Monday, December 24, 2012

The Digital Story of the Nativity

Wishing you and your family a blessed Feast of the Nativity of our Lord!

Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!

Below is a modern digital story of the Nativity; enjoy:

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Monday, November 12, 2012

Advent Psalter Reading Group

During our Advent journey towards the Nativity of our Lord, you're invited to participate with a group of Orthodox Christians who will bedaily reading through the Book of Psalms. The concept is pretty awesome and simple, and has truly made a big effect on me during my Lenten journey this past Great Fast. You gather a group (dedicated) and break up the Psalms to assign different ones to be read by each person daily. You end up reading through the entire Book of Psalms twice throughout Great Lent, but the really amazing idea to keep in mind is that as a group, the entire Book of Psalms is read each day!
Prophet David, composer of the Book of Psalms

Image Source

During Advent, most people associate this season with endless Christmas parties and shopping. However, the main reason for "fasting" during this season of preparation is to focus on our dependance on the mercy of God. While limiting certain aspects of our daily life, whether it be food, entertainment, selfish acts, etc. is not the goal of participating in any fasting season, it allows for the oppportunity to increase in other aspects of our life. We are called to increase our prayer life (individual and communal), charity towards others, especially those in great need, and draw closer to the knowledge of our merciful God.

Image Source

One great tool for this drawing closer to our Lord is to read more, not necessarily a spiritual work, but it certainly can't hurt. That's why I think joining this "reading group" during the Advent season will be very beneficial to those participating. It "forces" us to take time out of our busy day and focus on our Lord through reading the Scriptures. I have to plan my day to include time to participate (I certainly don't want to be the person who becomes lacking in my reading, as I said earlier, if all participate the entire Psalter is read daily).

If you are interested in joining this Psalter Reading Group during this upcoming Advent season, please contact me for more details!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Holy Great-martyr Menas

Today (November 11), in the Life of the Church, we commemorate the Great-martyr Menas of Egypt. St Menas was a Roman soldier who served in the 4th century under the emperors Diocletian and Maximian. When the emperors began the fiercest persecution against Christians in history, the saint refused to serve these persecutors. He removed his soldier's belt (a sign of military rank) and withdrew to a mountain, where he lived an ascetic life of fasting and prayer.

Once he happened to arrive in the city of Alexandria during a pagan festival. At the climax of the games the saint's accusing voice rang out, preaching faith in Christ, the Savior of the world. At his trial before the prefect Pyrrhus, the saint bravely confessed his faith, saying that he had come to denounce the impious. The prefect was angered, and had Menas arrested.
Holy Great-martyr Menas
Image Source

Pyrrhus offered to restore the saint's former rank if he would offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. When he refused, he was put to cruel tortures, then he was beheaded. This occurred in the year 304. Christians gathered up the martyr's relics by night and hid them until the end of the persecution. Later, they were brought to Egypt and placed in a church dedicated to St Menas southwest of
The saint received grace from God to work miracles, and to help those in need. St Menas is noted for healing various illnesses, delivering people from possession by demons, and as a protector, especially during times of war. We also ask his help in finding lost objects.

Life of the Saint taken from OCA Feasts & Saints

The Great-martyr Menas has always been a special saint for intercession for me personally. My maternal grandmother's last name was Meena (hailing from Lebanon via Pittsburgh, PA). I'm sure many others can relate, but I always had a special relationship with my Sito. It's comforting for a grandson to know he could do no wrong in Sito's eyes. She's also the source for my deep faith; she's the one who taught me how to pray, especially turning to the saints for intercession.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love "collecting" Orthodox icons. But, for the longest time, I could never find one of St Menas (until this year - which now hangs in my office).

Through the intercession of the Holy Great-martyr Menas, O Christ our God, have mercy upon us and save us!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Angelic Participation

If you think that only we humans participate in the Divine Liturgy, think again? The heavenly hosts stand in attendance at the Throne of God, participating in the Divine Liturgy.

