Sunday, March 29, 2009

Self and Self Sacrifice

I do believe that what we want in life and what is good for us are two different things most of the time. This becomes most evident when we look at self-sacrifice.
During this fasting period I have noticed how negative I can be in viewing sacrifice. I always put it in terms of "giving up" something, or "can't do this or that" etc.
It wasn't until I was re-introduced to the basic things in life, such as breathing, eating, sleeping, speaking and silence that I noticed how sacred they were. The fasting from meaningless breathing, gluttonous eating, over-sleeping, careless speaking and needless entertainment allowed me to see things as they truly were. otherwise how can you be re-introduced to life if you don't first walk away from it for a while.

That is my conclusion I think. Sacrifice is not so much about giving up as walking past it to see from a better vantage point.
However you rationalize it though it is always (and perhaps should always be) a struggle.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve knew the joy of self-sacrifice as the only way to live. They lived in communion with God and the simple act of not eating from a single tree amongst the many delicious trees was not a problem. It was an act of love, trust and prayer to God.

And then the devil lied to Eve. He told her that God was a liar and that disobedience would lead to them becoming gods. They believed him, they decided sacrifice was unfair and so they took and ate. They were led astray and whole heartedly believed that by avoiding self-sacrifice they would be like god, doing what they wanted when they wanted.
And that is when they became naked, they lost the Grace God had clothed them in.

From that day till today, self-sacrifice is difficult, unwanted. It makes us feel less free as persons to "give something up", like we are loosing out. We feel like fools. That is the lie of the devil.

Christ lived His entire life in obedience to God out of love. He did what Adam and Eve did not do. Jesus being God could really do whatever He wanted whenever He wanted, but unlike what the devil says about God, He does not work that way.

When Christ was fasting for 40 days in the desert, He was hungry, then the devil came to tempt Him much like he did with Adam and Eve (though they were not hungry). He said to Jesus, "if you are hungry make these stones into bread and eat". In other words if you are God do this miracle and eat, satisfy the hunger.
Christ healed the sick, restored limbs to the lame, raised the dead, all with a word. Instead in a time of hunger He replies to that great liar," man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God."

Christ answers in the way Adam and Eve should have answered. We get to know God through the beauty of His creation but also from the self-control He teaches us in our use of that Creation. It is not only eating that makes us live but not eating as well. What a thought!

May He who, out of love, was obedient even to death on the Cross for our salvation, Christ Jesus grant us peace without end.

Fr. Kosta

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Today the Virgin contains the Uncontainable One

Jesus Christ is the only person to be born from a Virgin mother and has no earthly father. He is the Beginning-less God with the Father before time and creation, who today was conceived not by man but by the Holy Spirit. His mother in humility accepts the miracle, and becomes the new Eden, the second Eve who was not led astray, the icon for the Church.
For this reason we celebrate and break our fast today, feasting on fish and drinking wine in joy.

Gabriel flew down from heaven *
and came to Nazareth; * and to the
Virgin Mary * he appeared and he
cried out, * ʺRejoice, O blessed woman,
for you will conceive * a Son,
more ancient than Adam is. * He has
created the ages, and He redeems *
those who cry to you, O pure one,

Bringing good tidings from heaven,
* Gabriel cried out, ʺRejoice,ʺ *
unto the Virgin, saying, * ʺYou shall
conceive and will carry * Him, who is
containable in your womb, * and
whom the whole world cannot contain.
* You shall be seen as the Mother
of Him who rose * from the Father before
the morning star.ʺ

In His exceeding compassion, *
viewing with mercy our fall, * the coeternal
Logos * of the beginningless
Father * came down and appeared to
the things below, * never leaving the
things on high. * Having assumed
Adam’s poverty to Himself * He has
taken on the other’s form.

The Word transcending all essence,
* who has appeared to the world, * who
was eternally fathered * and temporally
mothered, * becoming flesh has taken
the form of a slave, * losing not His Divinity.
* And in the womb of the
woman who without seed * has conceived
Him He refashions man.

