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Patriarch John X and the God Who is With Us

Patriarch John X has come to us while his country is under attack by terrorist groups, his brother and other churchmen remain captive, he and his people face the constant threat of martyrdom, and lands belonging to the Patriarchate are being imposed upon by other Orthodox churches. Despite all this, the Patriarch rejoiced in us and with us, preached peace and love, spoke truth in love and expressed true Christian joy. What a witness of faith! 

Echoing in my mind is the Patriarch’s plea for Americans of faith to call upon our governments of the U.S. and Canada to support peace.  The Patriarch said that we are not looking for protection. Protection for us, while peaceful Muslim brothers and sisters who lived with us for centuries remain unprotected, is not enough. We need peace. We need outside powers to stop interfering in Syria and stop imposing their own agenda. Syria needs peace.

The Patriarch spoke constantly about God’s presence with us, a presence made evident by his smile and loving posture. He spoke of the centrality of the Eucharist and the importance of worship. He offered constant images of the mystical reality of the Church shown by our being together. Together we worship in heaven with the angels and saints. Our Church of centuries and in all places is united.

How Do We Define Success?

by His Grace Bishop John, from the June 2015 issue of The Word

How do we define success? How do we know when our parish is succeeding? How do we evaluate the ministry of your parish? How do we know we are doing what God wants us to be doing?

For answers to these and similar questions, stay tuned to this edition of The WORD, where I hope to offer some articles, solutions, and even more questions!

Who are we? What is our mission? What are our values? What are we doing with what we know?

We are God's own people, His holy nation, ordained in our baptism to bring the world to God and God to His world. Our mission is to love the Lord our God with our whole mind, being and soul, to share His love, taking care of His people, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What we value is sharing in God's life, free of temptation, bad choices and sin. What we are doing is gathering together in God's name, preparing and fortifying each other to be successful in our mission. We are opening God's house to all the people whom God calls our neighbor.

Pascha: The Formula for Joy (2015 Reflection from Bishop John)

by Bishop John, The Word, April 2015

As I write this Paschal message, I sit before a seven-foot snow drift. It's not easy to imagine the Easter flowers pushing through the earth to greet the spring sun, when the earth is covered with such piles of snow. It's seven degrees now, but I know that, as Lent trudges on, even with another six inches of snow forecast for this week, Pascha is on the way. How do I know that spring is coming? Was it my mother who told me that spring follows winter during those long days inside the house, or was it something I learned in school? Perhaps it was many years living and noticing that each year Pascha followed Lent. In any case, we prepare for Pascha with great anticipation, especially after a record-breaking winter.

What I really want to talk about today is becoming comfortable with the seasons of our lives and recognizing God's presence and love in each of these seasons. Each has its own challenges and blessings. Let's rise to the challenges and rejoice in the blessings. After all, this is the day that the Lord has made for us. After all, we were born for Pascha, and all of life and all the gifts are to help us embrace this reality of union with God. is is true whether we are just learning to drive or are experiencing the aches of the rusty years.

Discerning the Goal from the Process

by Bishop John, The Word, March 2015

Let's not get so caught up in the Lenten journey that we forget our goal. Lent is a time of preparation. It is a preparation for our Holy Week celebration, which is a preparation for our Paschal celebration, which is ultimately a preparation for our unity with God and Eternity. Lent cannot be an end unto itself. God did not send His only begotten Son to us for us to crucify Him, so that we could fast, do good, and have a new worldview or religion. God took on flesh to join Himself to us and allow us to join ourselves to Him. Fasting, worship, and almsgiving are the process of our union with God, not our goal. Knowing the truth about God, man and the world is not the goal, but part of the process of learning to commune with the living God. He gave us a way through the Church to receive Him and share in His life. Orthodoxy is not the goal, but the way. Christ is the way and the Orthodox way is the God-given way to worship, live and share in His life.

We are given choices and opportunities, but there is right and wrong. The relationships that God gives us allow us to enter a process that leads to unity with Him and each other. Our God-given relationships with Church and family let us stretch and grow. They allow us to understand better. They allow us to desire God, to humble ourselves and to come to encounter Him, to forgive each other, and finally to accept that God accepts us. Because He loves us first, we come to love Him and do His will. Doing His will is our true nature, because, like God, we love and we give. It is only fear of not having enough love and being vulnerable to each other that prevent us from loving and giving as God lives and gives. Loving God and each other is what brings us into the union with God and each other which is ultimately our goal.