During the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy, the priest prays quietly the following:

It is meet and right to hymn Thee, to bless Thee, to praise Thee, to give thanks unto Thee, and to worship Thee in every place of Thy dominion...And we give thanks unto Thee also for this ministry which Thou dost vouchsafe to receive at our hands, even though there stand beside Thee thousands of Archangels, and ten thousand of Angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring aloft, borne on their wings.

Then the priest aloud chants: Singing the Triumphal Hymn, shouting, proclaiming, and saying.

As the choir responds: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of Thy glory: Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

We join the chorus in the angelic hymn, which the angels sing, who ceaseless attend to God on High.

The angels also have a Feastday in the Life of the Church (November 8), which is the reason for this latest blogpost. Enjoy reading more about the angels, as well as viewing icons which represent angelic participation (if ya can recall from Holy Scriptures the references to angels being present).

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 Heavenly Hosts
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).

Feast of the Ascension of
our Lord (notice the angels)

Myrrh-bearing Women at the Tomb
(notice the angel)
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.

Feast of the Nativity of
our Lord (notice the angels)

Feast of the Baptism of our Lord
(notice the angels)

For a simply amazing description of angelic depictions in Orthodox iconography, please take time and read this article HERE.

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

Thursday, November 1, 2012

You Know You're Orthodox If...

*To you, the Virgin Mary is not a contradiction.

*After the Nativity Liturgy your priest shuts the Royal Doors before the choir and congregation sing Christmas carols.

*You wear green for Pentecost, not just for St Patrick's Day.

*Your non-Orthodox friends think the icons in your house are family photos.

*When you greet your Church family, some you kiss on the cheeks twice, some three times, and sometimes its awkward when you don't know which.

*You don't give up things for Lent, except certain foods, the amount of food, TV shows, movies, etc. Okay, so you do give up things for Lent.

*You consider your Sunday bulletin a legal document: if its not included, it didn't really happen.

*On Sunday mornings, your pet gets to have breakfast, but you don't.

*On fasting days, "travel" rules apply even if only going to Sitti's (Yaya's) house.

*You stand during church services until the bishop or priest motions for the congregation to sit down.

*When you tell people you're Orthodox, you can relate to Pontius Pilate when he asks, "Am I a Jew?" (John 18:35).

*On Facebook, not just your parents, but also your priest has commented "inappropriate" on something you've posted.

*During Liturgy, your priest says, "Let us depart in peace." JUST KIDDING: there's still more praying to do.

*Troy Polumalu is your favorite athlete and the Pittsburgh Steelers is God's team.

*You eat (more accurately vacuum) the crumbs from the Holy Bread out of your hands like you haven't had a meal in days.

*Your priest comes over to your home yearly for an exorcism, you call it a home blessing.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We provide the candy; getting them to bed is your deal...

A wonderful alternative to Halloween is a Christian gathering for children at your local Orthodox Church, such as the one hosted at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, TX every year on the day society celebrates Halloween. We call it an "All Saints Party" as we strongly encourage the children to dress up as Orthodox Saints instead of ghosts and goblins. Although, super heroes and other such costumes are welcomed.
Our event even made the local newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, back in 2010; please read that article here.
The children participate in numerous activities, such as Orthodox Trivia "Wheel of Fortune," Face Painting, St Paul's Journey (cake walk), St Peter's Fisher-of-Men Pond, Scarecrow Hat Toss, and Jonah and the Whale (bean bag toss).

Don't worry, plenty of candy is provided as we only get to enjoy their sugar-high for a few hours before we send them home with their parents and let them worry about getting them to sleep HEHE!

Although some parents still struggle with this concept of an alternative event to regular Halloween trick-or-treating and parties, as they ask why have the All Saints Party on Halloween; not happy about having to choose between the two. It's important to realize the reason for this Church activity; it offers families Christian fellowship and fun, allowing their children to play "dress up" and still get their treats. It's also a great opportunity for teens and young adults to participate and offer their ministry by helping with games, serving food, and most importantly, just by their mere presence.