The age-old mystery is revealed
today, and the Son of God becomes
the Son of man, so that by partaking
of what is lower He may impart to me
what is superior. Of old, Adam was
deceived; and he did not become God,
though this was his desire. But now,
God becomes man, to make Adam
god. Let creation sing for joy, and let
nature be exultant. For the Archangel
is standing with awe before the Virgin
and is delivering the salutation, ʺRejoice,
ʺ the reverse of the pain and sorrow.
O our God, who in Your tender
mercy became man, glory to You!

What Glory has been showered on human nature! That man is remade by His Creator and that through a woman salvation has come to all the world.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick; Great Orthodox Saint of Ireland

The Following is a summary of St. Patrick's life as found on the GOARCH web sight. What I found most interesting is not the St. Patrick is an Orthodox Saint (though that was ver cool when I first found out), but how his faith in Christ grew only when he became a slave at 16 years old. He is a saint not so much because he converted all of Ireland to the Faith, but because the struggles in his life only moved him closer to God instead of firther away.

It is interesting also to note that faith in God is inceperable to Love for your enemies. Had St. Patrick not loved the very people who inslaved him, he wouldn't have been able to be their Bishop and spiritual papa. It is this love that converted an entire country.

Saint Patrick, the Apostle of the Irish, was seized from his native Britain by Irish marauders when he was sixteen years old. Though the son of a deacon and a grandson of a priest, it was not until his captivity that he sought out the Lord with his whole heart. In his Confession, the testament he wrote towards the end of his life, he says, "After I came to Ireland - every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed - the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was so moved that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many at night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountain; and I would rise for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm." After six years of slavery in Ireland, he was guided by God to make his escape, and afterwards struggled in the monastic life at Auxerre in Gaul, under the guidance of the holy Bishop Germanus. Many years later he was ordained bishop and sent to Ireland once again, about the year 432, to convert the Irish to Christ. His arduous labours bore so much fruit that within seven years, three bishops were sent from Gaul to help him shepherd his flock, "my brethren and sons whom I have baptized in the Lord - so many thousands of people," he says in his Confession. His apostolic work was not accomplished without much "weariness and painfulness," long journeys through difficult country, and many perils; he says his very life was in danger twelve times. When he came to Ireland as its enlightener, it was a pagan country; when he ended his earthly life some thirty years later, about 461, the Faith of Christ was established in every corner.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone

O Holy Hierarch, equal of the Apostles, Saint Patrick, wonderworker and enlightener of Ireland: Intercede with the merciful God that He grant unto our souls forgiveness of offences.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone

The Master revealed thee as a skillful fisher of men; and casting forth nets of Gospel preaching, thou drewest up the heathen to piety. Those who were the children of idolatrous darkness thou didst render sons of day through holy Baptism. O Patrick, intercede for us who honour thy memory.

Reading courtesy of Holy Transfiguration Monastery
Apolytikion courtesy of Holy Transfiguration Monastery
Kontakion courtesy of Holy Transfiguration Monastery

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Outside the Gates of Paradise

O holy paradise, planted for me by God and lost by
the weakness of Eve,
grant that I may once again gaze on the flowers of
your garden.
And the Savior said to him:
"I do not wish the death of My creation.
I desire that all should be saved and come to the
knowledge of the truth.
For he who comes to me I shall never cast out." (*)

Adam was cast out from the delight of paradise
when he broke the commandment of the Master
through uncontrolled desire.
His taking of food became bitter,
and he was condemned to work the earth from
which he was taken;
he ate his bread in toil and sweat.
Therefore let us love abstinence, that we may enter
through the gate
and not weep as he did outside of paradise. (**)

*Cheesefare Sunday vespers. the quitation is from 1 Tim 2:4 and John 6:37
** Cheesefare Sunday matins

The giving of Alms as a part of Lent

Some of you may have read the quote on the side of this blog, "Wealth should be seen less for its own qualities than for the human misery it stands for. The large rooms of which you are so proud are in fact your shame. They are big enough to hold parties, and also big enough to shut out the voice of the poor. The poor man cries before your house, and you pay no attention. There is your brother, naked, crying, and you stand there in a dilemma over a choice of carpets."

