Calling All Angels

The Synaxis of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and all the Heavenly Hosts:  November 8th

Mother Macrina

Those of you named after the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, or their feminine counterparts, no doubt realize the importance of the date November 8th when we celebrate the Synaxis of the Archangels and of the other Bodiless Powers of heaven.

As Orthodox Christians, however, this date should be equally significant for all of us as the holy Archangels and angels play an integral role in our lives.  That is, if we want them to.

What do we know about them?  We consult the Bible for the answer.  Beginning in Genesis to the last book of Revelation, angels are mentioned over 200 times.  We know nothing of their creation, nor when it occurred.  They are not the cute, baby-faced cherubs often depicted in Western art.

On the contrary, from scripture we know that they are imposing and powerful.  They are celestial beings, bodiless spirits who can move with great speed.  “So the living creatures came and went, vivid as lightning flashes” (Ezek.1:14).  An angel has character, intelligence and a will of his own, just as we do; but naturally they do not resemble us.

Unfortunately, we are not often aware of their presence because we seldom think of them, pray or talk to them.  Yet our services are replete with the presence of angels.  There are numerous prayers, canons, and akathists devoted to them; however, they are often ignored or dismissed as unimportant.

For the monastic, though, angels are extremely significant.  Our goal is to lead the angelic life, continually praising God as the angels do, and to implore them to intercede for our protection and guidance, not only for ourselves but for the whole world.  Every Monday is dedicated to angels hence monastics fast on this day and one of the canons read at Matins is devoted to them.

Both the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church teach that there are guardian angels of nations, countries, churches, monasteries, families, as well as individuals.  “He set the boundaries of the Nations by the number of God’s angels” (Deut. 32:8).  “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write….” (Rev. 2:1).

The fact that each individual has a guardian angel is based on the scripture Matt. 18:10, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

Origen says, “We must say that every human soul is under the direction of an angel who is like a father.”

St. Basil says, “An angel is put in charge of every believer, provided we do not drive him out by sin.  He guards the soul like an army.”

In the Holy Liturgy and other services, we hear repeatedly the petition, “An angel of peace, a faithful guide, the guardian of our souls and bodies.”

Claim this petition, thread it through your brain and heart, implore your angel to aid you on your path, to protect your soul and body from all danger and harm.

Call him to mind throughout the day, build a relationship with him so that not only on November 8th, but every day you will feel the presence of your guardian angel and all the hosts of bodiless beings.

Learn more about the feast of the Synaxis of the Angels and Heavenly Hosts.

by Mother Macrina, Holy Dormition Monastery

Soul Notes

Soul Notes

An interview with Jacob Souček, a new regular writer for this blog.

Q:   Tell us a bit about your background in music.

A:  My dad, who was an OCA priest (may his memory be eternal!) among many other things, was a prolific musician and composer. When it was time for me to choose an instrument to play in grade school, without prompting from my father, I chose the violin, not realizing how the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Before entering the priesthood, my dad was a semi-famous violinist in Czechoslovakia and was a big influence on me musically. I progressed quickly with my violin studies through grade school and High School and was soon taking private lessons with a professor at our local college.  My dad also worked at home preparing me for entrance into the Juilliard School of Music.

Ah, High-School, that’s when things got interesting. I loved violin, but also loved rock ‘n’ roll! I started listening to all the 80’s hair bands with screaming guitar solos, and thought to myself, that’s what I want to do! I taught myself to play guitar, retiring the violin to pursue my passion. My dad wasn’t on board at first, but soon realized my talent for the guitar and how I was growing as a musician. He was completely supportive of me being a rock musician and playing gigs with local bands. I could play shows on Saturday nights as long as I made it to Liturgy Sunday mornings, as I was the head altar boy.

After high-school I moved to Hollywood, CA and played in a band called Souls on Fire for many years. We recorded several albums in major recording studios, one of which was where Metallica and Aerosmith also recorded. We even worked with Steve Gallagher the engineer for Sugar Ray’s album, “Floored”.  We played at world famous venues and had a large, loyal following. Our band didn’t make the big time, but I feel we did make it in some capacity.

Q;       How do you bring your love of music to your Orthodox Faith?

A: Music is a gift from God! It is deeply rooted in our everyday lives and church life as well. The Cathedral where my family attends has an outstanding choir and the layer of beauty they add to our worship is something that is other-worldly. It helps us to connect with God and His angels who endlessly praise Him by singing “Holy, Holy, Holy!” Music has been such a blessing in my life as a Christian, a fan, and musician.

Q:  What kind of music do you prefer to listen to and why?  What inspired you to seek out that type of music?

A:  I can listen to pretty much anything that has a good beat and melody, but it also must be intelligent and thoughtful. I prefer listening to artists that tell a story and I can feel the life experience they are expressing through their music which is real and relatable. Rock ‘n’ roll has always been my passion. Recently, I’ve been getting into some heavier rock artists and am intrigued with the complexity of their song writing, musicianship, and lyrical themes. It inspires me to possibly start a new project, we’ll see what happens.

Q:      What kinds of music should Orthodox Christians listen to?

A:  Well, I guess that’s up to each person to answer for themselves. I for one say, Rock on and listen to whatever you want, whatever uplifts you. Of course, try to avoid music that contradict church teachings.

Q:      How can others seek inspiration from music? 

