What Role Does God Play in Your Life?

A homily on Mark 8:34 on the Sunday after the Elevation of the Cross¹
By Deacon Jason Ketz – September 17, 2017

I was recently reading a research report, the National Study of Youth and Religion², where a few pastors interviewed several hundred Christian teenagers about their faith, hoping to see if they could link attitudes, feelings or thought patterns with behavior patterns.

Connections such as: do teens who go to church more often describe God differently.

Overwhelmingly, the teens surveyed described a nice faith.  God is nice; churches are nice. Churches help us learn important social, moral values; God is kind and loving, helps people when they really need it, and certainly thinking about God can help us through tough times.

That was the prevailing sentiment in this survey.  Nice. Maybe even “Minnesota nice.”

But when the study asked whether the students’ faith in Christ, their belief in God, actually weighs in on serious decisions or situations in their lives, nearly 80% of these students admitted that, no, they do not consult God when making decisions.

God is not involved in decisions about future college or career choices, about where they want to live, who they date or marry, how they vote, or any significant, but positive life event.

Jesus is there when they are struggling; ready to boost their self-image, assure them of a better tomorrow, but when life is clicking along, the students happily imagine that God is elsewhere, helping those who really need him. So God and Church are nice, it seems, but usually absent and largely irrelevant.

Now, I suspect that this faith the teenagers describe is largely the faith that they see around them; their faith is a rough imitation of the faith we portray to them.  To a greater or lesser extent, we are all guilty of seeing God as nice, but not always relevant or present.

I know we’re constantly guilty of trying to manage our lives ourselves; guilty of compartmentalizing our faith, so that we conduct ourselves with good morals and ethics, we live wholesome, charitable lives, but we save our big prayers for ‘emergency use only.’  And this strategy works very well to get along in 21st century America.  Very well, in fact.

There’s just this one little problem: it’s lukewarm; neither hot nor cold. Such a passive, lukewarm, nice faith is entirely the opposite of what God expects. God hates lukewarm. It’s useless and gross, like cold chicken noodle soup.

In fact, God spat out the church of Laodicea (Rev 3:16), whose works were lukewarm. And he will spit out this 21st century polite Christian piety for the same reason: Lukewarm, pragmatic, convenient faith it is not what is taught, exemplified, and requested by the crucified and risen Christ.

Not even close!

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”  (Mk 8:34-35)

He doesn’t say “check in every once in a while” and he doesn’t say “I’m there if you need me; otherwise, I’ll keep out of the way.”  And why doesn’t he say either of those messages?

Because those ways of thinking place not God, but us, at the center of our own universe. This light, lukewarm Christianity that I suspect we’re all guilty of at least once in a while, and that came out in the study of American teens is very ego-centric at the end of the day.

It hinges completely on our own belief that “I can handle it.” I will decide if and when I need help, and then I’ll ask for it.

That’s really very self-centered.  Well intended, of course, but self-centered.

But authentic faith in Christ is exactly the opposite of that – it is a decentralizing experience, and today’s gospel is a decentralizing message.  “Deny yourself, take of your cross and follow me.

For whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

Or maybe a better translation: “whoever wastes his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

What a curious phrase that is – to waste our lives for the sake of Christ and the gospel.

Christ never expected our faith in him to be a mark of pedigree, to be a sign of good citizenship or social maturity, and if we feel our Christianity is entirely compatible with our daily experiences, then either we’ve achieved real holiness, or we aren’t quite sure who it is we claim to worship.

We aren’t quite hearing our Lord’s decentralizing message.  Right now, we’re just sort of smiling and nodding along.

So what, then, is the solution?

How can we hear and process our Lord’s decentralizing call to discipleship, his call for us to deny ourselves and follow him?  The way forward begins with a serious reflection on the significance of the cross.

Because the cross is the perfect expression of God’s love for the world.

The faith I described earlier, that lukewarm Christianity, is very measured, and pragmatic, and rational.

But the faith of Christ in the Gospels is driven by love. True love. Young love. Heart on fire, head-over-heels, Romeo-and-Juliet kind of love. It’s combustible, passionate, dangerously spontaneous, maybe even reckless.

What do we see in the scriptures?
Christ dining with prostitutes or tax collectors – bad optics;
The shepherd leaving 99 sheep alone to find just one who is lost – risky;
The man who sells all he has to buy a field with a buried treasure – foolhardy;
The father who rushes to embrace his son who just came home from the pigsty – messy.

And that perfect expression of God’s reckless, passionate, burning love is in the cross.
Christ gave up everything to come and find us; to save us.

Not even death could stop God’s love for us.

What incredible, overwhelmingly passionate, and incendiary love!
For us.
For me.
For you.

And it’s this passionate love of Christ that is decentralizing.  None of us want to share the spotlight with somebody else for no good reason.

But any of us who have felt our hearts burn for another, or break for another, know exactly how to move out of the way and let somebody else, somebody we truly love more than anything, be the most important person in our lives.

Lovers, parents, long-time friends.

Deep down, we get it; we know that feeling.

