Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Quiz

'Tis the Season...please enjoy this Christmas Quiz:

1. Of the gifts listed below, which one is NOT what the Magi (Wise Men from the East) brought to the Christ-child?

a. gold     b. myrrh
c. silver   d. frankincense

2. Into what country did Joseph and Mary take baby Jesus to flee the persecution of King Herod?
a. Lebanon    b. Syria
c. Egypt         d. Jordan
3. When does the Nativity Fast (Advent) begin?
a. November 15    b. November 20
c. December 1      d. December 10
4. What does "advent" mean?
a. going       b. hoping
c. waiting    d. coming
5. When is the feastday of St Nicholas?
a. December 1     b. December 6
c. December 20   d. December 25
6. In what town was Jesus born?
a. Nazareth       b. Jerusalem
c. Bethlehem    d. Bethany
7. What led the Wise Men (Magi) to worship the Christ-child?
a. a star       b. the moon
c. the sun    d. a compass
8. Which ruler was searching for the Christ-child (Messiah) to kill him?
a. Pontius Pilate    b. Caesar Augustus
c. Caiaphas            d. Herod
9. What does "Emmanuel" mean?
a. Messiah        b. God with us
c. Jesus           d. Savior
10. What does "nativity" mean?
a. birth                  b. death
c. being created    d. blessing
11. Fill in the blank: "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of _____, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1).
a. Joseph    b. Mary
c. David      d. God
12. Which prophet said: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel?"

a. David      b. Jeremiah
c. Elijah      d. Isaiah

13. Upon learning the news of Mary's pregnancy, Joseph contemplates sending her away secretly, not wanting to disgrace her. Who tells him that "the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit?"

a. the high priest     b. an angel
c. his friend             d. his cousin

14. Fill in the blank: Angels appeared to the shepherds in the fields telling them the good news of the birth of the Messiah. They were praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, ______ towards men" Luke 2.14).

a. goodwill    b. salvation
c. love          d. joy

15. In Orthodox theology, what does "incarnation" mean?

a. the Anointed One       b. birth
c. God becoming man     d. salvation

The Answer Key is below, please highlight to view:

Answer Key:
1. C   6. C   11. C
2. C   7. A   12. D
3. A   8. D   13. B
4. D   9. B   14. A
5. B  10. A  15. C

- A Day in the Life of the "Former" Youth Director Now Turned Seminarian

Thursday, April 11, 2013

OCF Real Break Constantinople 2013: College Student Reflection

Our guest blogger is Alexa Janda of Houston, TX. She is a sophomore at the University of Texas-Austin, studying Nutrition. She has been an active member of the parish community of St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, TX. Alexa recently traveled to Istanbul, Turkey to participate in Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) Real Break. These "real breaks" serve as alternative destinations/trips for college students throughout the US & Canada to offer service to their "neighbor." Please enjoy reading her reflection upon coming home from this amazing experience, as well as the awesome pictures:

My decision to serve with the OCF Real Break mission trip to Constantinople was one of the best decisions of my life.  Initially, my spring break plan was to spend a week in Alaska with my parents.  However, my plan changed last Christmas break when I found out my two good friends Mary Catherine Huneycutt and Mary Dahdouh were going on the OCF trip.  I shared the Real Break information with my parents who instantly recognized what an amazing opportunity this trip would be for me.  I registered for OCF Real Break not realizing that this mission trip would be a life changing experience. 

This OCF Real Break trip to Constantinople is unlike any other Real Break trip as Constantinople is a city steeped in Orthodox history.  Tragically, Christ’s beautiful and significant faith is being rooted out from Turkey.  Today, about 1% of the population maintains to be Orthodox.  Our trip had three primary objectives:  to serve the Church of Constantinople, to experience Constantinople’s extensive Orthodox history, and to meet His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. 

OCF Real Break team with His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

College students meet with and receive a blessing from Patriarch Bartholomew

His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
The first objective of this and every OCF Real Break mission trip is service in the form of manual labor.  However, unlike the other mission trips, we did not work to clean and refresh an orphanage, monastery, or church.  Instead, as requested by the Patriarch, our 22-member team spent our time restoring an unkempt and vandalized Orthodox cemetery.   To me, this seemed a little odd at first.  Why weren’t we disposing ourselves to the living rather than to the dead?  I quickly began to realize the importance or the assignment, or rather, I thought I did.   I figured that by restoring the graves, we offer respect, remembrance, and reverence to those brothers and sisters who have gone before us (and who have limited or no family left in Turkey to keep their graves).   Our efforts would also encourage hopefulness that one day Christianity will be restored in Turkey.   Although these reasons are true, I didn’t realize what the greatest benefit would be until we actually began working.  Each passing day would give me more of an understanding into the Patriarch’s unusual request.

