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Unto Ages of Ages

Unto Ages of Ages

Mr Alexander Titus

We frequently hear about the “secular” worldview, “secular humanism,” or simply “secularism,” set in contradistinction to the “religious,” “faith-based,” or, as is the typical case in the West, “Christian” worldview. However, it’s always extremely important to define our terms carefully, especially when dialoguing with those whom we disagree, lest we talk past each other. With this in mind, I actually think it’s this very word, “secular,” that can help us understand the place of the Gospel in our ever-changing world. In short, I want to suggest that the term “secular” is in reality a deeply Christian word, and one which we shouldn’t let so easily go to the media pundits.

We frequently hear about the “secular”  in contradistinction to the “religious" ...

We frequently hear about the “secular” in contradistinction to the “religious” …

Etymologically, the word “secular” derives from the classical Latin saecularis, the adjectival form of the noun saeculum, the rough equivalent of the English “age” and the Greek αἰών (from which we also get “aeon”). Thus the formula in saecula saeculorum is the literal Latin translation of the Greek εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, or in English, “unto the ages of ages.” The phrase, besides serving as the conclusion to the most common and recognizable Orthodox doxology (“Glory… now and ever…), finds its origins in the letters of St Paul. Unfortunately, many Biblical translators seem to believe that it is merely a poetic way of saying “forever and ever,” and render it as such in English.

While it’s certainly true that “ages of ages” has the sense of “eternity,” the more literal meaning also contains a connotation of immediacy. That is, when we glorify (“doxologize”) God using this language, we aren’t simply making a declarative statement about his “timelessness.”Rather, we are formulating, in a sense, his glory as an evangelical proclamation in our own saeculum and in every saecula. In other words, we call ourselves accountable to make God’s glory, mercy, and love known in and throughout every age. Similarly, the Gospel, as the annunciation of this glory in the world, is not only “timeless” but fundamentally “timely.”

We are the beloved disciples unashamed at the Cross in saecula

We are the beloved disciples unashamed at the Cross in saecula

Our God of course isn’t one content to “exist” in timeless eternity, but one who makes himself known in his creative activity and throughout history. So too the Gospel cannot simply “exist,” but requires the participation of human beings to become manifest at all times and in every place. I would contend, therefore, that Christians are called to be “secular” precisely in this sense: not of the world, but in the world, timely as well as timeless. We are the midwives at the Nativity in saecula, the beloved disciples unashamed at the Cross in saecula, and the Apostles sitting beneath Pentecostal tongues of fire in saecula.

Yet what could this look like in specific, concrete terms? When I was the OCF director at my home parish before I came to seminary, I tragically never thought to implement the idea which I’d like to suggest now to any young adults, and especially college students:

Many suburban and urban college campuses have a large block of public space, usually a grassy quad, which, if memory serves, is heavily populated during typical weekend evenings with people going to and from various bars, clubs, and parties. If this is the case, consider gathering together on Friday evening to organize a food and/or clothing distribution for the needy, right in the midst of this space. I hope this wouldn’t be an attempt to shame the partiers, but rather gently and humbly to show them an alternative. In this act of charity, you’re visibly taking your “party” evening, which modern “college culture” says you should take for yourself to drink and make merry, and using it solely for the service of others.

Christ identifies himself quite literally with the poor and downtrodden: “I was hungry and you did not feed me” (Mt 25.42). I don’t think this is simply a call to be “humanitarian,” but in fact is a very real and timely Gospel proclamation. Hence if we take seriously the notion that we are to make God’s glory known “unto ages of ages,” witnessing (μαρτυρώ – as in ‘martyr’) to our fellow human beings in this secular world is a good place to start. This is, after all, the only world we have.

Metropolitan Tikhon responds to Wonder blog


His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, offers the following reflection on the recent discussion that was generated by Fr. Robert Arida’s article,“Never-Changing Gospel; Ever-Changing Culture,” which was posted on this blog.


In the “About” section of the Wonder Blog, a publication of the Department of Youth, Young Adults and Campus Ministries of the Orthodox Church in America, it is stated that the purpose of the blog is “… to spur discussion, both online and off, and provide material for those engaged in campus and young adult ministry” and “… help provide a ‘good defense’ for our faith, hope and love.” In spite of this stated purpose, many have questioned the article’s usefulness, requested to know the authority under which it was published and have even called for its removal. Others have recognized its positive contributions to the complex and difficult theme of the relationship between Gospel and culture.

In light of the ensuing lively and informative discussion, and in consultation with my brothers on the Holy Synod, I am instructing the editors of Wonder to replace the lead article in question with my present reflection.


As a preface to my own reflection below, I would like to offer a clarification on the question of oversight. Although the Holy Synod takes the sacred confession of the holy dogmas of the Orthodox Church with the greatest of seriousness, it is not charged in the matter of theologoumena and areas requiring pastoral discretion and economiato function as a sort of “thought police” but rather, each bishop is entrusted with leading and guiding his flock within the light of Christ, according to the commandments of the Gospel and within the norms of the holy canons and the teachings of the Holy Fathers. On occasion, the Holy Synod does issue directives and encyclicals on various timely subjects and themes that require a clear statement to the flock.

In reference to the discussion of contemporary issues related to marriage and sexuality, I would direct the reader to several documents which have been published by the Holy Synod and are available on the OCA website:

  1. Encyclical on Marriage
  2. Synodal Affirmation on Marriage, Family, Sexuality and the Sanctity of Marriage
  3. Synodal Affirmation of the Mystery of Marriage

In reference to the specific topic of homosexuality, which is presumed by many of the respondents to Fr. Robert’s article to be the primary issue of discussion, I would draw the reader’s attention to the following paragraph from the third document above:

In light of the decisions rendered on June 26, 2013 by the Supreme Court of the United States of America with regard to same-sex marriage, we, the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, reaffirm that which had been stated in June 1992, namely that marriage involves the union of one man and one woman, as divinely revealed and experienced in the sacramental life of the Church. As such, the Church does not, and can not, condone or accept marriages apart from those involving one man and one woman who seal their relationship in the all-embracing love of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Synod has also recently blessed the re-activation of the Department of Pastoral Life, which is in the process of being re-evaluated and will begin its work in the very near future. It seems that the present discussion on Gospel and culture is one that would benefit from a more in-depth analysis than can be provided on a blog. It will be my recommendation that the issues raised here be one of the first areas to be addressed by the Department of Pastoral Life and that all those who have contributed to this present discussion be invited to participate.


I would also like to offer some preliminary reflections on the present discussion. In a paradoxical way, our discussions on “culture” seem to take place primarily at conferences, in books and articles and on websites and blogs. All of these, while certainly part of our culture, tend to remove us spiritually from the very context that we are speaking about.

I am conscious of this because I am writing these words as I sit in Boston Children’s Hospital with my nephew Tyler, who is today recovering from a ten (10) hour surgery yesterday to correct his severe scoliosis. Tyler is 16 years old and has undergone seventeen (17) surgeries on his back over the last 7 years. Prior to that, he lived his life in a plaster cast which was necessary to correct the severe curvature of his spine and prevent the puncturing of his internal organs. By God’s grace, and the prayers of many, yesterday’s surgery, involving the removal of expandable metal rods and the permanent fusion of his vertebrae, went successfully and is hopefully the last such surgery he will have to endure.

It is in contexts such as this that we most acutely face the reality of the relationship between Gospel and Culture. When a human being either undergoes such difficulties or is charged with ministering or helping someone in such a situation, the discussion ceases to be merely academic and becomes very real and immediate. I would not want us to lose sight of the human person and his salvation in Christ when we talk about “culture” and its relationship to the Church.