And what we’re hearing today is that our God is moved, driven, by that burning love for us.  And he’s assuming we feel that way about him as well.  So do we? Do you?  Do I?  Maybe we think that we don’t know him well enough yet to make that decision.  But falling in love isn’t a rational act anyway.

is a leap of faith. Can we make such a leap of faith for Christ? Can we take a big chance on his love?

That’s the choice that is set before us today.

We have again been shown Christ’s love for each of us, God’s burning love for the world. Now it’s on us to take that fire, and kindle it within our own hearts, to carry the flame within us, to let Christ’s warmth into all the cold, dark corners of our lives; to not save Christ’s love for emergency use only, but invite him into the mundane, daily events, and especially bring his love to bear in the positive, significant life choices we make, so that we can then bring this incendiary love of Christ out to the world, where it will catch fire!

Our Lord makes no promises about our well-being either, but when you’re in love, who cares?!

All Christ promises is the one thing that a lover would want to hear: I’ll never stop loving you.

So may we all feel the heat of this burning love of Christ today. May it set ablaze our lukewarm faith, and drive us forth into the world as Christ’s disciples, to the Glory of God the Father.

Amen.


1 This reflection was presented as the homily on Sunday, September 17, 2017 at St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral, Minneapolis. MN. Dn. Jason’s writing style approximates his style of speech, with some fragmented sentences, repetitive statements and colloquial expressions. 
2 The study is even broader and far more incisive than the introduction suggests, but for the purposes of this homily, the summary statements are a reasonable distillation of the data.
Special thanks go to Kenda Creasy Dean, whose monograph Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church. (Oxford: Oxford Univ Press, 2010), presents and discusses the data, and whose reflections throughout Part 2 of the book provide some of the basis for my own reflection on the Gospel of Mark.  

Can You Hear the Beauty of Nature?

If you’re wondering what you can do or should think about the environment, then what follows is for you. In fact, every teen and young adult should pause on a regular basis – look up from their phones – and appreciate the glory and majesty of creation which is all around us.

While we live in a world with amazing gadgets, less diseases, bigger houses, fancier cars and the latest handheld devices, we are also surrounded by wondrous flowers, trees, mountains, lakes, streams, birds, animals and the beauty of God’s creation.

I have to ask – are you as connected to God’s wonders as you are to your devices?

Being so connected to our devices comes at a cost, because the world around us – and the environment in particular – is changing now, dramatically, and quickly all around us. we can all take part in  caring for the beauty of God’s creation, but where do we start?

A professor and mentor from my days in seminary used to say, “Listening is love in action.” I have returned to this phrase many times over the years for a variety of topics and situations, but I think listening is also important when we consider what God’s creation has to say to us.

What should we listen to?

In preparation for September 1, the annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation as established by His All-Holiness, Patriarch Demetrios of Constantinople in 1989, here are a few suggestions:

Listen to the Scriptures

Genesis begins with the story of creation – God’s creation of the earth – make a list of the verses which speak directly to creation and our place within it. Read them with an open mind, on your knees, and ponder them in your heart. Don’t think of the act of creation as God’s gift to us to use however we see fit. The earth is not here for us to subdue, abuse or misuse. Remember, John the Evangelist tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”

Jesus Christ came for the salvation of all creation – to restore all of it to that full communion and beauty as it was in the beginning. The Book of the Psalms celebrates the beauty of God’s creation and reminds us that His works are wonderful, boundless, and intended to be good – shouldn’t we see nature in that same Light?

Listen to the Life of Christ

Jesus Christ – the second person of the Holy Trinity – entered creation, became part of it, and through it, saved us and entirety of the cosmos.

We not only proclaim, as part of our Gospel, that God became Man, but we also say that in doing so he took on the atoms, the water, the soil, and the stuff of earth which comprise the physical body. And after He took on our sins, was crucified and died, He destroyed death – resurrecting His earthly body and restored and transformed all of creation.

He then enthroned all this (and us) after His Ascension. There is no greater honour God can give the cosmos than to enthrone it in Himself. Think of what that means – God loves the cosmos so much, that he died so He could restore everything, so that we could be like Him in caring for those around us and the very planet we live on, so that we may walk in newness of life and one day, eternal life with Him.

Listen to the Saints

Read what the fathers and mothers of the church say about the Christian life, read their lives to understand how they saw the love of God in all things. Have you seen the icon of St. Seraphim with a bear? Or of St. Herman of Alaska taming the winds of the sea? These examples are not some exception to the rule, but should inspire us to think about how we can experience the love of God flowing throughout the cosmos.

Listen to the Indigenous Peoples

As Orthodox Christians on this continent, we have the unique heritage of the native peoples of Alaska who adopted Orthodox Christianity from St. Herman and those early missionaries who arrived in 1794. The Aleuts, Tlinkit, Athabascan, Yupik and other Alaskan peoples have relied on the world around them for centuries to provide sustenance, shelter and their basic needs.