Enjoy some pics for previous All Saints Party:

The Ref & Batman

I'm Ron Burgundy? (2011)

Costume Contest 2010

Cookie decorating obvious big hit with the kids

The Blues Brothers

Working together running the cookie decorating booth
Orthodox Trivia "Wheel of Fortune" w/ Referee Paul Fuller
Even Mary Magalene graced us with her presence
Disco lives on...
Hanging out near Noah's Ark activity
A wonderful variety of unique costumes
St. George the Trophy-bearer

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

St James, Brother of our Lord

In the Life of the Church, we commemorate the Holy Apostle James, the Brother of God on October 23rd. He was the son of Righteous Joseph the Betrothed. 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, Brother of our Lord
Image Source

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 AD.

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

A special shout-out to my boss-man, Rev Fr James Shadid, pastor of St George Houston & my best friend, Dr. James Salman on the occasion of his Name's Day! God grant you both many years!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Apostle Luke: da Vinci before da Vinci

A man of many trades - as the saying goes for someone who excels in a variety of activities. This is definitely the case with St Luke, whose feastday is commemorated on October 18 in the Life of the Church.

Luke the Apostle
Image Source

We all look back with great amazement at the life and accomplishments of Leonardo da Vinci, the epitome of the Renaissance. The Italian polymath who excelled as a painter and sculptor, engineer and inventor, scientist and writer (just to name a few). Da Vinci's great legacy of works has inspired and left a lasting impression upon society for many centuries.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Image Source

But before da Vinci was da Vinci, Luke was Luke; an apostle, evangelist, iconographer, and physician. He was a native of Syrian Antioch, a companion of the holy Apostle Paul during his travels and a physician enlightened in the Greek medical arts. Hearing about Christ, Luke arrived in Palestine and fervently accepted the preaching of salvation from the Lord Himself. As one of the Seventy Apostles, St Luke was sent by the Lord with the others to preach the Kingdom of Heaven during the Savior's earthly life.

St Luke is credited as the first iconographer, painting the first images of the Theotokos, as well as Peter & Paul, the first-ranked of the Apostles. He is the author of the Gospel according to Luke, as well as the Acts of the Apostles, which give great input into the Life of the "Early" Church.

St Luke the Evangelist
Image Source

The Apostle Paul is usually considered one of the most influencial figures in Christian history, mainly due to his own writings and extended traveling and preaching of the good news. But its really St Luke who "gives" us St Paul; Luke records Paul's journeys (as a companion), his interactions with other apostles, Christ-followers in various towns and cities, Jewish authorities, and the Roman Empire.

As Orthodox Christians, we are greatly indebted to Luke: an eyewitness of the Risen Lord, chronicler and historian of the actions of the early Christ-followers, an apostle who traveled, preached, and recorded the Gospel, an artist who gave us the rich Tradition of iconography, and a physician who healed those suffering of ailments of their bodies as well as their souls.

Through the intercessions of the Apostle Luke, Evangelist & Physician, may our Lord God have mercy upon us and save us!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Church School Ideas for High School

Most Church School (Sunday School) programs have begun in the Orthodox Churches around the world, especially in the United States. Our Church School program at St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, TX is a huge undertaking that I'm blessed to be a small part of, as the co-teacher for the Junior & Senior High School class.

We have about 200 children participating this year (2012-2013) with classes ranging from Pre-K to High School, with 22 dedicated teachers including 15 young adults. The course material for each class is varied: lessons of the Gospels, St Paul and his missions, Sacraments of the Church, discussions on the Divine Liturgy and other Liturgical services, Lives of the Saints, activities for the younger children, Church History, and contempory social and moral issues. There are amazing sources to be incorporated in the Church School program and used in the classroom, especially from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.

Many thanks to our Church School Director, Mrs Susie Sobchak for her dedication and love towards the youth and their families at St George Houston and my co-teacher, Mrs Samantha Zaid for her enthusiasm and leadership with our students!

I wanted to share a few new items for our course curriculum for the Junior & Senior High School class:

1. Pen Pals: We have begun an "old fashioned" pen pal program with our class this year. Its definitely not a new idea, so I'll limit the credit I get when I receive the "Teacher of the Year" award hehe. My purpose for a pen pal system is two-fold: I have noticed (in my own writing as well) with the emergence of technological means of communication, that there is a reliance on short-hand forms of writing a lack of ability in grammar and spelling among the youth in society today. I wanted to provide a forum to "practice" writing in a fun atmosphere. Also, I thought it would be fun to help facilitate new friendships among the youth in our Archdiocese. We hope that our teens will take an active interest in another teen's life, especially one who hopefully shares the same Faith and values.