This was written by St Ambrose if Milan, who lived from 338-397 AD. and it makes me cringe on how it still holds true today. Lent is also a time of alms giving (though more people associate that with Christmas) and we should remember to include some form of it in our spiritual preparation for Pascha. One of the holy fathers said "If you are rich, fast, if you are poor give alms". This is pretty self explanatory, and something to keep in mind during this fasting season. As a society, we are so jaded and cynical about the homeless, and the less-fortunate. We should try to overcome some of that cynasism and (not foolishly) give more to those in need.

As a community, we should think about things we can do as an Orthodox community this Lent (I know this is a bit short notice, but it doesn't have to be anything big, it can be as simple as a clothing drive for a local shelter, or a food drive) but we should at least do something. If we call ourselves an Orthodox community, we should act as one.

Monday, March 9, 2009

On Communion

Daniel the disciple of Arsenius used to talk about a hermit is Skete, saying that he was a great man but simple in faith, and in his ignorance he thought and said that the bread which we receive is not in very truth the Body of Christ, but a symbol of His Body.

Two of the monks heard what he said but because of his sublime works and labors, they imagined that he said it in innocence and simple-mindedness; and so they came to him and said unto him, "Abba, someone told us something that we do not believe; he said that this bread that we receive is not in very truth the Body of Christ, but a mere symbol."

He said to them, " I said that."

They begged him, saying, "You mustn't say that, abba; according to what the Catholic Church has handed down to us, even so do we believe, that is to say, this bread is the Body of Christ in very truth, and is not a mere symbol. It is the same as when God took dust from the earth, and made man in His image; just as no one can say that he is not the image of God, so also with the bread of which He said, 'This is My Body' is not to be regarded as a merely commemorative thing; we believe that it is indeed the Body of Christ."

The hermit said, "Unless I can be convinced by the thing itself I will not listen to this."
Then the monks said to him, "Let us pray to God all week about this mystery, and we believe He will reveal the truth to us."

The hermit agreed to this with great joy, and each went to his cell. Then the hermit prayed, saying, "O Lord, you know that it is not out of wickedness that I do not believe, so in order that I may not go astray through ignorance, reveal to me, Lord Jesus Christ, the truth of this mystery."

The other two brothers prayed to God and said, "Lord Jesus Christ, give this hermit understanding about this mystery, and we believe that he will not be lost." God heard the prayer of the two monks.

When the week was over they came to the church and the three of them sat down by themselves on one seat, the hermit between the other two. The eyes of their understanding were opened, and when the time of the mysteries arrived, and the bread was laid upon the holy table, there appeared to the three of them as it were a child on the table.

Then the priest stretched out his hand to break the bread, and behold the angel of the Lord came down from heaven with a knife in his hand, and he killed the child and pressed out his blood into the cup. When the priest broke off from the bread small pieces, the hermit went forward to receive communion and a piece of living flesh smeared and dripping with blood was given to him.

Now when he saw this he was afraid and he cried out loudly, saying "Lord, I believe the bread is Your Body, and that the cup is Your Blood."

At once, the flesh that was in his hand became bread, and he took it and gave thanks to God.

The brothers said to him, "God knows the nature of men, and that we are unable to eat living flesh, and so He turneth His Body into bread, and His Blood into wine for those who receive Him in faith."

Then they gave thanks to God for the hermit, because He had not let Satan destroy him, and the three of them went back to their cells joyfully.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I came across this article the other day from

Concerning the 60%
March 1, 2009

by Fr. Steven C. Salaris

Last year, I attended a clergy gathering where we had several "workshops" discussing the importance of Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF), ministry to college students, and what I call "The 60%." This term derives from a recent study revealing that 60% of college students never return to church after college. This sad data applies to Orthodox Christians, too. When discussing this with others, my scientific brain (I'm a former biology professor) wanted data to back up the claim. I wanted to identify the reasons why our youth leave. Bad idea! I felt like a McCain supporter at an Obama rally! No one wanted to discuss the issues. It was easier to lament about the symptoms than to address the cause(s) head on. There was also a lot of finger-pointing at those workshops; however, when you point a finger at someone, three fingers point back at you!