A:  Music is a personal journey and what might be inspiration to some may not be relatable to others. That being said, I would say try to recognize the diversity of music in different settings. Listen to your choir at church and feel God and His angels surround you. Listen to your favorite song that fills you with hope taking comfort in the fact that the artist is going through the same things you are. This, to me, is the gift of music!

Q:  Why is finding inspiration in music such a personal journey?

A:  We are all different, thank God! He made us all unique with unique personalities. The kind of music one listens to is unique to themselves. Even though, generally, we can all say that music makes us feel some kind of emotion, individually deep down inside only we know why a certain song, lyric, or riff inspires us.

Q: “Can you give us a sneak peak of what you plan to share in your music blog?”

A: I wanted to start by saying, I’m very excited to be afforded this opportunity to connect with other Orthodox Christians and share my love for music. You can expect many different topics from this blog. Ranging from my thoughts on the music, music industry, and artists of today as well as the past, to what inspires me personally as a musician and Christian. You might even see some album, song, or artist critiques and reviews of bands I went to see live. It’s pretty much wide open, I don’t have a set theme. It’s going to be a diverse music forum. I’m also open to topic suggestions from my readers, or even a reader Q & A. I’m looking forward to taking this journey!

 

Is This the End of the World?

Fr. John Dresko

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?

Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?

Surely you know.
Or who stretched the line upon it?

To what were its foundations fastened,
Or who laid its cornerstone,

When the stars were made
And all My angels praised Me in a loud voice?”

“Will anyone pervert judgment with the Mighty One?

He who rebukes God will answer for it.”
(Job 38:4-7, 40:1, NKJV)

Recently, we have endured a rather traumatic and lengthy series of catastrophes. At a glance, one could look at a map and see the Western United States on fire; Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean were flooded and destroyed by hurricanes with such friendly names: Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Mexico suffered the strongest earthquake in over 100 years, followed by another large one in Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world.

On top of that, we have continued war in the Middle East, genocide of Christians in that same area, and North Korea has now joined the club of nations with nuclear weapons pointed at us. And now my town, Las Vegas, suffered the worst mass shooting in US history.

Is this the end of the world? All the things happening are described by the Lord Himself as having to happen before He comes again at the end of time. The answer, of course, is yes, it is the end of the world…and no. Since the coming of Jesus Christ and through His death and resurrection, the world has ended.

Nothing new will come, because He has done everything. But all the calamities have happened and will continue to happen and God will use them all to either bring us closer to Him or to the realization that we do not want Him.

Every person ever born into this world, even if alive for but one day, knows suffering. Hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes all are but what happens to every single person, only on a grand scale. We have our own hurricanes spiritually, even when we are standing in sunshine. All suffering is a result of sin and weakness. But suffering is not necessarily given by God as a punishment.

Job was the most righteous servant of God, but God allowed Satan to take everything from him as a temptation. Then we spend 36 chapters trying to figure out why He allowed this. The verses quoted above essentially say, “I am God. I know what I’m doing. Trust me.”

Our world is “death- and suffering-denying.” We do everything we can to avoid suffering and death, which, in a human sense, is rational and right. No one, even a faithful Christian, is called to be a masochist, seeking out pain, suffering and death. But a Christian can, and must, find meaning in suffering.

And the meaning can only be found in the Cross, and in the Kingdom of Heaven.

If we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, then we know from His own words that we will suffer. Because He suffered. We are called to share in those very same sufferings. But His suffering was redemptive — it was for the salvation of the world. When we suffer, or are assailed by the images of those around us suffering, we can do one of two things. It is the same choice offered to Job.

We can curse God and die, or we can keep our eyes fixed on the Lord and heaven. If we trust God, we are purified in our suffering. If we are purified, we are ready not for the restoration of “good things” in my life, but are ready to leave this life for the Kingdom. If we are ready to leave this life right now, when we do leave, even if many, many years from now, we will find only what we have been waiting for: Paradise.

Why does the Lord give Himself to us in the Church? Isn’t it precisely because it is in the Church that we know Him, see Him, and can then receive Him into ourselves in the Sacraments?

Isn’t it because in the community of the Church we can hold onto each other, support each other, and in that mutual care and love find the strength to seek Him and trust Him? Only by keeping our eyes on Him and trusting in Him, and not the “solutions” of the world, can we see through the tragedies of life and hope in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Witnessing the events of the past weeks should inspire me to look deeply into my own life and ask myself what I really think is important.

How can I just go about my life, thinking all the things I see as important are truly important?

How can I blow off the Church and the Lord, treating Him as a simple bystander in my life?

How can I live to eat, and drink, and procreate, acting like nothing will ever touch me, when I can see how quickly others have been touched?

There is a purpose to every single event in every single person’s life. We do not, and cannot, see the whole tapestry of God’s plan for the world, including my life.

But I do have to let Him into my life.

St. Paul said that no one is ever tempted beyond his strength. So why am I surprised when temptation or suffering enters my life?

Sometimes the biggest cross I have to carry is to actually decide that God has the right to allow a cross to come into my life and expect me to carry it.

If it’s a big cross, it’s because God knows I can carry it (and, surprise, surprise, God helps me carry it!).

Where was I when God laid the foundations of the earth? Not even in my mother’s womb. So who am I to question Him?


Fr. John Dresko is the Rector of St. Paul Church, Las Vegas, Nevada.

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.

================

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.

————————
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.