Before the days of text messenging, Facebook, and Twitter, I was a youth who attended a summer camping program at the Antiochian Village, as well as met friends from across the Archdiocese at regional retreats and conferences. We had two forms of communication to keep our friendships alive and well throughout the year when we were absent from each other: long distance phone calls (thanks Mom & Dad for paying the bills!) and writing letters.

I contacted an "old" friend from our days at the Antiochian Village who now runs the Teen SOYO program at another parish in the Midwest about the possibility of creating a pen pal system with our teens. Miss Julia Shaheen of St George in Akron, Ohio, loved the idea and offered to help incorporate it in the Church School program between our parish communities. (Our teens just wrote their first letters this past Sunday - letters are in the mail - which will be matched up with a pen pal in Akron, Ohio; they will write back this upcoming Sunday and mail them back. I'll keep y'all posted on how its going!)

2. Orthodox Words: Each week two teens are asked to research the definition of a word used in Orthodox terminology. They will print the word, definition, and a picture explaining the term on an 8x10 paper, which we are posting all over the walls in our classroom. The teens present the terms to the whole classroom, which allows for for further discussion. The past few weeks, I've chosen the words (icon, Eucharist, sin, propitiation), but we hope that the teens will chose their own words (something heard or read in the Liturgy, in a book, or in discussion that they might not understand).

3. Current Events: It's a busy world, no doubt about that! News coverage for everywhere, local, regional, national, and international. We wanted to create a forum for our Church School class that our teens could discuss current events, especially which relate to their Faith and beliefs. Individual teens are asked to find a news article that interests them and forward the link for all in the class to view during the week prior to our discussion during Church School on Sunday. During class, the teen is asked to present the news article they found and an open discussion begins.

Our most recent discussion was about the popularly read news surrounding a piece of papyrus which the text, written in Coptic and probably translated from a 2nd century Greek text, contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to "my wife," whom he identifies as Mary. Article found HERE. I printed out an Orthodox response, found HERE, for the teens to take home and continue their discussions. More "current events" will be presented on this blog for all to read and discuss.

The above Church School ideas have been incorporated in our program at St George Antiochian Orthodox Church. I hope these ideas will be shared with our Church School programs in Orthodox Churches; I would love to read comments on our ideas and have others share their own ideas, as well.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Last Supper at a Restaurant?

I was reading through the texts of the Gospels that describe what is commonly referred to as the "Last Supper" - the basis for Christianity's institution of partaking of the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. This may seem like quite a stretch, and its definitely not a historically researched analysis. But the references to this particular meal stood out to me as unique in their description of Christ sharing a meal with his Disciples.

The descriptions seem to indicate a restaurant of sorts, different from other accounts of Christ visiting the home of someone, and their hospitality to offer a meal to our Lord and those visiting with Him. So, it got me asking: what is the first restaurant, or more precisely, first Christian restaurant?

Webster's defines a restaurant as a business establishment where meals or refreshments may be purchased. While researching(?) the origin of restaurants, Webster's online site states the following: [An] Establishment where refreshments or meals are served to paying guests. Though inns and taverns served simple fare to travelers for centuries, the first modern restaurant where guests could order from a varied menu is thought to have belonged to A. Boulanger, a soup vendor who opened his business in Paris in 1765. The sign above his door advertised restoratives, or restaurants, referring to his soups and broths. By 1804 Paris had more than 500 restaurants, and France soon became internationally famous for its cuisine.

Webster Source

While no monetary transaction is described in the Gospels during the Last Supper, the description seems to be apply to a tavern or inn, as opposed to just being invited over to someone's home for a meal. This makes sense because Jesus and His disciples didn't live in Jerusalem, but traveled there along with many other Jews to partake in the Festival of Unleavened Bread. They would need a place to stay and "break bread" for the Passover meal.