This does not negate the importance of knowledge, study and reflection. Others will have more academic and historical expertise on broad topics such as “Christ and Culture.” The discussion raised in this specific blog discussion is not new. For a very concise exposition of the Church’s approach to “culture,” I would direct you to the excellent book, Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy by Hieromonk Alexios [Trader]. Although the book focuses on a specific modern therapeutic approach within the context of the patristic witness, the approach taken by the author could serve as a model for an Orthodox approach to many other disciplines.

The first chapter of that book lays out the three general approaches taken in early Christianity to the practice of medicine: (1) the Tertullian model: resistance, rejection and enmity, 2) the model of Valentinus the Gnostic: absorption, manipulation and merger and 3) the Patristic model of Clement of Alexandria: selection, integration and transfiguration. The author chooses this last model as the most legitimate and the most reflective of a patristic approach of discerning openness. I offer the final words of that first chapter for your reflection:

The remaining option is the approach seen in figures such as Saint Basil the Great and Clement of Alexandria, an approach of discerning openness that selects, incorporates, and transfigures. This approach is implicitly asymmetric and hierarchal by virtue of the ontological value of salvation in Christ in contrast with the value of temporary psychological well-being. With this approach, Christian teachings act as a filter admitting some concepts, rejecting others, and in other instances suggesting alternatives. To be successful, this patristic approach requires clarity in terms of a patristic mindset capable of placing valuable insights from cognitive therapy into their appropriate niches within a patristic worldview and system of values. This is no simple task. Immersed as we are in a scientific worldview, our thought patterns are often unwittingly guided in a direction quite different from that of the Fathers. What was for them a natural perception must often be for us a matter of deliberate and continuous choice.[1]

We do, however, have the privilege of being able to choose to be methodologically guided by the Fathers on the sojourn before us. An Orthodox Christian theological worldview can be outlined and serve as a patristic basis for evaluating the implicit philosophical worldview of cognitive therapy. Relevant pastoral advice and ascetic teachings by the Fathers can be selected and arranged in order to form a patristic context for examining discrete components of cognitive therapy. In this way, we can strive to follow along the bold patristic path of those conquerors of death into the promised land of the Church where “the mystical trumpeters of the Spirit”[2] proclaim the truth of our faith: “all things are possible to him that believeth”[3] — Egyptian gold can be forged into a censer by a Christian hand.

If one were to replace “cognitive therapy” with any of the other philosophies and approaches that one finds in our world, perhaps the suggested patristic approach could be used effectively, at the hands of experienced priests and laymen, so that those positive elements of the culture that can be harmonized to the eternal Gospel of Christmight be used in a way that can build the bridges necessary to reach those who do not know Christ, choose to ignore Him or reject Him altogether, much as Saint Paul invoked the unknown God in speaking to the Athenians[4].


In our Orthodox context, we are very good at speaking to each other, but we are less successful when trying to speak to those “who are not my people” (Hosea 4) in order to make them disciples of Christ. We must be willing to admit that, in many ways, the earthly representatives of the Orthodox Church – bishops, priests, and lay folk – have failed to address the culture in a meaningful way. We struggle to have a united ecclesiastical voice on both the global and local levels. With rare exceptions, our voice is weak in academic, cultural and political contexts. Perhaps this is due to our own human weakness, spiritual slothfulness, and inability to communicate the truth of the Gospel to the world around us.

But perhaps we need to begin by listening more and asking ourselves if we are truly able to hear the questions that are being asked by our college students, by our relatives, by the strangers we meet on the street, by our neighbors? On a blog, where anonymity is often the rule, it is difficult to discern who is speaking. I am grateful that the clergy who have responded to Fr. Robert’s article have all identified themselves and have commented in a Christian and respectful manner. I do not know whether the other commenters represent the target audience of the blog (young adults and college students) or not. But I would encourage all of us to open our ears to their voices and questions, so that we might help them to more effectively resist the temptations of the secular world and make their own the truth of Christ and the Gospel.

In our Orthodox circles, we like to debate issues such as the proper English translation for exclamations at the Gospel: are we to “listen” to the Holy Gospel or are we to “hear” it? Rather than endlessly debating the semantics of the matter, I would suggest that, whether we are assisting a relative who has undergone surgery or responding to the pointed questions raised by our youth, we ought to pick one translation or the other and simply do it (James 1:22).

[1] Cf. Nicholas Woterstorff, Reason within the Bounds of Religion (Grand Rapids: 1984), pages 68, 76 and 108.

[2] Glory at Vespers for the Feast of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council in plagal tone 2.

[3] Mark 9:23.

[4] Acts 17:23.

The Holy Spirit Walks into a Jazz Club…

The Holy Spirit walks into a Jazz Club…
Prof. Peter Bouteneff

When asked about the Holy Spirit, I like to begin by saying that we know very little. It’s almost as if the less said, the better. There is not very much in the Bible. The Fathers said close to nothing – especially compared with how much they wrote about Jesus Christ. The prayer life of the Church is established on the foundation of the Holy Spirit – just about every act of prayer begins with a prayer to the Spirit (O Heavenly King) – but doesn’t say much about the Spirit.

Upper-RoomStill, we’re not left completely speechless. The Holy Spirit that Jesus tells us about is the same Spirit that spoke through the Prophets. He is the Spirit of truth. The Spirit is associated with light, with life-giving, with making us living human persons. It is by the Holy Spirit that we human beings have our greatest vocation: to be deified, to become as God is. The Spirit is “everywhere and filling all things” and yet we ask him to “come and abide in us, and cleanse us from impurity.”

But when someone asks you about the Holy Spirit, you have to decide what you’re going to focus on. Just as when you’re asked anything about God and the Church, you have to figure out what question you’re actually being asked, what the person is ready to hear, and how much of their attention you realistically have. And when they’re asking about the Holy Spirit you have the additional challenge of there being less concrete data to work from.
As it happens, this is all very fresh on my mind. I was in a café last week, where I regularly sit in with a jazz group. That group is led by a tenor saxophonist – he’s Jewish, but is always intrigued or amused by the fact that I teach at an Orthodox Christian seminary. Usually he just jokes about it – “Oh Peter’s here! Now we can get spiritual!” Or he makes a thing about my being “a big academic.” Last Monday, though, he surprised me. He took me aside and said, “Peter, you know my wife’s a Catholic, right?” “No, I didn’t, actually!” “Well she and I were talking and neither of us could figure out who or what the Holy Spirit is. Can you help me out on this one?”

jazzclubAlright – time to get that mechanism going: consider what is really being asked, and what he may actually be ready to hear. So after asking him a couple more questions, here’s how I handled it, and you can tell me if you think I did well.

“To be honest, John, I think your not being able to figure out who or what the Holy Spirit is, is a good start.”


“There’s not actually a lot of data about the Holy Spirit, either in the Bible or afterwards.”

“Ok, so what do I tell my wife?”

“Well, especially since she’s a Catholic, consider what Jesus says on the subject. The two main things there: Firstly, the Spirit is associated with truth. There is a lot that people don’t know, or don’t understand, and the Spirit guides them into truth. Secondly, Jesus says that the Spirit will teach people about who he is, who Jesus is.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, who Jesus is, is a complicated question, that has always a lot of possible answers, since day one. Jesus himself kept asking people, ‘who do you think that I am?’ And got different answers. So people need guidance on that question, and Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will tell his disciples who he actually is.”

The main scriptural reference I had in mind was John 15:26 – “But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me.”

But also John 16:13-14 – “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; …. He will glorify me…”

I could have gone further with him, but I saw his eyes beginning to glaze over. We were outside his comfort zone, not just because he’s a Jew and I’m talking about Jesus, but because we’re getting to the spiritual. He’d initiated the conversation, but I felt we’d taken it as far as we could that night.

But it seemed to me that one important thing to say about the Holy Spirit is just that: that the Spirit brings truth where there is so much possibility for falsehood. That he is Christ’s Spirit: the Spirit rests upon Christ, Christ sends the Spirit into the World, and the Spirit reveals and glorifies Christ.
Ocandletheotokosne more thing, just between us: what the Spirit does is what we are supposed to be doing too. The Spirit’s vocation is our vocation as well, in all we say and do. To be givers of life and of light, to speak the truth, to reveal and glorify Christ.