When the native peoples of Alaska were baptized and Chrismated, they understood more fully, the wonders of God’s creation – they already understood the value of taking only what they needed, sharing with their neighbors, but now they learned the value of thanking God for the gifts they received – appreciating what they had received as gifts provided by Our Lord.

We can learn quite a bit from these ancient people who don’t rely on limitless supplies of fast food and electricity, but live modestly and with an appreciation for the world around them. Their intimate knowledge of the natural world can also teach us to recognize how the earth is changing around us now.

Listen to the Scientists

There are some who say that science is at odds with the teachings of the church. Yet, just as we must read the scriptures and seek to grow closer to God, we must listen to the knowledge and experience of the scientists and climatologists to truly understand the earth’s complex ecosystems and how we are affecting them.

These people have devoted both their personal and professional lives to understanding the earth and how humanity’s limitless consumption and abuse of creation is accelerating transitions and creating extreme conditions. They deserve our respect, and most of all deserve our attention. Listening to them is not easy, but is necessary, because doing so will help us understand the true gravity of how we are changing our earthly home.

Listen to the Earth

The first time I realized that God had something to say to me, I was 12 years old and hiking in the Kananaskis region of the Rocky Mountains to the west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. My family and I had spent a long weekend trekking to a remote lake high in the alpine, reached only by a steep shale traverse up a mountain pass. The pass presented itself only at the end of an already long day of hiking, and climbing it seemed to take forever.

When the trail levelled, however, and the view opened, my eyes widened at the sight waiting for us. An alpine meadow stretched as far as I could see, flanked by two snowy peaks, and crammed with red paintbrushes, purple crocuses, blue forget-me-nots, pink moss casinos, white Wedgeleaf, yellow varileaf, fuchsia and shooting stars. These wildflowers were bright with the sun under a wide blue sky and swooning this way and that in the haphazard breezes from the slopes.

I had seen such beauty before, but what I had stumbled into as a dorky pre-teen boy was indeed a new planet, not a different one, but this planet seen through eyes of wonder and awe. Thomas Treherne claims that, “if we would see this world as the angels do, we would be ravished and enraptured as the angels are.”

Those who have ‘ears to hear’ will discover the beauty, wonder, joy, and life-giving nature of the God which our earth, and the whole creation, proclaims in myriad ways all the time – and more consistently than we do, to be honest.

Indeed, the natural world is radiant, even symphonic, with the revelation of the living and loving God. And all this revelation is calling us continuously back to communion with God in and through the natural world.

Listening and Living … and Doing!

As Orthodox Christians, we need to live the way God intends, freely and responsibly.  It means picking up  a piece of trash, or recycling whenever possible.  We can honor the presence of God in the flowers and animals.  ‘We can live very well upon the earth,’ as the Akathist to God proclaims.  We can begin to uphold the love which God displays for the earth in our own lives and personal witness.  Each of us will do so uniquely, but we are each capable of it.

Knowing this and taking this journey requires listening – to God, and seeing His creation through His eyes, as wonderful, beautiful, holy and sacred.

In the words of the fourth century Christian father, St. John Chrysostom, “Creation is not evil. It is both good and a pattern of God’s wisdom, power and love of mankind…. It leads us to knowledge of God (and) makes us know the Master better.” And as St. Isaac the Syrian says, God brought the world into existence in love, and it is in love that God is going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state.

May we hear the beauty of nature all around us, and on September 1, give thanks to God for the wonders of nature all around us, to Him be glory, dominion, honor and majesty unto ages of ages. Amen.

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Fr John (Kaleeg) Hainsworth lives in Vancouver, BC and can usually be found exploring the sacredness of nature. His book “An Altar in the Wilderness” is available for purchase here: http://www.rmbooks.com/book_details.php?isbn_upc=9781771600361

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

This past summer, I didn’t spend much time at the beach or the mall. Instead, I served as a summer intern for the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministries.

I chose  this instead of a multitude of other options because I knew it would be totally different than anything I had previously experienced and also an opportunity to take on a challenge while contributing my time for the benefit of the Church.

Upon my arrival in Minneapolis, I began a two month internship which included work on projects and resources for the department,  assisting with Vacation Bible School at St. Mary’s Cathedral, being on staff for the pan-Orthodox St. Mary’s Summer Camp and being a counselor for the 4th annual IOCC Serv-X-treme Conference. Each of these different aspects of my internship illustrate the vast range of youth ministry. Each provided me with opportunities to respond to God’s call to serve those around me – regardless of age – and to see the image of God in each person.

The biggest lesson I learned this summer was that on whatever avenue young people find themselves, there are opportunities for them to draw closer to God through His Church. This happens through their shared experiences and the relationships they forge with others. I believe this is important for everyone to remember that we as a Church can learn to love God and our neighbor.

When I heard about the internship with the department, I knew it was how I wanted to spend my summer – even though it meant being away from home, not being with friends and family, and not doing what I had taken for granted during previous summer breaks.

I knew that working for the church can be challenging in unexpected ways, but I persisted because the work of this department is so vital and because of the experiences I would have during the internship.