All Power Belongs to God

Bishop John addressed the 2014 One Conference, a Pan-Orthodox Youth Gathering in New Jersey, on November 29, 2014.Bishop John addressed the 2014 One Conference, a Pan-Orthodox Youth Gathering in New Jersey, on November 29, 2014.By Bishop John, The Word, January 2015

When someone my age addresses a group of folks your age, you usually hear about how difficult your generation has it: too much technology, too much information, too much change; technology is to be your cross. In return, some of your generation find it difficult to imagine how dinosaurs like me have been able to survive without instant information and constant communication. In some ways, we belong to different worlds, and dinosaurs ought not try to break into an age that has passed them by. For example, each of my three children, independently of each other, told me my smart phone was way too sophisticated for me and that I couldn't learn how to use it. I was proud that I went to the phone store to pick it out by myself! Little did I know how to deal with something that came without instructions. Intuitive, they said at the store. It is user-friendly and you don't need instructions. Intuitive for someone of a different world!

All this is to say that folks of my generation imagine your life to be more challenging and difficult than that of any generation before you. While some speakers will lament how difficult your lives are and will be, and your ministry to witness to a post-modern and post-Christian world is and will be, I stand before you with great hope and trust. I would go so far as to say, encouraged. I am impressed and blessed to be with you today. You warm my heart.

Christmas Traditions and Our Time of Glad Tidings and Joy

When people ask me what my family Christmas traditions are, and how we are supposed to feel during this season, I take pause. Are we supposed to have some special family traditions? If I don't, am I somehow deficient or wanting? What are we supposed to feel, and what if I don't feel that way? Our family kept the fast; my wife read the children the Gospel nativity accounts; she made a calendar with daily messages for the forty days before the feast; we went with the parish teens to carol for the shut-ins and nursing homes; she made or bought each child a special Christmas tree ornament; and we always went to Church for the festal liturgy (pretty important for the priest). Those asking, however, must be looking for a more special family tradition. The most memorable tradition for me was setting up the video-camera to catch the excitement of the children as they opened their gifts. Waiting for the camera was painful for the children who had been anticipating their gifts for months.

Christmastime is supposed to be a time of joy, yet, because it reminds us of days gone by, it can also be accompanied by some unfinished grieving for loved ones. We all remember past Christmases, when loved ones now asleep in the Lord were still with us. We remember what they did to add to the holidays. Remembering such times leaves us with mixed emotions. We can hardly expect to feel joyous all the time, yet we can take consolation in what this season brings to us. It brings the Resurrected Lord in the infant Jesus. We celebrate Christ's Nativity, knowing that Christ is risen from the dead. By His death is death destroyed, and we are restored to life. Symeon, the righteous old priest, saw the salvation of mankind in the infant Jesus. We can too, even if the representation of Jesus is a plastic figure in a crowded department store.

Encountering God in the Church

By Bishop John Abdalah

From the November 2014 edition of The Word

What does it take to keep the Church doors open, or, probably more important, what does it take to fulfill our Christian responsibility? Keeping our doors open is not enough. We are to bring Christ to His world and offer this world back to God. Such a commission requires more than minimalist ways of thinking. It takes all of our hearts, all of our minds, and all of our souls. Rather than asking what is the least we can get away with, we need to dream together about serving God and serving His people. We need to develop a clear vision of what bringing the world to God is all about. We need to express God's saving action in real time and in tangible, understandable and relational ways. This is what it means to be in the Church, the Church which is apostolic and established by God for the life of the world.

Antiochian Unity, the Assembly of Bishops and World Orthodoxy

From the October 2014 edition of The Word

The Conference on Antiochian Unity held at Balamand University, June 25–29, was a source of great joy and pride for the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Our Metropolitan Joseph was asked to moderate the wrap-up session, Fr. Michel Najm offered a key paper, and members of our delegation were placed on every workshop of the Conference. In this way, we could dialogue and share with representatives of each of the Antiochian archdioceses throughout the world. It was obvious from the way the conference was structured that the underlying goal was to promote and develop lay and clergy cooperation and leadership at every level of the church. God has blessed His Church with great resources. He has called clergy and lay workers alike to develop skills in every kind of social, medical, educational and ecclesiastical ministry.

While every archdiocese of the Patriarchate has made progress in developing structures for these varied ministries, the North American Archdiocese has been the most deliberate and successful in this area. We were able to share practical experiences to help others reach their goals. We were not there, however, just to give. The American delegation had much to learn about the obstacles and challenges of the other archdioceses as well, and gathered information about global trends that have affected Europe and the Middle East. No doubt, many of these challenges are coming our way, too. In any case, because of global communications, everyone will share the best and the worst of all situations. The collaboration of the Conference on Unity was surely beneficial to all.