The Gospel of Matthew: "On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?' He replied, 'Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.' So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve." (26:17-20)

Mystical (Last) Supper Orthodox Icon
Icon Image

The Gospel of Mark: "On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, 'Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?' So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, 'Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.' The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve." (14:12-17)

The Gospel of Luke: "Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, 'Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.' 'Where do you want us to prepare for it?' they asked. He replied, 'As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters,  and say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.' They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table." (22:7-14)

Although the comparison of the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper with modern-day descriptions of a restaurant doesn't necessarily add up, it does seem to describe an ancient tavern or inn. Our Lord and His disciples came to Jerusalem for the Feast and needed a place to prepare their meal. Jesus prophetically tells his disciples where and how to set up their meal. The unnamed man (most likely, Jewish) shows them a "large guest room upstairs, all furnished." If he was Jewish, along with his family, they would partake in a Passover meal as well. But looking over the description, it seems that he wasn't inviting Jesus and His disciples over to share the same meal OR Jesus wasn't inviting himself over to share that family's meal. The disciples were making preparation for their own Passover meal at his residence, which he might have "rented out" to those who traveled to Jerusalem to partake in the Festival.

With all that said, the location for the Last Supper seems to be a tavern or inn-type operation, a forerunner of the restaurant industry. The restaurant comparison for the Last Supper comforts me when some argue that its better to celebrate with a meal at home instead of going out to a restaurant. My new response: "Even our Lord dined out on occasion!"

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Time I Snuck Out of the Parish Council Meeting

I was stuck in (I mean attending) another Parish Council meeting last night. Don't get me wrong, in a large parish, there is so much going on (for the glory of God!), but the meetings can be overwhelming at times. At the same time as our meeting last night, our associate pastor, Rev Fr Symeon Kees, was leading an Intro to Orthodoxy class down the hall.

My confession is that I haven't had a chance to attend, but I hear its quite the mix of attendants: those inquiring about the Orthodox Faith, those preparing for their own reception into the Life of the Church, and Orthodox Christians (mainly young adults) seeking further understanding of their Faith.

Our meeting was getting to be a bit too much; I needed a break, so I snuck out for a brief minute and walked down the hall to eavesdrop on how the class was going. I couldn't stay long for obvious reasons: a delayed absence from our Parish Council meeting would seem odd AND I would look ridiculous to the few class attendants distracted by the stranger in the doorway. But I did get to hear a few remarkable words of Fr Symeon (I'm sure clergy love being quoted haha), but he told the class:

"If our view of God is off, then so to is our salvation."

These simple, yet profound words kept my attention, as I went back into our Parish Council meeting. That phrase got me thinking (not always a good thing, but I'll make an exception in this case). Three main things came to mind that I tell the teens at St George Houston (over and over again, they must be tired of me saying it, but oh well):

1. "This is must be our foundation: God is the Creator, and we are His creation." -I take credit for the quote, but I'm sure I stole it from someone, just no clue who

2. "If you're not struggling towards salvation, you're not doing it right!" -V Rev Fr Alexander Atty, my former parish priest and spiritual father, now Dean of St Tikhon's Orthodox Seminary

3. "I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior." 
-John Newton, Anglican clergyman of the 18th century and author of the hymn, Amazing Grace (For more info, read HERE)

Although I'm not expounding upon these three sayings now, I do hope you make your own assessment into their correlation. Anyway, this has been another installment of...

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ss Sophia & Her Daughters: Faith, Hope, & Love

On September 17 in the Life of the Church, we commemorate the Holy Martyrs Saint Sophia and her Daughters Faith, Hope and Love. I don't know many who like to hear stories of torture and suffering, but when these stories (or lives of the saints) are directed towards showing examples of those who love Christ, its a valuable lesson for us all! Even young children are martyred for our Lord; their example truly lives out their namesakes.