Throughout my summer in Minneapolis, I had a passion to share my knowledge and experiences from the first year I had just completed at St. Tikhon’s Seminary. I also enjoyed connecting with young people and sharing our faith experiences as Orthodox Christians.

Youth ministry can be challenging, but it can also be very rewarding, because it provided me with opportunities to listen to young people, hear their questions and learn about their interests, and share answers and my experiences.

Young people are asking all sorts of questions about life and society, and the role of our Orthodox Faith in today’s world. What is our mission? How do we witness to Christ, His Church and the saints?

My commitment to making this work a priority convinced me that any reservations I might have had needed to be resolved quickly, so I could  immerse myself fully in working for the Department.

My summer was unique and memorable in many ways, but most importantly, I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to serve as an intern, because it helped me grow as an individual and as an Orthodox Christian.

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By Alex Norton

Alex Norton is a second year student at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, South Canaan, PA. Having explored both the east and west coasts of the United States, Alex currently makes his home in the Washington, D.C. area, but dreams of someday being back in California.

ProjectoMexico-1Young adults from St. Paul’s Church in Las Vegas, Nevada recently returned from a week-long house building mission at Project Mexico in Tijuana, Mexico.

For some, this was a return visit while others were traveling south of the border for the first time.

But for each of the 19 team members, the visit provided them with an opportunity to draw closer to God by helping those less fortunate.

Let’s hear from three participants about their experiences this year:


While I was at Project Mexico this year I made it a goal to journal my everyday experiences / encounters. And I wanted to share this particular experience that I wrote about on one of my journal entries.

On the last day of our time at Project Mexico, I reflected about the first morning service of Project Mexico, I felt like I was being cleansed. Something about the service felt like a breath of fresh air.

Maybe it was the different prayers that made me listen and pay more attention, but all I know is on that first day, I immediately knew that my soul needed this. And while I was following along with the lovely service, I was joined by God’s presence.

On my first day of being in Mexico, I was able to find God so easily. It was truly beautiful, I felt at peace. And this experience made me wonder how I found God in a third world country so much easier than I did when I was back home in the States. I always thought it would be the complete opposite.

And after a week of being here, I’m pretty sure I’ve come to the answer. Something about the quietness here due to the lack of technology and all the distractions we are so accustomed to, makes it easier to find God.

ProjectoMexico-5I remember reading bible verses about how it is in the stillness and silence where God is found. So it makes sense! But then I also realized that this quietness that is a big part of Project Mexico almost left me feeling a bit vulnerable those first couple days of the week.

Because not only I, but most of the youth here are so used to using noise to distract themselves from the quiet. So much so that it led us to almost in a way fear it, by avoiding it. In the silence is also where our own troubling thoughts come in, and also temptations from demons because they know that in the quiet God is found.

They do their best to keep you away from the silence. So many people feel vulnerable and uncomfortable in the silence. But I learned that barrier could be crossed.

At first keeping quiet and meditating on God’s words was hard, especially for a talker like me! I was tempted with troubling thoughts but I continued in that silence. And by staying silent through the temptations I found myself, once again in God’s presence.

Because of this experience in Project Mexico, I learned that one must be vulnerable before they can become strong. One of the many things that makes Mexico amazing is the effect it has on your spiritual life.

Being here points out your weaknesses and true self which allows you to change and become strong. And all this is achieved by doing the work of God.
– Lidya Abraham


“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in… Then the righteous will answer him ”˜Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink, when did we see you a starved and invite you in?.. The King will reply ”˜Truly I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
– Matthew 25:35-40

ProjectoMexico-3Wow.
I wish I could put into words how magnificent Project Mexico actually was. Building a home for a beautiful and humble family of 8 was honestly a life-changing experience.

There is truly an unexplainable feeling you get whenever you do the work of God, and Project Mexico is that feeling in a nutshell. This year was my second year at Project Mexico, and it definitely will not be my last.

I would recommend it to anyone any age or size. What other opportunity do you have to build a home straight from scratch in 4 days for a family in need?
– Ivy Tesfay


Project Mexico, in itself, is not only a non-profit organization but a long lasting experience. This summer I had the pleasure of returning to Tijuana and continuing my Orthodox basic training for a second year.

ProjectoMexico-4Like many others, I felt a rush of depression and attachment to the city when forced to leave. These feelings derive from the immense love I felt towards the orphanage, the family I had built the house for, the interns, and lastly feeling God’s presence within each and every one of us.

We were fulfilling His work and spreading His words by simply building this house and serving those who are living impoverished lives.

Not only that, but I was surrounded by people who share a common faith and with this my faith grew stronger. I learned how to consistently maintain my daily prayers by attending the morning and evening prayer services. I also learned how to humble myself and once again serve others.

These are basic humane qualities that so many people deny here in the States.

As a citizen of a first world country, I too was once subject to this denial. By living a materialistic life, I was in a way ignoring my purpose as an Orthodox Christian.

One could say, I found my purpose at Project Mexico. It’s almost as if I found the light at the end of the tunnel and am no longer subject to darkness.
– Eden Tesfay


Share your memories of Project Mexico in the comments section below!