The Word Interviews Metropolitan Joseph

Bishop John visited Metropolitan Joseph on July 26, 2014, to receive his blessings and a message for the readers of The Word. Metropolitan Joseph was hospitable, candid and loving. Here is what he had to say. 

We thank God for all of His blessings, wisdom and guidance bestowed upon us. I thank our Father in Christ, Patriarch John X, for his leadership, love and constant prayers for this Archdiocese. We pray to almighty God that He will grant our Father, Patriarch John X, strength and perseverance during this critical time in the life of our Patriarchate, especially the challenges and danger facing the people and land of the Middle East. We thank my brother Metropolitans, the members of the Holy Synod of Antioch, for their confidence, their love and their support. I also would like to take this opportunity to thank my brother hierarchs of this Archdiocese for all of their hard work, godly ministry and efforts to maintain the unity and strength of our Archdiocese. We pray that the merciful God will remember our beloved Metropolitan Philip in His heavenly Kingdom and will reward him richly for all of the accomplishments realized during his half-century ministry. He left for us a big legacy to build upon.

Now we begin a new chapter in the life the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese is not one person, but the whole body; metropolitan, hierarchs, clergy, monastics and all the believers.

Our Time of Uncertainty: God Already Has It Figured Out

Metropolitan Philip's translation has left us with uncertainty. Change is always difficult, especially in the Church. Here we have grown to rely on things continuing for the most part unchanging. Feeling a little uncertain and afraid is at the very least understandable, but it is not a sign of weakness or faithlessness. How often in the scriptures does God tell us to "Fear not!"?

Now, I've been told often that I see the world through rose-colored glasses. I don't know if this is always meant as a compliment. Nevertheless, I prefer to see the world as a gift from God, with amazing opportunities and possibilities. I see the world as the means by which we develop our relationships with God and each other. This world is a place to discover and delight in God and all that He creates for us. I believe that everyone in our lives can help us stretch and grow. That which is negative or challenging can help us identify areas that need attention and will profit us. I also believe that, given everyone's needs, wounds, personalities and uniqueness, the world is the best it can be. I believe that God has brought every one of us together so that together we can come to know Him and return His love. The Church is a mother who fosters and builds relationships that bring us to God. God created and gave to us our Church, which is a Divine and human organization that allows us to be grafted to Christ and each other. She allows us to enter into Christ's own praise of the Father and care for His people. This action is fueled by God's Spirit and guided by the Holy Trinity. This life allows us to delight in God and for God to delight in us. This life allows us to discover the uniqueness and beauty of everyone and everything that God created; even when that which is created may be temporarily in disorder or dirtied up.

Christ is Risen!

"Christ is Risen! Our dear Metropolitan Philip has reposed." With these words Bishop Nicholas began his telephone greetings to each of the bishops of our God-protected Archdiocese on Wednesday night, March 19, 2014, after hearing of the falling asleep of our Metropolitan. Metropolitan Philip  himself regularly shared that, in this greeting, "Christ Is Risen," is our hope and our consolation. We are a people of hope, we are the people of the Resurrection; in Christ we are God's own and God has made us free. Metropolitan Philip, expressing his thoughts on this freedom, writes: 

Man was not created to be a slave, neither to society nor to history, neither to science nor to technology, neither to communism nor to capitalism. Even though nature has limitations, these limitations can be overcome by the sacramental life of the Church. Each and every one of us can become Christlike through prayer, contemplation and action.

Metropolitan Philip was a true teacher of Antioch, stressing incarnational theology, which Sayidna described as theology in action. He called us to action, and asked us not to theologize but to serve the poor, clothe the naked and feed the hungry. He organized the Archdiocese into ministries and gave the people he served opportunities to serve on the parochial, regional and archdiocesan levels. His mission was to America and to the world.

Metropolitan Philip was the champion of Orthodox cooperation and unity in America; a unity that needs to be local and independent. Such a unity expresses the real missionary zeal of Orthodoxy, not a transplant of ethnic customs in a new world. He worked hard and long with many local leaders, as well as the leaders of the Mother Churches, and has contributed much to this work.

Do We Need to Rethink the Parish Council?

Bishop John at parish council seminarBishop John at parish council seminarBy Bishop John, Diocese of Worcester and New England

I was elected to serve on a parish council when I was 18 years old. I am indebted to those who served on that and subsequent parish councils for teaching me so much. Because of this early positive experience, I have paid special attention to parish councils and parish council experiences my whole adult life. I served on parish council and worked with it while studying business, theology, psychology and sociology, and I have reflected on the parish council experience from each of these perspectives. With 42 years of parish council experience, I have great love and respect for the parish council system of our Archdiocese and for those who are willing to serve. I do understand, though, what those who are reluctant to serve are talking about.