Born in Italy, their mother was a pious Christian widow who named her daughters for the three Christian virtues. Faith was twelve, Hope was ten, and Love was nine. St Sophia raised them in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. St Sophia and her daughters did not hide their faith in Christ, but openly confessed it before everyone.
Holy Martyrs Sophia, Faith, Hope, & Love
Image Source

An official named Antiochus denounced them to the emperor Hadrian (117-138), who ordered that they be brought to Rome. Realizing that they would be taken before the emperor, the holy virgins prayed fervently to the Lord Jesus Christ, asking that He give them the strength not to fear torture and death. When the holy virgins and their mother came before the emperor, everyone present was amazed at their composure. They looked as though they had been brought to some happy festival, rather than to torture. Summoning each of the sisters in turn, Hadrian urged them to offer sacrifice to the goddess Artemis. The young girls remained unyielding.

Then the emperor ordered them to be tortured. They burned the holy virgins over an iron grating, then threw them into a red-hot oven, and finally into a cauldron with boiling tar, but the Lord preserved them. The youngest child, Love, was tied to a wheel and they beat her with rods until her body was covered all over with bloody welts. After undergoing unspeakable torments, the holy virgins glorified their Heavenly Bridegroom and remained steadfast in the Faith.

They subjected St Sophia to another grievous torture: the mother was forced to watch the suffering of her daughters. She displayed adamant courage, and urged her daughters to endure their torments for the sake of the Heavenly Bridegroom. All three maidens were beheaded, and joyfully bent their necks beneath the sword.

In order to intensify St Sophia's inner suffering, the emperor permitted her to take the bodies of her daughters. She placed their remains in coffins and loaded them on a wagon. She drove beyond the city limits and reverently buried them on a high hill. St Sophia sat there by the graves of her daughters for three days, and finally she gave up her soul to the Lord. Even though she did not suffer for Christ in the flesh, she was not deprived of a martyr's crown. Instead, she suffered in her heart. Believers buried her body there beside her daughters.

Life of the Saint taken from HERE. 

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Family Night 2012 at St George

Family Nights are BACK at St George this Fall. It is truly one of the highlights of the Parish Community of St George in Houston, TX. Every Wednesday, we worship together during Daily Vespers, followed by discussions/activities for all ages, and finish up the evening with a Lenten dinner and fellowship in our Church Hall. Our Teen Discussion Series continues this Fall; previous topics include: "We are a People of the Resurrection," "I'm Orthodox, My Friends are Not," and "Our Creed: Knowing What We Recite & Believe." Below is the flyer for our upcoming Teen Discussion Series:
Family Night 2012
Teen Discussion Series
"In the Beginning"...A Look into
the Book of Genesis
Join us on Wednesday Evenings beginning September 12 thru December 2012; Vespers at 6:30p at St George Houston followed by Discussion Series and Food/Fellowship
Orthodox Icon of the Creation
Everything goes back to Genesis - to know about ourselves and our own personal relationship with God. It is necessary to examine and understand the Church’s teaching on the Creation story, and God’s divine interaction with His chosen people. Vital facts and questions that we shall discuss:

God is the Creator; we are the creatures!
How and why were we created?
How do the actions of Adam & Eve truly affect us?
What is "original sin?"
Are we still in a “fallen nature” and how does Christ’s Incarnation affect us?
Discussion Series led by Paul Fuller,
Youth and Young Adult Director

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Friday, September 7, 2012

Nativity of the Mother of God

As the Church New Year (September 1) has recently past, the first Great Feast in the Liturgical Life of the Church is celebrated on September 8 - the Nativity of the Mother of God (Theotokos).

This Great Feast is celebrated by the Church as a day of universal joy. Within the context of the Old and the New Testaments, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was born on this radiant day, having been chosen before the ages by Divine Providence to bring about the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. She is revealed as the Mother of the Savior of the World, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Orthodox Icon of the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos 
Image Source

The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born in the small city of Galilee, Nazareth. Her parents were Righteous Joachim of the tribe of the Prophet-King David, and Anna from the tribe of the First Priest Aaron. The couple was without child, since St Anna was barren.

Having reached old age, Joachim and Anna did not lose hope in God's mercy. They had strong faith that for God everything is possible, and that He would be able to overcome the barrenness of Anna even in her old age, as He had once overcame the barrenness of Sarah, spouse of the Patriarch Abraham. Sts Joachim and Anna vowed to dedicate the child which the Lord might give them, to the service of God in the Temple.