One of the students in our group eloquently addressed our mission when she wrote on paper what each of us wrote on our heart:

“The work is humbling because we’re not here to receive praise or rewards. We are here to care for the bodies of our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep and to commemorate them as they await the Resurrection. Graves are physical, tangible reminders to the living that life is fleeting and one day we will all rest in the ground. As Orthodox Christians, we also value human bodies as icons of Christ, sanctified by the very act of the Incarnation, and strive to care for them even after the soul has departed. Caring for the dead concretely demonstrates our theology and eschatology to the rest of the world and is the least we can do for the small Orthodox presence in Constantinople. Finally, our work is an excellent analogy to preparation for Lent. Just as we are using rakes, rags, and shovels to uncover these broken stones in order to piece together the graves, our Lenten journey is also a tool designed to help us uncover our broken hearts in order to piece ourselves back together by the grace of God. This is a never-ending journey of physical and spiritual restoration which will not cease until we, too, are laid in the ground awaiting the Resurrection.” 
- Alison Sailer Bennett (OCF Real Break participant) 

OCF Real Break group

Orthodox Christian Cemetery at the Phanar (in great need of repair)

Fr Mark Leondis (group leader) playing the role of lumber jack

Group effort is effective!

Orthodox Cemetery at the Phanar
As our focus changed from worker to tourist, we visited the Church of the Panagia (Mother of God) Vlacherna, the Chora museum, the Orthodox seminary on Halki Island (which has been closed by the government for over 40 years), the Church of St Mary of the Spring, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, and both the Spice and Grand Bazaars.  Each and every one of these sites was so very different and so very captivating.  Each spoke to us of its history.   But as you can imagine, of particularly great import was our visit to the Hagia Sophia.  The architecture of this once active Orthodox Church turned mosque turned museum was amazingly exquisite.   Most of the gorgeous mosaics were, and still are, covered in plaster.  Unfortunately, the overall condition of the Church is both disheartening and politically eye opening.

I must confess that the absolute pinnacle of the entire trip for me was our audience with His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew at the Phanar, the headquarters of the Patriarchate.  Knowing that I was blessed to stand beside His All-Holiness, a truly God-fearing, humble and influential man, still blows my mind.  The fact that he made the time to meet with us and thank US for giving our vacation time to help him minister to his flock is beyond words.  He told us that we are a witness to the remaining Christians in Turkey that they are not alone.  That Orthodoxy IS alive.  The Patriarch instructed us to be the “leaven to the bread” of our world, to rise above the earth’s sinful nature.  My initial nervousness calmed into a feeling of welcome and love as this amazing man spoke.  His All-Holiness is a true inspiration.

This trip offered so many wonders packed into a mere 5 days.  The work, the friendship, the spirituality, and yes, many, many laughs combined to make this trip one of, if not the highlight of my life.  We laughed as our bus driver spoke Turkish to the church grounds keeper who would translate Turkish to Arabic for someone to translate Arabic to Greek and then to someone who would bring the comment home to our English.  (We did wonder just how closely what we heard in English matched the original Turkish.)  We prayed daily.  We worked ‘til we ached.   We marveled at how a group of 22 strangers from all over the United States could bond so closely to each other in such a short period of time.  We cried at the restored cemetery when we prayed the Trisagion before our final exit for we knew that our group had become a family and our prayers were sincerely offered for our beloved brothers and sisters resting here until the Resurrection.  But mostly, we thank those Orthodox who have gone before us and those courageous ones currently struggling for preserving our Faith in a non-Christian land.   
Skyline of Istanbul, Turkey

Iconastasis at a local Orthodox Church

Hagia Sophia

Venerating an icon at a local Orthodox Church
In the end, I learned that it was not I who had served those who lay at rest, but they who had served me.   Without uttering a word, they gave me new insight into our Faith.  They helped me understand as a young adult what I had been taught as a child.  Now, I grasp that their lives and those of all Orthodox live on in the Faith.   I am beginning to “get” the Divine Liturgy.  My ears are open and I hear the Liturgy as I’ve never heard it before.  No longer are the Litanies just tedious words followed by a “Lord Have Mercy.”   These short and fervent prayers are meaningful, necessary and timeless.  Through death, I have discovered life, my life in Christ and His Holy Orthodox Church. 