Learn how you can help Project Mexico or to be on a mission team at Project Mexico by visiting their website.

Remembering the Beauty in the Grunge

Chris Cornell died last week, and his music will live on for a long time. His fans, who admired his creative genius and amazing vocal range, will feel a sense of loss and disappointment. And like other musicians and artists before him whose lives have been tragically cut short by suicide, he will be mourned for what could have been and what will no longer be.

Reports indicate that Chris had posted to social media after the concert in Detroit, excited about heading to Cleveland with Soundgarden, his hard rocking group, to perform there. Everything appeared to be ok. But it clearly wasn’t. Chris was fighting an unseen battle.

We can’t begin to imagine or even speculate what Chris was going through in the days leading up to his death. As is often the case with those suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses, what appears on the surface may not reveal what is truly happening deep within their soul.

Our souls safeguard our innermost thoughts, desires, memories and experiences in life. Friendship, love, excitement, resentment, doubt and fear shape who we truly are. While it’s possible to say that those closest to us can get a fairly accurate picture of our true self, only God knows and understands our true identity, potential and intentions.

Those who suffer from depression and loneliness like Chris Cornell find ways to escape from the people around them. At first, it’s subtle and hardly noticeable to those around them, and we may think they just want some alone time. But as Orthodox Christians, we know, our existence is defined by community and is to nurture and care for those around us. Especially if we notice patterns of someone drifting further and further away from others.

One of the most impactful experiences of my life was when my wife and I were on vacation overseas and we saw what is possible when friends care for someone in need.

We watched in amazement as eight friends took turns sitting with their friend whose life was out of control, and he was not well. Drunk and shouting, and at times flailing about, he was scary to those who observed his behavior. Yet his friends stayed by his side, listening to him, trying to get him sober, hugging him, and not abandoning him as he faced his inner struggles in real time. His friends did not tell him to go home and sleep it off. They didn’t abandon him. Instead, they took care of him and were careful to not let him drive or sleep or walk away. They were listening to him and making sure he was safe both emotionally and physically. They made sure he was not alone.

As intense as his struggles were with the demons he faced, the intensity of their compassion was even stronger. In that moment in which this man needed his friends most, they were there for him, remembering what he meant to each of them as an individual, as a person, as part of their collective friendship. They had gone beyond the rhetorical “How’s it goin’?” we often ask, and had accepted his pain and suffering as their own. They went into hell with him, so they could bring him back to life with them.

As we near the end of another Paschal season, it’s probably gotten harder for us to say ”˜Christ is risen!’ with the same vigor and energy we had at midnight just a few weeks ago. The radiance of our joy has probably dimmed and sadly, some of our old habits may be creeping back into our daily routines.

But it’s never too late to recapture that sense of joy and excitement of Pascha and carry it throughout the entire year. Focus on what Christ accomplished on that bright and saving night of Pascha: He accepted our pain, our suffering, our doubts, our loneliness, our weaknesses and our sins. He took them all upon himself. He destroyed them in finality of His own death. He opened a new path to life. He gave us the promise that things will ultimately get better. He destroyed death by death itself. He gave us hope.

And He did it all in love.

In the icon of the resurrection, we see our Lord pulling Adam and Eve up from their tombs by their hands. This image reminds us of the importance of relationships, and that it’s up to us to make that same intimate and physical connection with those around us. We need to reach out, sharing that same love with those we encounter, regardless of whether we can see their inner struggles or suffering.

One of Chris Cornell’s solo hits, “You Know My Name,” was the theme song for the James Bond movie, Casino Royale. It speaks about the coldness inside and what happens “if you come inside, things will not be the same when you return to my eyes.”

We don’t need to be priests or psychologists or specialists to know someone’s name, or even to be a friend. To see inside, we need to take a moment to get to know them and see the beauty of who they truly are deep inside.

Each of us can be an example of the love of Christ in a world filled with chaos and suffering. It’s about finding the beauty that exists within that grunge. And for those like Chris Cornell who struggle and suffer, reach out to a friend, remembering that Jesus Christ died so that you may live.

Chris Cornell died last week, may his memory be eternal.

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By David Lucs
David is a member of St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral, Minneapolis, MN and is a new contributor to the OCA’s Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries programs. His two daughters keep him and his wife busy and laughing with their amusing views on the world.

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness, help is available in a variety of ways, including these resources on the web:
www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may. Your parish priest can also provide confidential assistance to help you connect with trained professionals in your area.

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Chris Cornell (born July 20, 1964) was an American rock musician and singer-songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist, primary songwriter and rhythm guitarist for Seattle rock band Soundgarden and as former lead vocalist and songwriter for the supergroup Audioslave.

His numerous solo works and soundtrack contributions built upon his role as one of the innovative and founders of the ’90s grunge movement. As an extensive songwriter with an amazing near 4 octave vocal range, received a Golden Globe Award nomination and was at one time voted “Rock’s Greatest Singer,” ranked 4th in the list of “Heavy Metal’s All-Time Top 100 Vocalists” by Hit Parader, 9th in the list of ‘Best Lead Singers of All Time’ by Rolling Stone, and 12th in MTV’s “22 Greatest Voices in Music.”