Parish councils are supposed to be made up of dedicated Orthodox Christians willing to serve the Church and her people in leadership roles. This service should be in harmony with the pastor and other council members, as well as with the leadership of the diocese and the Metropolitan. Christian leadership as described and modeled by Christ is always through service and love. Our Lord girded Himself and washed the feet of the disciples. People who serve are not paid for their service, and offer themselves generously, bring- ing invaluable business, military, civil service and professional know-how.

What Can We Do for God's Youth Today?

Metropolitan Philip installs SOYO officersMetropolitan Philip installs SOYO officersBy Bishop John Abdalah

From the October 2012 edition of The Word magazine

Metropolitan Philip has designated October Youth Month in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Each October we highlight the contributions, activities, and needs of our youth. This year I would like to highlight their needs.

Our youth need Jesus Christ. The need: a real relationship with Christ that will sustain them when their faith is challenged by peers, academics, change, loss and fear. Our youth need pious and holy adults willing to share honestly. Our youth need mentors who will share boldly and unashamedly the Orthodox faith delivered to us from the Apostles and preserved in the Church without alteration or adulteration. Orthodox adults, our youth need you.

Our youth need liturgy. Liturgy is the cooperative work of God and His people. It is here that we join the angelic world at God’s throne to praise Him and interact with His Word, and to be fed in the Eucharist. Liturgy by its very nature can only happen as we gather as the Church. This Church prayer does not happen at the hockey rink or golf course. It doesn’t happen watching sit-coms on television or mowing the lawn. It only happens when we gather as the Church to be the Church. It only happens around the Eucharist and around the bishop or his designee. It is essential to knowing God in the biblical sense of sharing God’s Oneness and living in Him. We who are made one with God in baptism are nurtured by God through His Church in Sunday and festal worship.

Lent Is a Time For Parish Renewal and Growth

Photo by Christopher Humphrey PhotographyPhoto by Christopher Humphrey PhotographyLent is not only a time for personal renewal; it is a time for parish renewal as well. The Church is reborn every time someone enters the community. This is true even when the new member comes from another Orthodox parish, or a Christian communion outside the Orthodox Church, or is baptized as an infant or adult. The community is changed to make room for the new member who will build relationships, assume responsibilities, and even need to find a place to stand and sit in the worship.

To be deliberate about our parish renewal through this transition, the Church has appointed this Lenten time of fasting and intense prayers. We rediscover our roots with our new members as we read during the weeks of Lent from the Old Testament. We rediscover our innocence as the catechumens ask questions and express delight at the Orthodox perspectives. We regain our fervor as see the community grow and see how God is active in the lives of the catechumens and in our own.

We can not take this process for granted. Not every Lent sees catechumens in every parish. Not every parishioner is even aware that the Church is growing and that God is calling people to Himself. Perhaps at some places and at some times, communities don’t grow simply because the community is on “vacation” or asleep when people come knocking on our doors, or even when they sit in our pews. This is a great tragedy and we will be held accountable for this on Judgment Day. We really need to be deliberate about being ready to witness and care for those whom God is calling. Some prospective members are walking into our Churches unnoticed; others are working and playing with us all day long, waiting for our invitation to share in the life God has prepared for all. If this is too abstract, let me be more concrete:

Reflections on Ministering to College-Age Orthodox Christians in a Postmodern World

by Fr. John Abdalah

The importance of giving pastoral care to college-age people is certainly no secret to those who are doing it – and even more so in our time, when we have moved into what is called the “postmodern era.” Developmentally, the college years are a crucial and eventful time of moral, spiritual, physical and intellectual growth. I would suggest that the changes that occur in the four college years are so dramatic that, frequently, the college freshman is hardly recognizable as the same person when he or she graduates. College is also, in my opinion, the first time that individuals have the developmental skills and life experience really to understand the Christian message and dedicate themselves to Christ. Regardless of the effectiveness of our catechetical programs during childhood, those who are even younger are simply not prepared to understand abstract concepts like Trinity or Incarnation, and the implied relationships. Providing college-age Orthodox Christians an opportunity to discover, strengthen and (or) commit to Orthodox Christianity should certainly be a priority of the Church. Many Orthodox don’t return to the church after these years away at school. While the various statistics may be conflicting and controversial, all will agree that the loss to the Church of many young people, and the loss to the students of the Church, are of significant concern for the Church.

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