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

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