God and the Tiger

By Fr. John Cox

Tiger tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night
what immortal hand or eye
could frame thy fearful symmetry?
-William Blake

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You are on a mission. You are deep in the mountainous forests of the Annapurna Conservation Area in northern Nepal. You are here to photograph the elusive and majestic Bengal Tiger. For hours you have been working your way, slowly and quietly, through a narrow, misty, crevasse with little light and little visibility. You push through a gnarl of conifers at the end of the crevasse just as a breeze carries the mist away. The full light of the sun dazzles your eyes and you gasp. You are standing on top of the world; tower upon mighty, Himalayan tower scraping the clouds around you. The ground falls away into a clean valley beneath your feet, and there, the hunt is on! He is stretched out, full speed, every muscle taught, 11 feet and 900 pounds of elegant power, gliding with silent, lethal grace over the valley floor. You stand enthralled, camera forgotten, in reverent awe of the mountains and the tiger. This is fear.

We commonly use the word fear to mean psychological terror; the kind of gasping, clutching feeling you have when a strange noise awakens you in the night. This kind of fear is a bad thing. But scripturally the word fear has more to do with reverence, respect, and awe than with sweat-inducing night terrors. This is important to know because fear is all over our scripture; in a good way.

In Proverbs we learn that The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; (9:10) and that The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. (19:9) The prophet Jeremiah, speaking with the words of God, says, I shall give them one heart and one way so that they may fear me during all their days, so that all will be well for them and for their sons after them… so that they may never go away from Me. (32:39-40) Lest we think this is just an Old Testament thing, St. Paul says that, Since we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others…, (II Cor. 5:11) and St. John the Theologian, in his Revelation, asks in wonder, Who will not fear you, O Lord? (15:4) Clearly fear is an important part of our relationship with God. In fact, it is essential. If you do not fear God you cannot love him.
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Why? Because you meet God through the scripture and the services of the Church, especially in holy communion, and the One you encounter there is the Holy One who kills and makes alive; (Duet. 32:39) He is the source of all being; (Anaphora of St. Basil) He is beauty, truth, and love embodied; He is the One who hung on a cross, enduring the shame and pain – death itself – to give us eternal life and make us whole again. To meet this One and, in that encounter, refuse your reverence, your respect, and your awe is to behold the tiger and the mountains and yawn in boredom. The door to the heart of such a person is locked from the inside. Either they refuse to see God as He is, or, seeing Him that way, choose to pretend He’s no big deal. This is the opposite of love. This is a profound self-centeredness that makes love impossible. Love contains the capacity to be astounded, transformed, and humbled by another. You cannot love what you will not adore and refuse to be awed by.

Our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:29) When we approach Him in the fear of God, as the priest says when he calls us to communion, that holy fire, ensconced in bread and wine, consumes our sins and fills us with the Holy Spirit – eternal life. The primary quality of this life is love; love for God, love for others, and love for the whole world. St. John tells us that this perfect love casts out fear of judgment or condemnation. So, the healthy kind of fear drives out the bad kind and makes us capable of bearing a love so strong it cannot die This is why St. Anthony the Great says The one who fears God will live forever.

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Priest John Cox is Priest-in-Charge at Dormition of the Theotokos Orthodox Church (OCA) in Norfolk, VA. He is originally from Knoxville, TN where he was brought into Orthodoxy at St. George Greek Orthodox Church.  Fr John is a 2011 graduate of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, a husband, and father of four. 

What Does Love Look Like?

By Fr. Sergius Halvorsen

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Today we are practically drowning in images of so-called “love.” Attractive, athletic men and women, dressed in the latest styles, seductively enjoying each other’s company on the deck of sleek yacht, on a tropical beach, or at a snowy mountain resort. Images like these are everywhere, and the not-so-subtle theme is desire. We are tempted to desire the attractive people, desire the material trappings of success, desire the luxury lifestyle. All of these images tempt us to say things like, “Oh, I just love that!” But what it means is that we desire to possess or consume something, or someone. In other words, we live in a world where selfish desire masquerades as love.

This is not a new phenomenon. Herod had a passionate desire for the opulent wealth of impossible mansions like the one he built at Masada. Herod had a passionate desire for women that he wanted, like Herodius his brother’s wife. Herod also had a passionate desire for the absolute power of a monarch; the kind of power by which a man could be beheaded by a simple command, “Bring me the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (Mt. 14.8)Ioannis Herod was not alone. Pontius Pilate also had a passionate desire for power, wealth and influence. At Pilate’s word armies would march, at his word prisoners could be released for political advantage, and at his word troublemakers could be scourged and crucified. Herod and Pilate were men who used their power and influence to satisfy their darkest desires.