So why do 60% of our college youth leave Orthodoxy? This is a difficult question to answer. It requires some serious scientific investigation. In the discussion that follows, I have implemented the scientific method of which I am so familiar. After spending time making observations and asking some tough questions, I have come up with several hypotheses. Some will apply specifically to our Orthodox Church, others will apply to Christian churches in general. Most of the hypotheses are corollaries to the warning God gave in Exodus, "I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments" (20:5b-6). (We would do well preaching about that verse more!). Another hypothesis is related to how we educate our youth. Here are my hypotheses.

Hypothesis 1: Linguistic and cultural ghettos that masquerade as "Churches" are contributing to "The 60%"

Orthodoxy has been in America for over 200 years. Yet too often our parishes live with the notion that the Church's primary function is to be an ethnic preservation society. Far too many people go to church not to encounter Christ, the Son of the living God, but to talk in or listen to foreign languages and eat ethnic foods. Why do we attempt to spiritually raise our children in an atmosphere of dead liturgical languages and the equally dead cultures from which they came? Gee, Toto, we're not in Byzantium (or Tsarist Russia) anymore!

Be honest, we worship in dead liturgical languages that laity, chanters, priests, and bishops do not understand. Our insistence on using these languages is like keeping a body alive on a ventilator long after brain death has occurred. Nonetheless, we continue to offer incense to the idol of "spiritual language" while not gaining a substantive understanding from what we hear. Sure, sending our children to Arabic/Greek/Russian school might make grandma happy, but they will still be unable to understand the liturgical languages they hear in Church.

Even when we do use English, many Orthodox Churches speak in what I call "liturgical ebonics" - an old variant of Shakespearian English that uses "Thee, Thy, Thou, Thine" pronouns and archaic verb tenses. Imagine the relief our youth feel attending a non-Orthodox church service that uses proper modern English. Dost thou not get it that this silly talk edifieth not our children! Sts. Cyril and Methodius understood using the language of the people! The evangelists to the Alaskan Native American people understood it. Why don't we?

Hypothesis 2: Enmity in our churches is contributing to "The 60%"

"Enmity" is a word that means "positive, active, and mutual hatred or ill will." Churches are full of it! - including the Orthodox. It would be great if we hated evil, sin, and the devil; instead we hate each other. Jesus tells us that we are to love one another as he has loved us. Too often we fail. When we fail we are hypocrites. How can Johnny learn about Christian love when mom has not spoken to "that person" in the parish for fifteen years? Yes, mom says, Jesus teaches that we have to love our neighbor as ourselves and that we must forgive seventy times seven, but how dare "that person" change grandmother's baklava recipe at the Church festival! Years ago, I stood in a food line at a Greek festival and watched two men of that parish cursing and yelling at each other while nearly coming to fisticuffs. Great witness for the Gospel, huh? Add to this parish splits, gossip, back-biting, the way personality disordered parishioners treat the priest, vituperative general assembly meetings, etc., is it any wonder that our youth flee once they are free?

Hypothesis 3: Lack of stewardship is contributing to "The 60%"

We don't regard the Church as the pearl of great price or a treasure buried in a field. Instead we treat the Church like a street beggar. In many of our parishes, clergy and stewardship committees hold out their hands hoping (and begging) that parish families will pay their "minimum dues." Why must I hear of parishes with hundreds of families that by mid-year don't have enough money to pay the electric bill or the priest's salary? Why must I hear about priests and their families who are expected to live in substandard housing, send their children to substandard schools, drive junk cars, and depend on food stamps? This is scandalous! Even worse, this is oftentimes expected by parishioners who are quite generous to themselves. Why do churches depend on endless fundraisers and festivals for income? The answer to these questions is simple: Too many parishioners do not value the Church. Once the message that the Church is valueless is internalized by our youth (don't be fooled, it is internalized), they will eventually turn their back on the Church. Our children will seek something of more enduring value as determined by family and society. Isn't that frightening?! We must pass on to our children, by our example, the principle that the Church is worth the stewardship of our time and talents above all else.

