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October 26, 2011 + Fearing True Freedom

by Very Rev. Stephen Rogers
from The Word, October 2000

During the month of October this year, we hear the Gospel account of the Gadarene demoniac (Luke 8:26-39). The story is familiar to us for it is read twice each year (cf. also Matthew 8:28-34). Upon arriving in the country of the Gadarenes, a Gentile country opposite Galilee, Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man who is terrorizing the people of the area. The Scriptures tell us that so violent was the man that he was kept in shackles; but in a demon-possessed fit of rage he broke the chains and went into the wilderness.

Jesus commanded the demons to come out of the man. As the Gospel account relates, the demons fled into a herd of swine, Upon entering the swine, the herd “ran violently down the steep place into the lake and were drowned” (Luke 8:33).

The Gospel account concludes with a group of witnesses reporting to the surrounding community what had happened. Upon hearing the report, “the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them for they were seized with great fear” (Luke 8:3 7). In Matthew we are told the people begged Jesus to leave.

Two Articles on Orthodox Education: Public School and Home School

The following articles are archived selections from Orthodox Family Life. The first deals with secular education in the public school setting. The second article pertains to Orthodox Home School, which is becoming increasingly popular and more common. Whether your children are part of the public school system or receiving their instruction at home, there are specific challenges unique to each setting. 


 

Making the Most of Your Children's Public School Education

by Ann Marie Gidus-Mecera

While the trend of many Christians today, including a growing number of Orthodox Christians, is to home school their children, many have chosen (or do so out of necessity) to educate their children through the public school systems.

Any concerned Orthodox parent is aware of the negatives attached to a public school education, and very often struggle with this on an on-going basis. While the purpose of this article is not to defend the benefits of a public school education, it will attempt to help Orthodox parents turn those negative factors into positive learning experiences.

October 19, 2011 + Form Without Substance

by Fr. James C. Meena
from The Word, November 1986

If one wishes to join a private club or an athletic association one must submit an application, be approved by the membership committee and, in most cases, by the membership at large. St. Paul may have had these things in mind two thousand years ago, when he said:  “Thank the Father who has made it possible for you to join the saints and with them to inherit the light,” (Colossians 1:12).

If belonging to organizations is so important to us, how much more urgent is it that we may be joined unto the saints? Being aware that it is possible to be part of an eternal order, joined by the love, the compassion, the sacrifice and the Resurrection of Christ, we should strive always to become part of this union. Our club membership can be rescinded if we do not pay our dues. We might even be so busy that we can’t attend and take advantage of the facilities. But when we join the Saints, somehow, by God’s Grace, a transformation occurs within us that makes it very difficult to separate ourselves from Him.

The Kingdom of God is not like a country club with limited membership, but it is so widespread that if the chosen do not respond to the Divine invitation, God will reach out into the world and elect the seemingly unelectable, and still there will be room. How immeasurable the Kingdom of God! (St. Luke 14:16-24).

The Society of St. John Chrysostom as Witness

President's Message: Society of St. John Chrysostom - Western Region
by Fr. George Morelli

Summer, 2009

In a recent interview Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, new head of the Department of External Church relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, noted an ongoing problem that the church lacks a bridge to the outside world. He notes: “A person will have to surmount his own numerous barriers separating him from the church world – barriers psychological, cultural and linguistic.“ To accomplish this task he perspicaciously notes that the church has to break down the “… mechanism of alienating people … expecting indifferently that they will come and surmount all the barriers on their own.” Archbishop Hilarion notes that accomplishing this task will involve both clergy and active lay people.

Promoting dialogue between Eastern and Western Christian, making known the history, worship, spirituality, discipline and theology of the apostolic churches, is the stated goal of the Society of St. John Chrysostom (SSJC). The Society is one part of the body of Christ, as in the words of St. Paul: “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (1Cor 12:20), which acts to work and pray that the Apostolic Churches will seek the unity Christ desired. We know this from His prayer for His Body, the Church at the Last Supper: “Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (Jn 17:11). Archbishop Hilarion points out that the Church does not use “aggressive and importune methods of mission,” as do some Protestants, but we are to announce Christ to the world by the witness of our example. We can become missionaries in the sphere of our own personal life.