While many may claim that they “love something” or “love someone” it is often just greed and lust masquerading as “love.” As anyone who has ever been the object of someone else’s desire knows that desire ultimately fails. The person that once said “I love you” begins to regard you differently. As the newness of the relationship fades, as arguments come up more often, we may find ourselves less and less “loved.” When desire is the fundamental motivation in a relationship, there is no reason to be faithful, after all, if something or someone else comes along that is more desirable then why not go after what makes you happy? John the Baptist and Jesus suffered terribly at the hands of Herod and Pilate precisely because Herod and Pilate were men who were primarily driven by desire, and not by love.

So, what does love look like?

Love is commitment, and we see authentic love in Jesus Christ who loves us precisely when we are unlovable. As St. Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5.8) The Son of God came into this world, lived among us, taught, preached, worked miracles, cast out demons, and proclaimed good news to the poor and liberty to the captives. (Lk.4.18; Isa 61.1) And how was he received? He was rejected, accused of blasphemy, arrested, mocked, handed over to lawless men, unjustly convicted, scourged, humiliated and crucified. If ever God had good reason to turn away from his people, it was when Jesus was crucified. If ever God had good reason to decide that mankind had gone one step too far in sin and arrogance, it was when men decided to kill Jesus. 1493159_10101860540189431_7478368131723434096_nBut love is commitment. God’s perfect love is God’s absolute commitment to remain with his people precisely when we are unlovable. And the depth of God’s love is nowhere more perfectly evident than when Jesus prays for the very people who are killing him. “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23.34) This is what love looks like. When the bride of Christ, mankind, abandons Christ the Bridegroom, our Lord remains faithful. Love is commitment, and receiving this love from God in Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we love others with the same kind of love. We love our brothers and sisters not because they satisfy our desires, but because they are created in the image and likeness of God, and because Christ commands us to love, just as he loves us. (Jn13.34)

Rev. Sergius Halvorsen PhD. is Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York. He is the associate pastor at Christ the Savior Church in Southbury, CT and lives in Middletown,CT with his wife and three children. He enjoys singing, reading historical fiction and watching his children perform on stage and on the baseball field.

Faith in a Faithless Generation?

Thinking on the theme “Fear, Faith, and Love” we reached out to Catherine Addington, an Orthodox Christian and senior at New York University to speak about Faith in the Campus setting:

Wonder: What does a life of faith (specifically, our faith as expressed in The Creed, Holy Tradition, and Scripture) look like to you?

Catherine: The great thing about Orthodoxy is that it works for everyone. The Church really needs good Orthodox students as much as it needs good Orthodox teachers, chemists, mathematicians, cooks, soccer players, nuns, hairdressers, musicians, priests, poets…but for me, all three parts of that phrase are important. Right now, God has placed me in a position to be a good Orthodox student: that means being a good Orthodox Christian (praying every day, participating in the life of the parish, testifying to the truth of the faith when an opportunity arises) but it also means being a good student (supporting the school community, expressing gratitude in the form of learning, and striving to put my skills and resources to use in the service of others)! For me, a life of faith means orienting my particular daily grind toward holiness.

Wonder: What are some generalities about American college life that you have found to be true? found not to be true?

Catherine: Every time I asked people for college advice, they’d just blanket it: “Get involved!” I hated that before I got to college, because it sounds so general. And it is — but it’s also very true. I found that getting involved with school activities, such as volunteer trips or working at the theatre or writing for a school publication, was the best way to help me get a sense of my school and to find my place in it. I also found that my mental image of college — you know, that horrible red-solo-cup frat party in every bad comedy movie — was way off. I thought it was going to be hard to make friends without being a part of the partying scene, but I found that there were plenty of other students who felt the same way I did, and that we could support each other in creating an alternative to that environment.

Wonder: What has been the most challenging aspect of living a life of faith on campus?

Catherine: It’s been hard feeling like I need to defend my existence. Despite the active and diverse religious communities at my school, there is a general assumption here that all students are secular until proven otherwise and it can lead to some awkward situations — like that time I had to explain to our publication’s editors that an op-ed making fun of Justice Scalia’s belief in the devil wasn’t cool, or that other time a world history professor asked me to briefly explain Christianity because he didn’t feel the need to dedicate much class time to something so irrelevant. At the same time, each of these encounters has been a “teachable moment” that has ended up improving my relationships with my fellow students.

Wonder: What has surprised you about publicly identifying as a Christian at school?

Catherine: I’ve been surprised by the incredible support I’ve found at school. I actually converted to Orthodoxy during my second year of college. During that journey, I found a lot of support, especially from my two best friends (both atheists) and from the many devout students I met through NYU’s multifaith programming (mostly Muslim, Jewish, and Protestant students). I was worried that NYU’s “diversity” talk was just that, but my fellow students made a point of celebrating my faith and not just treating it as novelty. People showed up to my chrismation, they made sure there were vegan options during fasting seasons, and they asked how things were going at church — they really took an interest, especially because it was so new to most of them.

Wonder: How have challenges to your faith strengthened your relationship with Christ and your neighbor?