The Holy Spirit, Our Living Tradition

The Holy Spirit, Our Living Tradition
Rev. Theophan Whitfield

Orthodoxy is paradoxy

As Eastern Christians, we often express our comfort with theological tension by throwing up our hands and saying with a playful smile that “Orthodoxy is paradoxy.”   Our Lord is glorified when he is raised up on the cross, God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness, those who would be first must be servant of all  —  these are a few of the biblical examples of the tensions which define our faith.

As the history of the Church unfolds, the examples multiply:  we become by grace what God is by nature (St Athanasius, On the Incarnation), Mary gives birth to God (Council of Ephesus, 431), the lamb of God is divided but not disunited, ever eaten but never consumed (Liturgy of Chrysostom).

Orthodoxy can be experienced by some as fuzzy around the edges, as lacking the intellectual rigor that might be on high display in other Christian traditions.  Some suspect that we revel in paradox because we don’t have the resources and resolve to say something with precision and clarity.  This, we know, is not true.  But such an initial reaction is understandable.  When confronted by divine mystery, our reflex in the first place is to bow down, rather than to break it down.  From the outside, our hesychia might appear to be hesitation.  Our stillness, as paralysis.

As Orthodox, we do not think first and pray second.  For us, the order is reversed.  When we wish to answer the question “What do we believe?” we first ask ourselves the question “Well, how do we worship?”  Liturgy guides theology.  Worship blossoms into belief.

schmemann - lex orandiIn other words, we hold fast to the fifth-century expression that lex orandi lex credendi  —  the rule of prayer is the rule of belief.  Among Roman Catholics and Protestants, the arrow of priority is more easily reversed.  In the Christian West, the question “How should we worship?” leads quickly to the question “Well, what do we believe?”  For many Christians who are not Orthodox, theological speculation comes first, and in the second place decisions are made about how to make worship life conform to theological results.  Ask an Evangelical Christian why there are no contemporary hymns to Mary, and she will probably answer that the teachings of her tradition rule out the correctness of honoring Mary in that way.  The Christian West often says:  dogma before doxology.  In the East, it is doxology before dogma.

“But that’s backwards!  Why?”  No one has actually said this to me, but I confess to saying it to myself from time to time.  In any case, as Orthodox Christians, we have a quick response.  Our bedrock belief is that the living tradition of the church just is the power and presence of the Holy Spirit within the messianic community.  Holy tradition just is the Spirit of Truth, breathed out now and always upon those who gather to hear the apostolic preaching of Christ and him crucified.  For Orthodox, doxology is the elder twin of dogma for reasons first stated by the Apostle Paul, who writes that the refusal to give God honor and thanksgiving is the root cause of the “suppression of truth” (Romans 1:19-21).  Through worship, truth is protected and clarified.  And this is so because our worship is enlivened by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth.

Don’t take my word for it.  To his disciples, Jesus describes this connection between glory and truth which the Spirit makes possible.

“I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-15).

Jesus makes a promise:  that worship will be the seedbed of theology.  And as Orthodox we gladly hold him to it.  In the Spirit, glory and truth commingle.  The Spirit glorifies the Son, and guides us into all truth.

Jesus rejoices that the Holy Spirit is the one who completes an essential circle.  Scripture bears witness to the Son (John 5:46), and the Son bears witness to the Father.  The Holy Spirit, in turn, proceeds from the Father through a disclosure (phanerosis) to individual Christians, and this pouring forth is always “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:3-7).  The Holy Spirit is breathed on the apostles so that their preaching from scripture might truly bear witness to Christ, who in turn bears witness to the Father, and this is in the first place for the “common good,” as the Apostle Paul stresses throughout 1 Corinthians.

From the Father, the Spirit proceeds.  The Spirit, moving us to join him, glorifies the Son.  The Son bears witness to the Father.  As I say, it’s a circle.  But it is a circle with which we are comfortable.  This is the circle we pray.

But to stop here would be to stop painfully short.  Any discussion of the Holy Spirit that has no consequences beyond the armchair or pew is theological entertainment, at best.  As we pray, the Spirit of truth is the “giver of life,” not necessarily the giver of answers.  And life in the Spirit is always measured by what we do, not by what we know.  A deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit should always provoke a deeper desire to do the Holy Spirit’s business  —  to glorify the Son, to proclaim his lordship by keeping his commandments (Matthew 7:21).

cappadociansI started by saying that Orthodoxy is paradoxy.  If this is so, it’s not because Orthodox Christians seek to evade responsibility by hiding in the smoke and mirrors of a circus theology.  In fact, the opposite is true.  At the center of our call as Christians is the commandment to love our neighbor in the manner of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:27-37), and that when we encounter the “least of these my brethren” we encounter the one by whose name we are called (Matthew 25:31-46).  This is perhaps the central paradox in the Christian life, and somewhat distressingly it comes to us as a commandment.  There is no avoiding this one.  Neither can we afford to pin Matthew 25 on the wrong side of the line between “Things to think about” and “Things to do.”  We cannot bow in the direction of the parable of the sheep and goats, but otherwise walk away after some awkward exegesis and hand-waiving.  We are called to live this paradox of paradoxes.  And how we fare will be the single topic of discussion on the great and last day.

Glory to God, the Holy Spirit comes to our rescue, filling us with promised power from heaven (Luke 24:49)!  Words about the Holy Spirit can be impossible to set down in a satisfactory manner  —  something which I am proving in spectacular fashion as you read this essay  —  but where words fall short, acts of love without fail will provide a full disclosure (phanoresis) of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian.  Where the Holy Spirit is, there we find human beings and communities transfigured by love.  Where the Holy Spirit is, it becomes possible to meet Christ in each person.  Where the Holy Spirit is, it becomes possible to surrender ourselves in love to the will of God and to the needs of others.  The Holy Spirit makes the love of neighbor possible, and it is through this love that the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ.

In the end, if we want to understand the Church’s teaching concerning the Holy Spirit, then our time is best invested, not in reading a work such as St Basil’s On the Holy Spirit, but in reading St Basil’s On Social Justice.  The practical challenges of loving others as we love ourselves can seem formidable.  According to St Basil, for example, we should never possess more than others, and that the more we abound in wealth the more we lack in love (“To the Rich,” SVS Press, 43).  But what sounds like a challenge is really the opportunity of a lifetime.  On Social Justice and other reflections on the commandments of love are not unrealistic explorations of the hard words of Christ.  Instead, they sketch a vision of the very life we claim to desire each time we sing or pray O Heavenly King.  A work such as On Social Justice is a picture of answered prayer, a portrait of life in which the Holy Spirit is everywhere present and filling all things  —  ‘fullness-ing’ all things, really.  Go and read On Social Justice, you will find there a vision of life in which the treasury of blessings truly abides in us.

Acts of the Holy Spirit

Acts of the Holy Spirit
Dn Jason Ketz

The Acts of the Apostles is a title which ostensibly describes the main feature of the evangelist Luke’s second volume in the Luke-Acts series:Acts describes the spread of Christianity through the work of the disciples of Christ, who have now been commissioned and empowered to preach the Gospel as Apostles.  But for as much as the apostles – first Peter and then Paul – are the main active characters throughout the book, there is a continuity which bridges all of the Apostles’ works and words, and forms a parallel to Luke’s Gospel account.  This continuity is the Holy Spirit.  In the same way that The Gospel According to Luke is an account of the works of the Christ, Acts is an account of the works of the Holy Spirit. Through Acts, the evangelist depicts the Holy Spirit directing the formation of the Church and empowering the preaching of the Gospel as the message emerges from Jerusalem and spreads toward Rome.

