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 activity...an 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