Catherine: I have found that it is really good for me being the only Orthodox Christian most of my fellow classmates know. Because I’m often put on the defensive for my faith, I’ve had to remember over and over again what it is I’m defending and why, and it has helped me stay close to the love I have for the Church. Plus, while there are a few other Orthodox students, and plenty of other Christians, I tend to be either the only or just the loudest Christian in the room most of the time and that comes with a responsibility to be a good “representative” of the faith. It’s often difficult, but over time I have come to think of that responsibility as less of a burden and more of a grace. I get to be the first experience of the Gospel for lots of my fellow students — what could be a greater blessing?

Wonder: What advice would you give to high schoolers advancing into colleges, universities, the military or workplaces about expressing, living, and having faith?

Catherine: Remember that places are only God-forsaken if we forsake them. There is no place on earth that you can’t live your life as an Orthodox Christian, even if it will look different for all of us. Try to use the challenging moments as opportunities to be in solidarity with other people who find themselves feeling like outsiders in your community, and to live your faith openly and with integrity.

Catherine Addington is currently studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her writing has appeared in “The American Conservative”, “First Things”, and “NYU Local.” She will graduate with a B.A. in Latin American Studies from New York University in May 2015. 

Do Not Be Afraid

By Andrew Boyd

When I graduated college, I took a job in Greece and lived in a working-class neighborhood where nobody ever spoke even a little English. Coming home late from work, I was the relaxing and reading with relish my People magazine (the only English language publication I could find, please don’t judge). Suddenly, a note was pushed underneath my front door! This was both frightening and confusing, since the only people who knew who I was and where I lived were co-workers who had my phone number (and would therefore not need to communicate through cryptic door messages).

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Now, my Greek then and now is not great, but I can kind of make my way through provided the letters aren’t in upper-case. The entire note, was, of course, in upper-case. Never fear, I was on the case! With my handy Greek dictionary, I spent the better part of the night trying to decipher the note. Hours later, frustrated and stressed, I was able to discern two words “Small” and “Dead”.

That freaked me out! No one knows I live here or who I am, and I get a note with the word “dead” in it. Was it a threat? Did they want me dead? Did someone out there not like a random American living in the building? Did my neighbors realize that I knew all about their illegal import/export business?

I couldn’t sleep. I was consumed by irrational fear. I locked all the doors in my house. I barricaded myself in my bedroom with my cellphone in my hand. I fell asleep at some point, and woke up early and stumbled about confused. Why was my cell phone in my bed? Was I going to call the police? I don’t even know how to do that in Greece (Hint: it’s not 911)? Irrational fear and crippling anxiety had taken complete control of me as my rational mind went on a quick vacation. I was left paralyzed by my own thoughts.

The Guards at Christ’s tomb in Matthew’s Gospel become “like dead men”, paralyzed in fear, at the appearance of the angel proclaiming the risen Lord. That same angel commands the women seeking Jesus to “not be afraid”. Those women depart from the empty tomb with an anxious mixture of fear and joy, where the risen Christ meets them to assure them one more time to announce his resurrection without fear.

Imagine for a moment how different the world would be if those women let their fear turn their joy, wonder, and amazement into my Greek irrational behavior, or worse the petrified fear of the guards, who were unable to move and ultimately unable to speak the truth of what Christ accomplished in front of them. Imagine if those women refused to share what they saw, if fear kept them from proclaiming to the world the joy of Christ’s resurrection, if the apostles never got the message about their messiah rising from the dead.

But what fears paralyze me? What keeps me from preaching the Gospel in its fullness to the weary world? Certainly my fear of spiders is on a different level than my fear of personal poverty? I know it’s fear when I keep Christ to myself. I know it’s fear when I wear my cross under my shirt. I know it’s fear when I tell my friends “I’m busy” instead of saying “I’m in Church proclaiming the Risen Lord.” It’s fear paralyzing me when I conceal from a needful world God’s gracious acts in my life.

Christ commands the women not to be afraid (I haven’t done the math, but I strongly suspect that “do not be afraid” is the most common commandment in the New Testament). He commands them to let the presence of his perfect love drive out their fears in order that they can more perfectly proclaim the joyous news of His resurrection. Being present in that healing love, they become the apostles to the Apostles, sharing the good news with those who would spread it to the ends of the Earth. The very foundation of Christianity is built in the commandment to not be afraid. Resting in Christ’s love, instead of our own fears, allows us to proclaim his Gospel.

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So what did that note say in Greek? I brought the offending note to the office for translation by a co-worker. After I explained how upset and afraid I was (and asking him how to contact local police), he read the note aloud in Greek and every one of my colleagues stopped what they were doing to laugh at me. Here’s the note verbatim:

Dear Sir,
There is a small, dead bird on your outside balcony. Please remove it.
Kindly,
Mr. Costas

As we let go of our fears, we open the door for Christ’s resurrection to be proclaimed through us. Irritating anxiety gives way to the simple message that Christ has saved us from sin and death through his own death and resurrection. Join the women, cast aside fear, and share the news that Christ is risen.

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Mr Andrew Boyd is the Director of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministry for the Orthodox Church in America. He is a graduate of the University of Connecticut’s School of Business and the Master’s of Divinity program at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. He works in corporate communications in New York City.