The Holy Spirit’s presence in Acts is generally recognized and accepted by the readers with little extra attention. We read the expression “…filled with the Holy Spirit…” and then the ensuing action, but the act itself is more easily remembered than that which initiated it.  The Holy Spirit then becomes an afterthought, or rather a forethought.  Of course, neither the Holy Spirit nor the book of Acts is any worse for the wear because of our absentmindedness, but perhaps we are.

Trinity-EHPI have noticed a persistent discomfort among Christians (Orthodox and other Trinitarian denominations) in discussing the third person of the Holy Trinity.  Everybody does well speaking of the Father and the Son, but the Holy Spirit is, again, an afterthought.  Usually people have a few phrases, offered confidently, which sums up a doctrinal position on the Trinity. Often the phrases are derived from the statements added to the Creed by the Second Ecumenical Council, while Orthodox Christians are particularly likely to quote phrases from the prayer “O Heavenly King.”  To be very clear, these answers are all correct. But they are impersonal in a way that descriptions of the Father and the Son are not, and rare indeed is the Christian who doesn’t stumble when answering a follow-up question.

Try it sometime.  Ask somebody how they know what they do about the Holy Spirit.  We talk about things like the filioque, but do we really understand the Holy Spirit’s origin or procession?  We describe the Holy Spirit as the Giver of Life, but don’t the scriptures tell us that the Lord God kills and makes alive; brings down to the grave and raises up (Deut 32:39 and 1 Sam 2:6)? We describe the Holy Spirit as everywhere present, but is that a unique description of the third person of the Trinity?  Even the phrase “comforter” (paraklete) is not unique to the Holy Spirit. Christ tells the disciples  “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another comforter, to be with you forever” (John 14:16).

By asking these questions, I am not suggesting we need to beef up our doctrinal defense of the Trinity.  Trinitarian doctrine took quite a lot of time and ink to articulate authentically, and not all of us have the gift of parsing out all of the nuances of our teachings. Furthermore, there is comparatively little written on the Holy Spirit.  What I am suggesting, rather, is that we can and should become comfortable offering  a personal answer to the question “who is the Holy Spirit?” As I mentioned earlier, people do well in talking about God the Father, or about Jesus Christ. And we do well because we draw not just from the Creed or from fourth century writings, but from the scriptures which inspire and undergird the doctrine.  Why not turn to Scripture to develop our understanding of the Holy Spirit?  And if we turn to Scripture, why not start with Acts?  The book is our most extensive single work discussing the Holy Spirit, and while Luke may not explain who the Holy Spirit is, all readers will find themselves well-versed onwhat the Holy Spirit does.

paulandananiasAnd what does the Holy Spirit do?  In Acts, the Holy Spirit ‘fills’ a Christian, first as the gift promised to those who confess Christ, and again in preparation for an act which promotes the spread of the Gospel. This promise of the Spirit, first received by Christ in the resurrection (Acts 2:33), is then poured forth on all the faithful.  It is easy to imagine the fervor associated with these occasions – perhaps as a scriptural precedent for the American revival experience of the 19th century. Many evangelical Christians speak of the Spirit in precisely this context – a personal, emotional and active internal experience. But Luke does not discuss the converts’ reception of the Holy Spirit in personal or emotive terms.  And while fervor is probably an accurate inference for the dozen converts in Ephesus (Acts 19:2), the scene at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10) recounts the descent of the Holy Spirit,  and with no account of the believers behavior except for Peter’s demand for their baptism.  Nor does Paul have any response when receiving the Holy Spirit initially, except to regain his eyesight. So while it’s plausible to believe that receiving the Holy Spirit may be an emotional or perhaps even physiological experience for newly confessed Christians, there is no basis to believe that such an experience is required confirmation of one’s baptism “by water and the Spirit.” And as Christian baptism has largely been ritualized, it would seem far more in line with the text to believe and accept that Christians who have received the Gospel through the Apostolic tradition, and have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, however that may manifest in an individual’s experience.  Meanwhile, our attention would be better spent not on recounting the experience of our first reception of the Spirit, which is undoubtedly in our past, but on the continued presence or renewal of the Spirit, which is depicted in Acts as a recurring experience for active Christians.

Enabling of the spread of the Gospel begins with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, after which the Apostles preach Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection to the crowd of (largely diaspora) Jews gathered to celebrate the feast (Acts 2). The apostles were the first recipients of the Holy Spirit, but also the first who were motivated to preaching through the Spirit’s presence.  And while one cannot overlook the miraculous occurrence in which all those assembled heard the Gospel in their native tongues, the action undertaken by the apostles was preaching. Peter is again filled with the Holy Spirit in preparation for preaching (Acts 4:8). Paul was filled with the spirit when confronting the magician Elymas (Acts 13:9). Phillip was encouraged by the Spirit to speak to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) using the Suffering Servant of Isaiah as a springboard for preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Stephen was filled with the spirit during his final oration (Acts 7), and Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was explicitly commissioned by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2).  To be sure, the Holy Spirit confirms Christians, as the gift promised to all the faithful.  But the Holy Spirit also is repeatedly present in the faithful, in order to spread the Gospel.

stephen's martyrdomIt would be tempting to describe the Holy Spirit as ‘making apostles,’ but specifically, the Holy Spirit makes evangelists andwitnesses.  The Holy Spirit fills people so that they can point others toward Christ.  In Acts, this is generally a spoken process – preaching (the kerygma, as discussed by later generations of saints and theologians). But Luke has also provided a model for a later form of witness: the martyr. Not only are Peter, Paul, Phillip variously filled with the Holy Spirit before preaching to crowds, but Stephen is also filled with the Holy Spirit before his final preaching (Acts 6:5, 6:10) and again at the time of his death at the hands of his persecutors (Acts 7:55). Stephen is confirmed as a martyr already at the end of the book (Acts 22:20)  In the two centuries following acts, a fusion of Acts with the Johannine writings, and continued reflection on Old and New Testament texts allows martyrdom to develop into a very specific type of witnessing to Christ.  The martyr holds to faith in Christ, confronting the world and revealing Christ’s Lordship and power over life and death by accepting his or her own death for the sake of the Gospel; accepting death with a confident hope of the resurrection.   In these various accounts of martyrdom, also referred to as acta – “acts” [of the Christian Martyrs], the Holy Spirit is again at work (sometimes tacitly, sometimes explicitly) preparing the martyrs – filling them with faith to stand as witnesses.  Meanwhile, Acts has also provided the basis for our belief that the Holy Spirit inspires the preaching of the Gospel, and that the Holy Spirit comforts and advances the Church, through its presence in the assembly.

illuminatescriptureOf course The Acts of the Apostles is not a stand-alone treatise on the Holy Spirit, nor can a doctrinal understanding of the trinity be garnered from this work alone.  Acts exists in harmony with the whole of Scripture, and is understood through the lens of faith, as we have received it from the Apostles.  In other words (in Paul’s words – 1 Cor 12:3), the Holy Spirit’s first action in each of our lives is to open our hearts and minds to these texts and these teachings, so that we can confess Jesus as both Lord and Christ (cf Acts 11:16). We need not let the complexity of Trinitarian doctrine intimidate us, for it seems that the Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity with whom we Christians are actually the most intimately familiar. May all of us continually be filled with the promise of the Holy Spirit!

The Holy Spirit in Christian Worship

The Holy Spirit in Christian Worship:
An interview with Dean Theophilos and Leigh-Ann Des Roches

Dean Theophilos is a graduate of St John’s College in Santa Fe, NM, and is currently pursuing a Masters in Addiction Studies through the Hazelden School in Minnesota. Dean works as an alcohol and drug counselor with Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, and attends St George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, MN.

Leigh-Ann Des Roches completed undergraduate studies at University of Wisconsin: La Crosse. She holds a Masters in Addiction Studies from Hazelden School, and also works as a drug and alcohol counselor for the Hazelden clinic.  Leigh-Ann grew up worshiping at the Wayzata Evangelical Free Church, and is expecting to be baptized at St Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral this summer.