So did I serve on OCF Real Break?   No, not at all.   I was blessed by it.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Friday, March 8, 2013

Psalter Reading Group: Lent 2013


As our Lenten journey is fast approaching (pun intended), we will have another Psalter Reading Group with the Orthodox community in Houston, especially our teens and young adults at St George Houston.

It's a simple concept: you will be assigned to read various small selections from the Book of Psalms DAILY ON YOUR OWN throughout Great Lent. So that during your Lenten journey, you will end up reading through the entire Book of Psalms TWICE. The really cool concept is that if everyone sticks with it and reads their different selection of psalms each day, the entire Book of Psalms will be read by the group EACH & EVERY DAY of Great Lent. Get it??

If you are interested in participating in this Lenten program, please respond and let me know. I will put together a list of participants and assigning the selection of psalms. I will email out the final list prior to the beginning of Great Lent (March 18), so please let me know!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Winter Camp 2013: Teen Reflections

During President's Day weekend (February 2013), a group of over 100 teens from across the Diocese of Wichita & Mid-America gathered for Winter Camp at a YMCA Camp called Takatoka outside of Tulsa, OK, or as we all know it, especially when we are present: Camp St Raphael (YaBoy!). Please enjoy reading a few teen reflections from their experience and pictures from all the festivities:

Winter Camp 2013
"'I’ve got my ticket for the long way ‘round, the one with the prettiest of views. It’s got mountains, it’s got rivers, it’s got sights to give you shivers, but it sure would be prettier with you.' Camp St Raphael (YaBoy!) is a beautiful place on its own, but even in the dead of winter, it blooms with the presence of campers from across our diocese.

Prior to President’s Day weekend in February, I was counting the days and hours until we boarded the plane for Wagoner, Oklahoma: the small town in the middle of America, where everyone at Camp St Raphael can call home. Winter Camp is the ideal getaway from this hectic life, to retreat into the woods and find friendship, faith, and love.

I’m so glad to have gone to Winter Camp because I got the chance to make and strengthen friendships with people from Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. These are the friendships that last, for these friendships are connected by a bond stronger than we can measure. Fr James Shadid made our lessons fun and an interactive way to learn the Gospel. Where else could you find the Prodigal Son being portrayed by a guy from Houston, Sawageds acting out Adam and Eve, and an analogy relating Christ’s love to Lady Gaga’s 'Bad Romance?' Now I’m restless to return this summer!"   -Written by Pilar Z.

Photo bomb by Fr James (look closely!)

Teens visiting the Outdoor Chapel

Epistle Reading during Divine Liturgy

"'Friendship is like standing on wet cement. The longer you stay, the harder it is to leave, and you can never go without leaving your footprints behind.' Winter Camp 2013 was filled with some of the best memories of my life. As a 4 year camper, I have been to many retreats, but of all the retreats, this one was by far the best.

Winter Camp St Raphael is a retreat that DOWAMA annually plans located at Camp Takatoka in Wagoner, Oklahoma. Many people from various cities in our diocese, such as Wichita, Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas, and Denver joined together to be surrounded by fellow Orthodox Christians who share the same beliefs. It gives us Orthodox Christians a chance to escape the real world and be surrounded by our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Each participant is very welcoming, introducing themselves to people they don't know and making everyone feel at home. Everyone met new people and enjoyed the time spent with each other. Music would be playing in the dining hall as someone played the tubleh and everyone would clap, sing, or dance along. Hiking with your friends, laughing and learning during discussions, and showing people a good time at the hafleh made this weekend one of the best yet. Having a 'Riff-off' around the campfire just brought everyone closer than ever. Although I enjoyed every part of WAMP, my all-time favorite part was cabin time. Cabin time was filled with laughter, from jokes about being Arab to the struggles of hiking. That time was a strong bonding time for me, where strangers and old friends really became sisters. The memories in cabin time, sharing secrets and 'eating our feelings away,' were memories that I will never forget.

Neon Hafli (such bright colors!)