Hypothesis 4: Failed models of Christian education are contributing to "The 60%"

With all due respect to those that have worked so hard in Christian education, it is time we admit that our Protestant-derived models of Christian education have failed. Like us, the Catholics and Protestants also have their own 60%. If the current model for Christian education doesn't work for them, it will not work for us. Christian youth come out of years of Sunday school and still don't know the basics of their own faith. I know of students educated in Catholic schools that think the Holy Trinity is Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! I know Orthodox Christians who think that the Holy Trinity is God, Jesus, and Mary. An organic living knowledge and internalization of the Orthodox Christian faith cannot happen in 45 minutes on a Sunday by cutting and coloring paper doll clergy and iconostases. There was no Sunday School in the early Church and yet families - parents and children - were martyred together bearing witness to the Christian faith (read the life of the early second-century martyrs Sophia and her three children…if you dare). Perhaps a radical re-thinking and new approach to Christian education needs to be developed by those who specialize in the field.

Hypothesis 5: The lack of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is contributing to "The 60%"

The Church is like a fig tree with lots of leaves. The leaves are things we get passionate and obsessive about - icons, facial hair (on men), chanting, vestments, ethnic nationalism, calendars, choirs, rants about ecumenists and liberal deconstructionists, spirituality, pseudo-spirituality, and all the rest of the fodder that one can find on "Orthodox" blog sites. However, if the tree doesn't bear fruit then it is doomed to whither. I am going to be bold and identify the "first fruits" of the Church as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Some people might think that sounds a bit "Protestant," but in fact it is entirely Orthodox. Our relationship with Jesus Christ is so deep, intimate, and personal, that He feeds us with this very own Body and Blood in the Eucharist (beginning for many of us when we are babies). That "first fruit," that intense personal relationship with Christ, should then yield the fruits of repentance and spiritual growth in the lives of every Orthodox Christian. If we are unable to bear these "first fruits," our youth and our Churches will wither.

What is next? In the scientific method, after making observations, asking questions, and developing a hypothesis comes experimentation where the hypothesis is rigorously tested. In this short article, I have only gone as far as formulating some hypotheses concerning "the 60%." To go any further will require specialists in the Church to do the experiments and analyze the data. When all this is done, the conclusions will either support or reject the hypotheses. If, however, the appropriate studies do support the hypotheses how will the Church respond - with action or apathy? The Lord says, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Repentance starts with self-examination - I am calling for the Church to do just that here and now. If it is determined that something is wrong, then true repentance requires a change. If we respond with apathy, then the 60% phenomenon will continue and our sins will continue to be visited upon our children generation after generation until the Church is no more. If we respond with proper action and change based on love, prayer, grace, self-sacrifice, and joy, then Christ and His Church - the very kingdom of heaven - will be a seed planted in the good soil of our children's hearts and souls that will grow and bear fruit one thousand-fold until "the 60%" is no more.

Fr. Steven C. Salaris, M.Div., Ph.D. is the pastor of All Saints of North America Antiochian Orthodox Christian Mission in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

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So why do you think the youth leave the church? Is it because of the reasons that the author states, or are there other reasons? I would love to know what people think about it. I tend to agree with the article, but especially about how it's much easier to lament about why the youth leave, than to actually have enough humility to see what is actually wrong, and act on it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Some announcements

Just a reminder that this week starts the pre-sanctified liturgies as well as the Akathist to the Mother of God. The pre-sanctified liturgy is every Wednesday starting at 6pm. This is a beautiful service, done in candlelight, and is one of my favorite services. Fasting for pre-sanctified starts at noon, or if you are ill or working, 3pm. Ask Father for details if you have any questions about this.

The Akathist to the Mother of God is done each Friday at 7pm, followed by a discussion by Father. The topic being discussed this Lent is about Holy week, and it's significance. The topic this Friday is the raising of Lazarus, and Christ's entry into Jerusalem.

The tradition of doing the Akathist during Lent is something unique to the Greek churches (though I'm sure other traditions do it as well), and it comes from when the citizens of Constantinople would ask the Mother of God to protect them from invading foes. We do this to ask for protection from the invisible enemies that assault us during Lent.

This Sunday is the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The vesper serivce is a pan-orthodox service that we celebrate with our brethren at All Saints of Alaska (OCA) and St. Georges Ukranian Orthodox church. This service starts at 6pm, and is hosted by our church this year.

One last thing...........please feel free to would be nice to have an idea who is reading this blog and to hear your thoughts and feelings about it!