Hi Dean and Leigh-Ann. Thank you for agreeing to speak with me.  This month, Wonder is focusing on the Holy Spirit. Each of you has explored Christian worship in multiple denominations (we’ll cover your backgrounds more as we go along), so I was hoping you could share some thoughts with us about the Holy Spirit in Orthodox and other Christian worship.

Dean, let’s start with you.  You’ve grown up in the Greek Orthodox Church. Where do you see the Holy Spirit in the context of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy?

D: I understand the Holy Spirit as, well, the engine driving the service.  The Sprit gives our liturgy a sense of weight, or value. A sense of direction, of momentum, a sort of continuity, but mostly, I see the Spirit as the driving force in Liturgy.

Leigh-Ann, I’ll circle back to your thoughts on Orthodox worship, but first, how do you understand the Spirit in Evangelical worship.

onfireL: I’ve been thinking about this question for a week or so now, since I agreed to do this interview, because the question is actually hard to answer.  The trinity is simply not talked about.  The focus is almost entirely on Christ within Evangelical worship.  God the Father seems very remote in the prayers and in the discussion. And the Spirit isn’t really seen as a separate ‘person’ so to speak.  So the focus is always on Christ.  So what is the Spirit?  I guess I would say that the Spirit is basically like the Ghost of Jesus.  Maybe like the energy of Christ. It’s really hard to explain…does that make any sense?

Sure, I think I know what you’re getting at.  But is this a hard question for everybody: Who is the Holy Spirit?

D: I think that the Holy Spirit is highly complicated.  The two of us took a catechism class this spring, and spent a class session on the Holy Trinity, and it’s incredibly complex.  Very few people can really give a thorough, clear, and accurate explanation of the Trinity.  Although I don’t feel pressured to, either.  The nice thing about Orthodoxy is that we are able leave room for “mystery.”  This seems fitting for the Holy Spirit, for the Trinity: a mystery that we can’t completely grasp.

Dean, what’s been your experience when you’ve seen or participated in Protestant Worship. How would you describe Protestant understanding(s) of the Holy Spirit?

D: Well, through Teen Challenge I’ve been exposed to Pentecostal worship and beliefs, and among the Pentecostals there is a continued use of expressions of “On fire for the Lord” and “Feeling the Spirit.”  They see an encounter with the Holy Spirit as a personal experience. There’s this fervor involved.  And even more, it seems that they need that experience – that fervor – that emotional engagement to make the worship ‘real.’

evangelical worshipL: Yeah, we would use the phrase “On fire for God.” And it was this definite sense of emotional movement.  If you don’t feel emotionally moved, we would say “you don’t have the Spirit.”  I feel there is a very clear expectation in Evangelical worship to have an emotional experience.  And the whole program caters to our emotional needs, and is tailored to create this emotional effect.  Look at Christian Rock. It’s incredibly modern music, meant to directly impact us, resonate with us, and move us.  That’s how and why the music is used.  And that movement – that’s the Spirit.

Dean, what do you think – is there place for emotional impact or personal experience within the Divine Liturgy?

D: It’s certainly not required, but that idea that the Spirit is there, and can move us, I believe is still available in our worship. That’s why I said at the beginning that the Spirit is the engine driving the service. The service still happens, whether or not I’m caught up in the moment, but the power that makes that happen – that can definitely be felt, and that’s the Spirit. Plus, we do have a sensory experience in the liturgy, and particularly through the Eucharist.  This should not be overlooked.

Leigh-Ann, what do you think about Orthodox worship and the Spirit?  What has your experience been so far.

L: Orthodox Liturgy is so radically different from anything I have ever experienced before, I’m still working to accept that. I had no idea growing up that any Christians would worship in this manner.  It’s incredible, and I’m still sorting it out. Which is why I’m particularly glad that there isn’t an expectation that we have to understand it – that it can remain a mystery, because Orthodox Liturgy is still very much a mystery to me. I find myself returning to that idea often.

iconcornerLeigh-Ann, what is one thing that you find to be a positive change in leaving Evangelical worship and coming to Christian worship?

L: I am so glad that my experience of the Divine Liturgy is not dependent on the Sermon, or the Gospel, or my personal experience. The Gospel and Sermon are there, but they aren’t the only feature in the service.  More importantly, I don’t need to be emotionally brow-beaten or condemned, or I don’t need to be emotionally validated, for the worship to have meaning.  So I’m realizing that I’m experiencing the ‘same’ Liturgy differently each service…I hope that’s a good thing.

Dean, what is something you find uniquely positive about Protestant / Evangelical worship (and I apologize for using these terms so loosely – please offer clarification where you can!)

D: Something unique about Grace (mega-) Church is hearing that long, engaging sermon.  Each homily is so powerful that it offers a unique take on our faith, and on the Holy Spirit, for that matter.

L: Both of us try to visit a number of different denominations of Christian communities, because we’ve found that we’re better able to relate to our clients, who often have serious emotional trauma with religious underpinnings. So even the briefest exposure on our part can give us some insight into the pain these people are experiencing.  And it helps us see what’s out there.

Leigh-Ann, can you share some thoughts on the positives and negatives of Evangelical worship? What aspects (as it relates to the Holy Spirit) of Evangelical worship are you ready to leave behind, and what do you hope that you can retain as you transition to Orthodox Christian worship?

L: A large part of my coming to Orthodoxy has been becoming OK with how I grew up. So this is a difficult question. The negative, I feel, to Evangelical worship, is the idea that an emotional response is required. If you don’t feel the Holy Spirit (or however it’s phrased), it’s a problem. Perhaps you’re not good enough, perhaps you’re trying too hard. But it’s something that you’re doing wrong. So the Christian experience becomes contingent on our emotion. I think that dependence is bad. In fact, I’ve heard the emotional experience of faith given such priority that – you know how people have a ‘saved date,’ right? The day they were saved.  I’ve talked with people who have changed their ‘saved date.’ Or were contemplating changing it, because they felt saved at one time, but then they felt even more saved later, so they are suddenly questioning the validity of that first experience, like maybe they didn’t actually feel the Holy Spirit like they thought they did.  That understanding of salvation doesn’t sit right with me.  These struggles with our own feelings seem almost abusive – to attribute our emotional experience to God’s actions.  Meanwhile, as I’ve been preparing for Orthodox baptism, there has  been no discussion about what I may or may not feel or experience.  We’ve discussed the ritual, but not how it will or should impact me.  It’s just a stated fact that I will receive the Holy Spirit as part of the sacrament, whether or not I happen to feel anything.

Also, the Evangelical experience is highly stimulating. It really caters to us. The music. The lights. The homilies which help us deal with real life. There’s not enough looking back.

resurrectionOn the positive side, I really enjoy the idea that we should have a personal relationship with Christ. That we can feel Christ, or connect with Christ, or know Christ in some way, without going through other mediums.  This seems very different from Orthodoxy, with the structured liturgy, icons, sacraments.  I’m still sorting this out.

Dean, what do you see as positives and negatives?  Or, if there is an element to evangelical worship that you feel Orthodox Christians should consider more seriously, what would that be?

D: I agree with Leigh-Ann: the idea of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is really powerful. Plus, the possibility of emotional experience, of being personally moved during worship is also healthy. To ‘feel the Spirit’ really keeps a person engaged. It keeps our whole selves involved in worship, and allows us for a heightened awareness of God’s presence.  If we don’t allow for this possibility, it’s easy to depict God as very removed from our daily lives.

On the other hand, it becomes negative, and perhaps dangerous, when that emotional experience is required for the worship to be ‘authentic’ or ‘alive.’ Also, people need stillness.  Christians need stillness.  From my experience, there is simply not enough stillness in Evangelical worship.

L: I agree. My experience involved almost no idea of stillness, and it’s almost perceived as a bad thing – an absence of Christ.