Childlessness was considered among the Hebrew nation as a Divine punishment for sin, and therefore the righteous Sts Joachim and Anna had to endure abuse from their own countrymen. On one of the feastdays at the Temple in Jerusalem the elderly Joachim brought his sacrifice to offer to God, but the High Priest would not accept it, considering him to be unworthy since he was childless.

St Joachim in deep grief went into the wilderness, and there he prayed with tears to the Lord for a child. St Anna wept bitterly when she learned what had happened at the Jerusalem Temple. Never once did she complain against the Lord, but rather she prayed to ask God's mercy on her family.

The Lord fulfilled her petitions when the pious couple had attained to extreme old age and prepared themselves by virtuous life for a sublime calling: to be the parents of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the future Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Archangel Gabriel brought Joachim and Anna the joyous message that their prayers were heard by God, and of them would be born a most blessed daughter Mary, through Whom would come the Salvation of all the World.

The Most Holy Virgin Mary surpassed in purity and virtue not only all mankind, but also the angels. She was manifest as the living Temple of God, so the Church sings in its festal hymns: "the East Gate... bringing Christ into the world for the salvation of our souls" (2nd Stikhera on "Lord, I Have Cried", Tone 6).

The Nativity of the Theotokos marks the change of the times when the great and comforting promises of God for the salvation of the human race from slavery to the devil are about to be fulfilled. This event has brought to earth the grace of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of Truth, piety, virtue and everlasting life. The Theotokos is revealed to all of us by grace as a merciful Intercessor and Mother, to Whom we have recourse with filial devotion.

Feastday Source

For Orthodox Christians, the pinnacle of "freedom through obedience" is the Mother of God. The Queen of the Heavens, Mary the Ever-Virgin Mother of God, is a constant intercessor for all of us. Through her example of a life spent in purity and love, as well as her dedication and faith in the Lord (her Son), she is the vessel of our humanity having the ability to attain to the divinity of her Son.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dormition of the Theotokos

Orthodox Christians celebrate the solemn Great Feast of the Dormition or "Falling Asleep" of the Theotokos on August 15th in the Life of the Church.

Image Source

The Gospel lesson for this Feast is taken from that according to St Luke (as a side note: Church Tradition credits the Evangelist Luke as the first iconographer, and he depicted the Virgin Theotokos with the Christ-child) 10:38-42, 11:27-28 which describes the story of Mary & Martha, the sisters of Lazarus (raised from the dead after four days).

In this story, we hear of a sibling squabble, Mary sitting at our Lord's feet hearing Him speak, while Martha busy with serving. Upset at her serving alone, Martha complains to Jesus about Mary's lack of work. Our Lord tells Martha not to worry about such things, and that Mary has chosen correctly to listen to His words.

Then follows of the Gospel lesson: "And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, 'Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!' But He said, 'More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!'"

Very fitting that this Gospel is recited on the Great Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. First, an obvious reference to the nurturing quality of Christ's Holy Mother; Christ does not dismiss this woman's words about His Mother, but states her even greater importance, "blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"

This calling towards obedience has the Theotokos as par excellence, for without her free-will of obedience to God, being the vessel of our Lord's Incarnation (God becoming Man; literally the Divinity taking upon Himself "flesh"), we as created human beings would not have the opportunity for salvation!

Holy Tradition teaches us the following about the events during this Holy Day in the Garden of Gethsemane of the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos: Seeing Her Son, the Mother of God exclaimed: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God My Savior, for He hath regarded the low estate of His Handmaiden" (Luke 1:46-48) and, rising from Her bed to meet the Lord, She bowed down to Him, and the Lord bid Her to enter into Life Eternal. Without any bodily suffering, as though in a happy sleep, the Most Holy Virgin Mary gave Her soul into the hands of Her Son and God.

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A great article discussing the differences between the two points of view, Assumption & Dormition (Catholic & Orthodox), written by Very Rev Fr John Breck can be found HERE.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director