St George Houston group picture

We were lucky enough to have Fr James Shadid of St George Houston as our speaker for Winter Camp. Although he claims to 'not be prepared,' he did a fantastic job getting all the teenagers involved in the discussion. Fr James focused on 3 words: Sin, Exile, and Redemption. On the first day of WAMP, he asked one simple question to the campers, 'what are we NOT going to talk about at this retreat?' Answers varied from 'door handles' to 'Ke$ha' to '2 Chainz' to even 'Yo Mamma!'  He made a promise that if he didn't talk about each topic that we weren't supposed to talk about, he would pay each parish $100. Of course, he kept his promise and made sure to talk about every single topic!

Not only did Fr James made everyone feel welcomed, he made sure everyone had a chance to participate. He passed out 'Pick Me' signs to people who wanted to participate. There was only one rule: if you wanted to participate, you had to do exactly what Fr James told you to do! One girl received a piece of chocolate while another got water splashed on her face! Some had to do push-ups while others were forced to actually throw water on Fr James's face! He had many volunteers to reenact lessons from the Bible, which gave everyone a hilarious visualization of the stories. Fr James taught everyone that 'God is a stalker' and we will always receive His grace no matter what.

The last day of Winter Camp was bittersweet. Best friends were forced to go back to their home town and face reality on their own. Getting teary-eyed as each bus left Camp St Raphael (YaBoy!) was probably the worst part of the retreat, but I know that the memories from this retreat will be kept with me for the rest of my life. 'It's fine by me, if you never leave, we could live like this forever, it's fine by me!'"
   -Written by Julianna Z.

Advisors doing what we do - advise!

Neon Hafli group picture

The fellas of St George Houston!
At camp, you make friends, more strong bonds between older friends, and learn how to live your life in accordance to Christ. It is the perfect place to go when you need a retreat from life. The friends you make there are going to be with you for life. Your camp friends share something that most of your friends don’t. We share our beliefs, our cultures, and our lifestyles. You never really have to explain at camp why, no matter where you are, when you hear the tubleh, you form a dabke line.

In addition to the friendships that you form at camp, you also learn teachings that stay with you for the rest of your life. With great speakers giving the talks each day at wamp, you learn lessons that add meaning to the term 'Orthodox.' Whether Fr James has to throw water in your face, or jump on you to get you to learn these lessons, he will, and has shown that he will. That’s because the teachings are important, and it helps us grow as Christians. Camp has a magical feel to it. When you are there, you feel an incredible sensation throughout your whole being that makes you smile."    -Written by Alexander Z.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fashion OR Faux pas?

Dolce & Gabbana released their Autumn/Winter 2013 line at the recent Milan Fashion Week, among other big name designers, such as Emporio Armani & Jil Sander.

According to InStyle.Co.UK's coverage (read the full article HERE) of the show: "Dolce & Gabbana added a bit of spice to proceedings with a Byzantium meets Vatican theme played out to the sounds of The Spice Girls. With mosaic vistas appearing in intricately appliqu├ęd golden gowns or printed on shrug-on jersey column dresses, we’ve no doubt Hollywood’s finest would have worn it straight of the catwalk."

Be sure to check the tag of your bishop or priest's vestments next Sunday; look for this symbol (view above):

Both for the Women's & Men's line, Dolce & Gabbana added a religious theme with images of Byzantine Orthodox icons/frescos, Catholic statues of the Virgin Mary, ornate Orthodox crosses, and imperial crowns.

From their own press release for the new collection:

"Domenico Dolce & Stefano Gabbana were inspired by the mosaic of Monreale for this collection. The city of Monreale started to become important around the XI century with the arrival of the Normans in Sicily. The Cathedral of Monreale, consecrated to Santa Maria Nuova, was built between 1172 and 1185 under the commission of the Norman King William II of Altavilla, together with the archiepiscopal Palace and its beautiful cloister. Two of these mosaics represent William II crowned by Christ and William II who offers the church to the Virgin. Local artists and experts from Byzantium and Venice were called in to realize those striking works of art. Dolce & Gabbana made use of the abilities of artisans of the highest level to create mosaics on shoes, dresses, jewels and bags. As the art of mosaic-making is a slow and precise one, achieved by placing single piece next to the other, at the same time tailoring is made by single stitch after single stitch."

Below are a few examples from the collection; to view the entire collection (and I suggest you do so), visit HERE and HERE:

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Teen Talks 2013

With the new year upon us, I'd like to gather our dedicated Orthodox teens together for Great Vespers, discussion sessions, and dinner. We will meet at St George Orthodox Church on Saturday evenings at 5:00p for our "Teen Talks" and then worship together during Great Vespers at 6:30p, followed by a Dinner Outing.