D: Yes, and in fact maybe it’s better when people struggle. Our experience isn’t always positive in life. Why should our faith always be easy and positive?  I remember bringing Leigh-Ann to her first anastasis Pascha service, and watching her struggle to stay awake for this liturgy which was entirely incomprehensible to her.  And I remember thinking that in a very real way, her struggle to stay awake is an experience of the Spirit, of faith. It is as authentic as mine. Why can’t we see the Holy Spirit in that person? Why do we just see the fervor? Of course the Spirit is there, with all of us!

My final question for both of you is whether or not there is a place for dialogue between East and West; between Orthodox and Protestant or Evangelical Christians, on the Spirit?  In other words, there seems to be a layer of jargon here –Orthodox Christians that I know don’t often speak in terms of a personal relationship with Christ, on fire for the Lord, or feeling the Holy Spirit. But if we were to understand these terms, is there room for dialogue? Or are we still just so radically different?

otechestvoD: Well, theologically, the doctrine of the Trinity is very difficult. East and West, all of it is hard, and I won’t lie, it doesn’t help dialogue at all. Most Trinitarian Christians are bad at explaining the Trinity. Now, on the practical or experiential level, yes! Absolutely, there is a place for dialogue. Orthodox Christians should be able to discuss our experience during worship, and we should be prepared to share that with outsiders.  What is it that all visitors say when the come to our Liturgy?

L: that it’s gorgeous, but boring.

D: yes, boring. Now, whether they should experience anything is one question, but hopefully the liturgy is not boring to us, and we should be able to share our experience to help explain why we worship with the complex ritual we have. That’s where the dialogue is: how we worship, in any form that matters. That’s what is important for Christians to share with each other.

Freely Did You Receive, So Freely Give

Freely Did You Receive, So Freely Give

By Protodeacon Peter Danilchick


We are born into a specific place and time and into a family with established values and customs.  We develop and grow within this reality but also with our very own God given personalities and talents.  God also gives us personal mentors and examples, from our earliest days, who impart their wisdom and their own life lessons to us.  If we are receptive and sensitive to these opportunities, our lives are enriched and our personalities develop into adults who not only strive to achieve great things in our own lives, but also strive to share and care for others in need.carousel_5

Growing up I attended church regularly, serving as an altar boy for many years. At school I was good in mathematics and science and was encouraged to study engineering, which I did.  My undergraduate college department of electrical engineering had adopted an unusual team-based approach to education in which individual study and student team problem solving was the norm. The professors did not lecture; rather, they posed tough problems and asked probing questions. As a result, I became very interested in inter-personal dynamics and management processes, without losing focus on technology.

While in graduate school, I was very fortunate to get to know Fathers Alexander Warnecke, John Kozak and Alexander Schmemann.  They were to me the very icons of the Church’s challenge to the world (and herself) through the Gospel, the Liturgy and action. Their initiatives and passion for the Church inspired me and encouraged me to become more active in church life.  At the age of 24 I attended my first NY NJ Diocesan Assembly as a parish delegate.  That was the start of my interest and active participation in the organizational side of the church.  I worshipped regularly and met my wife at a university OCF meeting.  We were both very committed to our church community and church sponsored activities.  We volunteered at a church camp, taught Sunday school, and remained very involved.

Following graduate study in electrical engineering, I was offered a position at Exxon in the very new area of information technology. My career with Exxon rapidly segued into general operations management, strategic planning, and new business development. By then we had three children.  Soon after that, I was encouraged to enter the late vocations program at St. Vladimir’s Seminary.  I studied and completed the program and was ordained deacon.  Not very long after ordination we started moving around the world with my job at Exxon, spending sixteen years overseas in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany and Australia. In all these places, we worked to build up the local Orthodox parish community (and established the first legally-registered Orthodox Church in Singapore).

We were so very thankful for the church communities we found in many of the places we lived.  When there were no established churches, like in Singapore and Hong Kong, we simply knew that we had to do all we could to serve the Orthodox Christians in those countries.  We felt that we had been so blessed by all those who had come before us and dedicated their lives to the church that we, in our own way, had to do what we could where there was need.  Although it was often a lot of work, it was extremely rewarding and we met so many wonderful people along the way.

In retirement, we continue working in the Church with St Vladimir’s Seminary as a member of her Board, with the OCA in various governance and advisory positions, and with the Assembly of Bishops Secretariat, trying to help the bishops to bring about Orthodox unity in America.  Many of the skills that I learned with my career with Exxon, such as management best practices, financial accountability, organizational development, and strategic planning have been very useful in my service to the Church. As well, my experience working with people in varied international cultures has enabled me to better relate to the different ways people approach problems and relationships. Serving in churches of Russian, American, Antiochian, Japanese, Greek, and Romanian traditions around the world have given me the gift of experiencing the fundamental Gospel ties which bind us together and which supersede language, custom and rubrics.

I have, for as long as I can remember, been amazed and challenged by Jesus’ sending out of the twelve disciples as recorded in Matthew 10. He gave them seemingly impossible tasks: heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, witness without fear before authorities, and expect hatred and persecution in return. How could this be possible? I think that Jesus gave the key in two simple commands: firstly, freely give what you have freely received and, secondly, don’t worry about what you will say at times of trial, those words will be given to you then. We thus come out of ourselves and place ourselves in the hands of God.

Man is a Eucharistic being, in the words of Fr Alexander Schmemann.  Our destiny is to receive the gifts given us by God and to give thanks for them. By giving thanks, we recognize that they do not come from us, neither do

we deserve them, but they are a free gift from God. And part of giving thanks for a gift is making the best use of that gift and sharing it with others. All of us have gifts, whether of knowledge and expertise, wisdom and insight, compassion and love, to name a few. God presents us each day with opportunities to share these gifts. It is up to us to seize those chances to be a transmitter of God’s gifts to others, in whatever life environment we find ourselves.

Sometimes we do not think that we are up to the task involved in these opportunities. We do not think we have sufficient knowledge or expertise, or wisdom and insight, let alone compassion and love. But Jesus said that we shouldn’t worry about these imagined inadequacies; remember his words that we should not worry about what we will say in times of trial. Conversely, he said that his power is made perfect in weakness, precisely because that is where we cease to rely upon ourselves and rely upon the Lord’s power at work within us. Our problems come when we hold back because we are afraid of what others will think of us, or that we will fail and appear weak and foolish.

In the simplest terms, we need to do what we need to do, instead of worrying about what we should do or what we might do. If there is an opportunity to learn, to serve, to help, seize it! Seize it in faith that God will help you. “Freely did you receive, so freely give.” And do not worry about results. Have faith that God will perfect his strength in your weakness. And in all things, give thanks for each other and everything!



Unexpected Blessings: A Decade in Elder Care

Unexpected Blessings:
a Decade in Elder Care

An interview with Elizabeth Ketz


Greetings, Elizabeth. Wonder is focusing on the topic of vocation, career choices and our responsibility of “sharing our blessings” with those around us, particularly through our career choices.  You have always spoken very highly of your career, and have described it on several occasions as spiritually rewarding. We’d like to share a bit of your story.  First, can you describe what it is that you do?

Sure. I am an exercise specialist at a nursing home and retirement community, with independent and assisted living facilities.  The home I work at currently is also Roman Catholic, and was started several decades ago by the Benedictine Sisters.  As an exercise specialist, I am responsible for working with residents on various fitness programs that they elect to participate in.  Practically speaking, our work in the fitness center is similar to physical therapy, except our goals are different. Physical therapy is a targeted rehabilitation process, whereas our fitness exercise is to maintain health and help the residents retain abilities needed in daily living.  The residents often do show improvement in strength, coordination, balance – as to all people who exercise routinely –  but for Mrs Thompson, for instance, our goal is to keep her walking so that she is able to transport herself to the cafeteria every evening to join her friends for dinner and bridge.  Plus, most of our work is through group classes, so it’s an opportunity for our residents to socialize, as well.


