3:30) quoting St John the Forerunner and Baptist of our Lord is a beautifully stated and essential reminder for all Christians. He is explaining to his followers the fulfillment of his ministry in proclaiming the good news of the coming of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ into the world.

St John calls himself the "friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice.  "Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled" (John 3:29).  What a remarkable example of the love of God and understanding of one's purpose in life!

Our Lord says of John, "For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist, but he who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he" (Luke 7:28).

I recently read an amazing book reflecting on the life and purpose of St John the Baptist entitled The Friend of the Bridegroom: On the Orthodox Veneration of the Forerunner by Sergius Bulgakov.  I strongly encourage you to read it as well.

Through the prayers of the Forerunner, O Lord our God, have mercy upon us!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Bearded Orthodox Man

Many Orthodox men wear a beard (or some form of facial hair), especially among its clergy. The beards vary among the Orthodox faithful men, but there is definitely a significance behind the scruff.

"Orthodox Christian piety begins in the Holy Tradition of the Old Testament. Our relationship to the Lord God, holiness, worship, and morality was formed in the ancient times of the Bible. At the time of the foundation of the priesthood the Lord gave the following commandments to the priests during periods of mourning, And ye shall not shave your head for the dead [a pagan practice] with a baldness on the top; and they shall not shave their beard... (Lev. 21:5), and to all men in general, Ye shall not make a round cutting of the hair of your head, nor disfigure your beard (Lev. 19:27). The significance of these commandments is to illustrate that the clergy are to devote themselves completely to serving the Lord. Laymen as well are called to a similar service though without the priestly functions."


A great article written over at entitled: "To shave or not to shave?," gives an account from an early 20th century priest in America and his encounter about his own beard (the story even reached local newspaper outlets!). Enjoy it HERE.

Now, I'd love to claim such piety when it comes to such practice, but sadly this isn't the case for me. Those who see me on a regular basis will notice that I go days without shaving for periods of time; and sometimes, I do enjoy keeping a small goatee with a cool 'stach to accompany it. To be honest, I simply hate shaving.

As a child, I fondly remember watching my dad in the morning shaving before work. My baba would help me lather my face up with shaving cream (even though I was baby-faced), and let me use the bottom end of a toothpaste tube to scrape away the cream and invisible facial hair. I'm sure most young boys have this same memory as a child; a very fond one for me!

I remember growing up, anxious for some stubble to really shave away...I wasn't a patient child. I'd constantly complain that I couldn't wait to shave, to which my dad would kindly respond, "hold off as long as possible, once you start, you won't be able to stop."

As with most things, I hate to admit it, but of course he was right! I dread having to shave, hence the days-long scruff that adorns my face. So, while most Orthodox men "sport" a beard out of piety, sadly its usually laziness that gets the best of me.

But, that's just our lil' secret, right?! I welcome some "beard" stories of your own!

Enjoy some "sporty" looking beards below:

Greek Orthodox priest
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Russian Orthodox priest
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St Raphael Hawaweeny
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Ss Onuphrius & Paphnutius
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St Maximus the Greek
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Bulgarian Orthodox bishops
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St John Maximovitch
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Our Lord, God & Savior, Jesus Christ
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- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Monday, June 6, 2011

Kentucky Derby Party in Houston, TX

On the "first Saturday in May" is the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, KY (my hometown). The "Run for the Roses" is a horserace thats known as the "greatest two minutes in sports!"

This past Saturday, May 7th I hosted a Kentucky Derby/Birthday Party with friends and family - to give them a little slice of Kentucky fun! It was an awesome affair in the Houston area with plenty of Kentucky favorites: Derby decor (thanks to Mama Fuller who mailed me plenty of decorations), Kentucky Derby Pies, lunch from Kentucky Fried Chicken, and plenty of Kentucky bourbon for specialty mint julips.

Enjoy some pictures from the festivities below:

Conducting my own "Happy Birthday" rendition
Pretty ladies in fancy hats

Haddad & Araj Families

Stratos Unidos & Shining Star
The other Birthday boy - George
Sobchak Family
Kh. Valerie & my cousin Joe

Betty Draper in the kitchen
A dessert fight broke out...
It was a heated exchange...
The aftermath!
Dolled-up Stratos
Michael and his hands
Thanks to all my friends who came out to celebrate my birthday and enjoy a "day at the races!"

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Christ Has Ascended in Glory!

In the Life of the Church, we celebrate one of the 12 major feasts (The Ascension of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ) on the 40th day following the Feast of Feasts - our Lord's Resurrection. Therefore, this year the great feast of the Ascension is celebrated on Thursday, June 2nd in the Life of the Church!

This great event, with which Jesus' life on earth concludes, is briefly mentioned in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, with a much fuller account in the Acts of the Apostles. Gathering His disciples, Jesus commanded them not to leave Jerusalem , but to await what had been promised by the Father, that is the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Then, He went with His disciples to Bethany and stopped on the Mount of Olives. "While they beheld, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, 'Ye men of Galilee , why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven'" (Acts 1:9-11).

Ascension of our Lord
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According to the account given in Luke's gospel: "And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now, it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy..." (Luke 24:50-53).

Jesus, their Master, leaves them, yet His disciples are filled with great joy. Its an odd reality to grasp; the comfort of being in the presence of their Lord, especially witnessing His Resurrection and being "filled with great joy" at His departure from them. But the reason for such a feeling among the Disciples is the promise given to them: Jesus tells them that He must go to the Father, but He will send the Holy Spirit upon them.

We celebrate this feastday soon (in 10 days) on the Great Feast of Pentecost (the descent of the Holy Spirit). Christ's Ascension is a glorious occasion; "the crowning achievement of His earthly mission."

Troparion of the Feast of the Ascension (Tone 4): “Thou hast ascended in glory, O Christ our God, and gladdened thy Disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit, having become confident of the blessing. Verily, thou art the Son of God, and Deliverer of the world.”

Wishing you and your family a blessed great feast of the Ascension!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director