Please invite your friends and family to join us for these SOYO activities during the next few months. Restaurant suggestions are greatly appreciated.

January 19 - Teen Talk theme: "Making Disciples of All Nations: An Orthodox Mission in America." We will discuss the history of Orthodoxy in America; our Orthodox presence in American society today and how it relates to our Faith at home and school.

January 26 - Teen Talk theme: "Science & Religion: An Orthodox Perspective." We will discuss our God as Creator and how to use what we learn in classes that deal with Science to strengthen our faith in our Creator.

February 23 - Teen Talk theme: "A Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness: St John the Baptist." Prior to the Feastday of the 1st & 2nd Finding of the Honorable Head of St John the Baptist (February 24), we will discuss the importance of St John the Baptist in the History of Salvation focusing on his Life and example for us as Orthodox Christians.

March 9 - Teen Talk theme: "Praying at Home: How Can I Find the Time?" We will discuss the importance of praying to our Lord, and building a personal relationship with our Savior, especially at home.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Orthodox Young Adult Book Club continues in 2013

Young Adult Ministries of Greater Houston is hosting its 3rd installment of our Orthodox Young Adult Book Club. Join us on Wednesday evenings (beginning January 23) at St George Antiochian Orthodox Church at 7:00p (Daily Vespers at 6:30p).

We will set up a "hosting" schedule at our first gathering for the remainder of our sessions. The book selection is The Beginnings of a Life of Prayer by Archimandrite Irenei. You can read his Bio HERE. This work is available in our St George Bookstore for $12.00 per copy. Please confirm with Paul Fuller of your participation, so we know how many books we need for the group.

Below is the book description from the backcover:

"The beginnings of prayer arise from the longing of the heart to know God, to rest in Him Who showed His love upon the precious Cross, to abide in the fullness of communion with Him. In the present book - a primer on prayer - Archimandrite Irenei first prepares the ground by helping us to count the cost (Luke 14:28) of our lives as Christians, to take stock of the spiritual struggle we must undertake if we are to ascend toward God in prayer. Then, based on a sober appraisal of our lowly condition and of the worldly and demonic influences that assail us, he helps us to adorn our inward beings as temples of prayer.

With an eye ever on the practical application of Orthodox Christian teaching to the spiritual life, the author raises our minds and hearts to a greater awareness of the holiness and majesty of God, and at the same time of the potential for us - unworthy though we are - to enter into intimate communion with Him. This awareness inspires us to explore with the author the depths of prayer, and to strive more fervently toward eternal life in Christ - the end for which we have been created."

Book Club Discussion Schedule (Wednesday evenings at 7p):

*January 23:  Introduction & The Call of Christ toward Self-Examination [pp. 7-19]
*January 30:  Attending to our Struggles [pp. 20-35]
*February 6:   Attending to our Struggles (continue) & The Transformative
Power of the Attentive Heart [pp. 35-54]
February 13:  The Beginnings of Prayer [pp. 57-70]

*February 20:  A Century of Prayer & Watchfulness [pp. 71-92]   
*February 27:  Second Century on Prayer – On the Preparation of the
Mind & Heart [pp. 93-109]
*March 6:  A Second Century on Prayer & A Postscript – Prayer & the Cross [pp. 109-122]

For more information, please contact Paul Fuller, Youth & Young Adult Director of St George ( and visit our Facebook Group: "Young Adult Ministries in Houston TX."

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Friend of the Bridegroom: St John the Baptist

In the Life of the Church, it is customary on the day following Great Feasts of the Lord and the Mother of God, to remember those saints who participated directly in the sacred event. So, on the day following the Theophany of the Lord, the Church honors the one who participated directly in the Baptism of Christ, placing his own hand upon the head of the Savior.

Baptism of our Lord
St John, the holy Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord, whom the Lord called the greatest of the prophets, concludes the history of the Old Testament and opens the era of the New Testament. The holy Prophet John bore witness to the Only-Begotten Son of God, incarnate in the flesh. St John was accounted worthy to baptize Him in the waters of the Jordan, and he was a witness of the Theophany of the Most-Holy Trinity on the day of the Savior's Baptism.

"He must increase, but I must decrease": the words of St John the Baptist as quoted in Gospels (John 3:30) 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.

Forerunner & Baptist, John
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 am currently reading for the second time 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