Is this a career you have always pictured yourself in? Work with geriatrics?  Or did this seem to happen by accident?  How do you understand this process?

Well, simply put, in college, I never would have imagined myself in this job.  But on the other hand, I have always had a desire to help people, generally in a therapeutic capacity.  So in college if you would have asked me where I would see myself in 10 years, I fully expected and intended to do pediatric physical therapy. But this is still well within my field of interest. And after college I worked a few really lousy part time jobs, so when an opportunity presented itself at this assisted living facility, I went for it without hesitation.  And it’s been such a blessing ever since.

A blessing…how so?

Wow. Where can I start?!  So, I’m doing what I enjoy. I’m helping people every day, and doing so through physical therapy / exercise, which is something that I like, that I have studied, that I understand. So that is personally fulfilling. And I am clearly making a difference in people’s lives. It’s a good job, good hours, fair wage, and I work with friends and am friends with my clients. These are things I recognized very quickly.

But I’ve come to see other blessings as well, the longer I’ve been working in this field. First off, I am working with a segment of the population that is otherwise neglected by our society.  Very few of our residents leave the facility very often.  They get visits from friends and family, but this is their life: old people, surrounded by other old people and the facility staff that attends to them all. So to them, I represent a connection to a world they once lived in and have now lost.  I’m young. I’m a mother of young children. I see shows, sporting events, travel.  And I’ve come to realize how important it is to my clients’ well-being for me to let myself connect these people back to the world.  I can’t make the world remember them, but I get to know these people as friends, and suddenly they are not so far removed.

Second, this segment of the population is very close to death.  They are well into their twilight years, most of them struggling very hard to maintain some remnant of physical and mental health until the end.  And they are all very well aware of their mortality, and are also wrestling with that.  Trying to prepare themselves for death, trying to understand their lives in retrospect, or sometimes to tie up loose ends – everybody approaches death differently, but at the home, it is a regular topic of conversation.  Of course, what can I say in response? But I see it as a blessing that my residents are comfortable talking with me about such a powerful, intimate topic. It has had a very deep impact on me to work daily with people who are at the end of their lives, when I, conversely, am mostly surrounded by new, young life outside of my work.

Finally, (and this is really interesting) I said before that I always had my heart set on pediatrics, and I suspect now that I would find that work more stressful and less fulfilling than geriatrics.  These people have had lives. The pediatric patients I would likely work with are in a far worse situation – many of them will never lead normal lives.  Don’t get me wrong – the people who work with them are doing something incredible, something beautiful. But I just don’t know if I would have the stomach for such work.  It’s a strange type of relief to realize that I didn’t have to learn that the hard way.

hospital hands

So how do you understand your work in terms of vocation? Were you called to do this? Are you sharing your blessings with others through your career? Is this a form of ministry? Is this all part of God’s plan? 

See, all of those phrases are foreign to me. I don’t disagree with them, but I don’t think of my work in this way.  Was I called to do exercise science at a nursing home? No. Nothing so specific. In fact, I mentioned before that I don’t know that I could handle doing physical therapy / rehab exercise with pediatric patients, but when I was in school, I was convinced that’s what I was supposed to do, if we can ever have such a specific career goal. To look at my career choice more generically, I have always wanted to help people – have felt compelled to help people, through healthcare.  And yes, I do think that this is part of God’s plan.  My career, as I said, is a blessing, and in return I take the job seriously. I do well at my work and I enjoy it.  So is that sharing my blessings?  I suppose it is. Of course, helping people is always a ministry.

I know what you’re asking, though.  I do see my work as noble, important, holy, meaningful, and I am happy to do it. So many people can’t find that satisfaction in their careers.  I simply don’t struggle with that. I believe in what I do. It seems to be an extension of my life, my faith, my religious beliefs. I wish that all people who choose to work can find this comfort in their careers, this harmony in their lives.  And I have the added bonus of working for a catholic organization, so faith, worship and prayer are very much a part of the community in which I work and my residents live.  Although I’m not Catholic myself, the atmosphere adds to what is already a rewarding career.

Any final thoughts you want to share?pew

I would tell everybody looking to work in healthcare to consider very seriously nursing homes and retirement communities. Making career choices is hard, though.  So I wonder…I know many people struggle with ideas like “what am I supposed to do with my life?” “What is God’s plan for me?”  Maybe just having an open mind is what’s important?  That, and an intent to be a Christian in whatever you do.  I don’t know.  I would like to hear what others think, but  I do know that I thank God that I have a career that I find to be beneficial to others, that aligns with my faith, and that is socially, mentally and spiritually rewarding.




Witnessing to the Kingdom in our Digital Age

by Andrew Boyd

I spend way too much time on Facebook. That’s partly a function of my job(s), partly my constant need for self-affirmation, and partly my constant need to spy on the people I love. But, I also spend a lot of time reading and thinking about what people post, about the gospel we Christians preach in the social media space, about what we think our voice should be in the public sphere, in facebook, the modern marketplace, on cable news, in conversation, the workplace, our schools, etc. And sadly, I’m left wanting more, more than what’s already out there.

We are blessed to be part of the living tradition of our living God, passed down to us from the Apostles. Our faith, in its fullness, has been gifted to us not to merely preserve, but to share. Sadly, especially on social media, we have lost the basic ability in many cases to share this tradition without looking like extreme jerks. Listen, I love being a know-it-all as much as the next guy, but letting our pride and ego launch us into a caps-lock heavy combox battle witness only to the tradition of people putting ego before Gospel. No one, ever, will be argued into the Kingdom by you or I.

The Modern Martyrdom
I recently heard a member of the UN Security Council tell a large group of business leaders that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. This is no surprise to those of us who’ve been praying for our brothers and sisters in Syria and Egypt and witness the recent martyrdom there. This is the Church of witness, of martyrdom, and being willing to lose our lives for the sake of Christ. Martyrdom connects our faith now to the witness of the Apostles and the saving act of Christ on the Cross. We act this way because Christ saved the World by being silent and complacent in the face of unjust death,”The just one, condemned unjustly” as our hymns say.

Thanks be to God that our Church’s witness continues to grow through its martyrs. Sadly though, for every post and article I see about these powerful witnesses, I see another one complaining and whining about how hard it is to be a Christian here in America. It’s not. And, if it is, and if we are truly being marginalized, maligned, and persecuted, than thank God for the opportunity to witness Him, and how he reacted to being marginalized, maligned, and persecuted (and killed…).

“My grace is sufficient for you” unless the walmart clerk forgets to wish you a Merry Christmas when you are buying tons of useless holiday junk…

“By this all men will know…”
Someone on my floor in college said to me once “I was so surprised to learn your were a Christian, ’cause you’re so nice!” For better or for worse, the public, at least where I am from, has a largely negative view of Christians (judgmental, doctrinal, self-righteous). It’s up to us to change people’s hearts and minds (perhaps I should stop shouting at people on the subway…).

Courtesy, patience, love are not just touchy-feely buzzwords, but expected behaviors of all Christians. Looking at our facebook groups and blogs, what stands out is our animosity, combativeness, and our love of calling people heretics* (the actual definition of a heretic can be found at the end of this article). We don’t put our best foot forward into the public world of social media, instead we shamefully witness our disunity and lack of basic Christian charity. I have to read tons of online industry forums for work, where people disagree politely and thoughtfully. Meanwhile, I tell people constantly to avoid certain “orthodox” websites and facebook groups where we gather to publicly complain, mock, and judge.

So, what should we do?
If we shouldn’t be like talking heads on cable news or cowardly internet trolls, then what is our model for our behavior in the public sphere? What is God calling us to do in the workplace, our schools, with our neighbors, on facebook?

For me, the example of St. Herman is always useful. St. Herman was a monk first, and of course lived a life of guided silence and constant prayer. His prayer was so strong that if you visit his home on Spruce Island today, you can see how the entire environment has been transformed and marked with the presence of the Kingdom.

But Saint Herman didn’t just stay in his cell and pray, he used his life as a practitioner of silence and prayer to help those in desperate need (ran an orphanage), perform saving miracles (protected villages from tsunamis and fires) and stand up to those in power for the oppressed (calling the Russians out on their treatment of the natives). The difference between his activity in the public sphere and ours, is that his was fueled by genuine love for people in need, people whom he knew intimately. Ours is fueled by ego, or agenda, or ideology, or politics, or insecurities.

Ultimately, Father Herman’s example is so compelling to me because it is a beautiful image of Christ’s example. Silence and worldly weakness gives way to the real power of public love, a power that breaks the bonds of death and sin to make paradise open for us all.This is our imperative, this is our vocation in the public sphere, to use the gift of our tradition to preach the Gospel of a God who is love, not to feed my ego, assuage my insecurities, or feed the fire of ideology. This is what Christ wants for us, to do what he did for us, for others. Every interaction, every post, every tweet, every word has the potential to speak the fullness of the good news of a loving God.

A heretic is not someone who holds an incorrect belief. A heretic is a church leader (usually a bishop) who vigorously propagates a belief that he or she knows to be contrary to the beliefs of the apostolic and catholic Church. As my seminary professor used to say “Most of you aren’t smart enough to be heretics”.

Serving Youth Through Music

an interview with Nathaniel Kostick

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Greetings, Nathaniel. Wonder is focusing on the topic of vocation this month, and you so kindly offered to contribute a few thoughts on the subject, particularly since you’re in a rather unique (and trying) point in your education. First, can you tell us what you’re studying, where, and how long you’ve been working on this degree?

I am in the process of finishing off my teacher’s licensure in music education, and have been working towards this degree for the past five years. While deciding what degree I should pursue, I first realized that I did not feel any particular type of calling towards anything, and I did not have any clue as to what kind of work I would enjoy, or rather, not completely resent. This was the biggest issue for me, finding something that I could dedicate a chunk of my life towards. Another issue I had was the fact that I was not particularly a great student who enjoyed school. As a student, I found every way I could to get out of the school building and do my work on my own time, if I chose to do it at all. It was difficult to find meaning in it. What I did know however, was that when I was in high school, a class that I felt I did well in was Band. I wasn’t the best, but I did well.

Outside of school, I wanted to do as much as I could with the church. I went to youth events, I served behind the altar, and participated as much as I could. This did not stop after high school graduation. I began teaching, assisting Fr. Benjamin Tucci with other youth events, and strived to learn as much as I possibly could by starting a Bible Study. Eventually I realized that youth ministry would be something that I found great joy in. Unfortunately, there are not many jobs in that field. With this in mind, I knew that Seminary would be a strong possibility, not because I aimed to be a priest, but I wanted to continue to grow as much as I could. Problem was, you need at least a 4 year degree to be able to go. I was stuck.

In the end, I realized that my joy from working with youth was a must have, so I had to decide what to do with that. I wanted something that included my faith (who wouldn’t), but had a hard time finding it. When I realized that I enjoyed music in high school, the thought process literally went “youth + music = Music Education.” And so it began (at least for now!).

With a degree in music education, and presumably a future career in the field, how is this relevant to you? To your identity, to your faith? Is music just something that you’re good at? Do you see yourself contributing to our society through this position? Elaborate a bit on the significance of music education.

College really tested me in a way that measured my commitment to music. I realized about half way through that a lot of the staff seemed to expect music to be the center of my life, which in hindsight makes sense, if you’re trying to be a professional in that field. However, I tried to base my faith as the center of my life and sought music only as something I enjoyed. When these ideas clashed, music became a chore, and at times, I lost my desire. School becomes difficult when you don’t have the same passion as the ones trying to teach you. Granted, music has a great history in the faith, but college is primarily concerned about western music, so tying music to my faith at school was a difficult thing to do. Also, unless I teach in a private school, overtly bringing faith into the classroom can be problematic.

Before I start to sound like a music hater, let me say music is a wonderful subject. It is a major factor in every culture around the world. In music, students can learn to express themselves in ways words cannot, and convey feelings towards an audience based on a story that a composer wrote about. Music can be correlated with other subjects. For example: Math, Reading, Science, Physical education, History, Language classes, etc. Music gets students moving, creating, performing, observing, critically thinking, empathizing, working cooperatively. When I think about the importance of music education in the classroom, I’m still at the point of observation, but the benefits are definitely there, and students enjoy it. I am glad that I’ll be able to work with students in this field. I struggle however, to connect it with my faith. At this point, all I can do is take to heart the lifestyle of being Orthodox and follow the old saying: “Preach the Gospel at all times ~ and when necessary, use words.” Obviously, I can’t (and would not want to) evangelize. But certainly I aim to witness to my faith in some quiet way. Music education seems to be a venue for this, but I have not yet worked out the details.

Do you understand teaching music to be a social ministry of sorts?

Absolutely. There’s a saying that says “you become who you surround yourself with.” Other than parents, teachers are a major support system for a child growing up and are incredibly influential. We all have that one teacher we look back and remember, not always because they changed our lives, but they were cool, or easy going, and really clicked with who we were at the time. We didn’t know it then, but we create who we want to be by taking the traits we desire from others. Much of the time it’s from our friends, but adults impact students much more than we recognize.

Another great thing is that band (all music) brings the community together. Students with different personalities, backgrounds, interests, and agendas come together to create one sound. They listen, learn, and react to each other, to eventually encourage the community to come and listen as one. I think it is really cool when the community can come and see the improvement that the students have made, and be impacted by the music being performed.

Like I said, the benefits of children being in music are there. It’s just hard for me to connect that work life to my life in Christ when so much of it become a distraction and burden. I don’t see myself contributing to our church at the moment through this position other than the expansion of my abilities and strengths that I have working with youth. Later, after some debt is cleared, we will see. But this is only the beginning.

How have you pushed through the struggles and frustrations to finish your journey? Have you considered giving up? What makes you keep going?

As many know, through one semester I have struggled with cancer, yet continued the bare minimum full time amount of classes (cutting classes when I was sick on chemo) and working with the faculty to continue to make it work. What seems to be most surprising to a lot of people is this was not my toughest moments in school

As I progressed through college, my main instrument was the trumpet. Again, I was not the best, but I was good. One difficulty I had was my schools desire to make all education majors play at a certain level of performance. The lessons, and recitals, and juries, and band, and all the extra stuff on top of learning to teach. To me, it all seemed like busy work that just got in the way of important stuff.

Another problem I had with my school and the motivation of teaching, was that the school focused less on practices that benefit the students education, and more on the philosophy of what it means to be a good teacher. I can’t tell you how many lectures on the “empathetic” or “student centered” teacher I’ve sat through. I want practicality. I want stuff I can use. I don’t want to land my first job and have to start from square one on classroom management. I want to learn what teachers have done to be successful, and build from there. Call me lazy, but it would sure save five years.

I’ve wanted to quit, and honestly the only thing that stopped me was the idea of finding a less glamorous job, with a great pile of private school debt, and nothing to show for it. I was in it, and I was stuck. It seems wise to finish what I have started, despite the challenges.

Do you see the roll of band teacher as doing God’s will?

I don’t know God’s will. I enjoy working with students, and for now that’s all it is. I’ve found something that I can commit to for a while. Life? Maybe, but I don’t wake up in the morning dreading to go to school. It’s different being the one passing out the homework rather than receiving it! I don’t know what God has planned. I’d still like to be a youth director of sorts, or travel. But this is where I am, and I’m ok with it. Hopefully, God is too. Like I said, I don’t feel “called,” and I’m not entirely sure what it would feel like if I were, but being a band teacher is rather enjoyable.