October 12, 2011 + from Homily XIX

The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the 2nd Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians

"Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart."  (2 Corinthians 9:7) 

For a man when left to himself, does a thing more readily than when compelled. Wherefore also he dwells upon this:  for having said, "according as he is disposed," he added, "Not grudgingly, nor of necessity." And neither was he content with this, but he adds a testimony from Scripture also, saying,

"For God loveth a cheerful giver."

Seest thou how frequently he lays this down? "I speak not by commandment:" and, "Herein I give my advice:" and, "as a matter of bounty, and not as of extortion," and again, "not grudgingly, nor of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver."  In this passage I am of opinion that a large [giver] is intended; the Apostle however has taken it as giving with readiness.  For because the example of the Macedonians and all those other things were enough to produce sumptuousness, he does not say many things on that head, but upon giving without reluctance. For if it is a work of virtue, and yet all that is done of necessity is shorn of its reward, with reason also he labors at this point. And he does not advise merely, but also adds a prayer, as his wont is to do, saying, 

(Verse 8) "And may God, that is able, fulfill all grace towards you."

Finding Refreshment at the Annual St. Thekla Pilgrimage

From September 23-25, faithful traveled to the St Thekla Pilgrimage for the Patronal Feast of the St Thekla Monastery at the Antiochian Village for a weekend of prayer, refreshment, focus and fellowship. As pilgrims trickled in on Friday evening after busy weeks of work and the demands of daily life, they were offered hospitality and a time to unwind and transition in prayer at Vespers and then in fellowship and discussion following a movie. Saturday was a full day that began with Orthros and the Divine Liturgy, followed by brunch and workshops on Orthodox Family Life, Living Faithfully Though Crisis, the Sacraments, and a discussion of the book Miles to Go. After a break, we convened at the Shrine of St Thekla, located at the Village Camp and prayed the Supplication to St Thekla and were anointed with the miraculous oil from the lampada that burns in the Shrine of St Thekla in Ma’aloula, Syria.

October 5, 2011 + Good Leaders Are Good Followers

by Fr. James C. Meena
from The Word, October 1984

Leadership is an elusive quality and like so many characteristics of the outstanding human being, very difficult to describe. I think each of us has his own definition of leadership and what makes a good leader. In my opinion, a good leader is one who, first of all, has been a good follower, one who has proven oneself able to take instructions, able to subordinate one’s will to the will of others who have assumed the responsibility of leadership, able to make constructive comments and debate issues when necessary and able to stand up for the principles in which one believes. Having done this one can be called a good follower and begins to qualify for leadership although, I must say, not all good followers make good leaders. There are some people who are marvelous as choir singers but terrible as choir directors. Many of us are excellent followers but not all of us are good leaders.

To be a good leader, I believe one has to know where he is going, needs to understand what purposes and objectives are to be reached, needs to cling to those purposes and objectives and never compromise with the truth. Now there are times when he may have to bend a little, yield a little, but he always keeps a clear vision of the ultimate goal that he and his group wish to attain, and he dedicates himself totally and completely to achieving that goal ethically.

Relativism: The Enemy of All Apostolic Churches

President's Message: Society of St. John Chrysostom - Western Region
by Fr. George Morelli

Spring 2009

A recent report released by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicated that Americans are more ready than ever to change or drop their religious traditions and that many are unaware or unconcerned with doctrinal distinctions. Particularly disturbing in this report is that Catholics and Orthodox, the Churches founded by Christ Himself, tracing in unbroken succession from the Apostolic tradition, are among the groups with a low percentage of respondents who hold that they are the one true faith leading to eternal life.

However, did not Jesus Himself say: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me?" (Jn 14:14) Did not St. Paul tell the first Christians: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it?” (1 Cor 12:27) Did not St. Paul tell the Hebrews (10: 23-25): “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some...?” Did not Christ Himself warn us of the dire consequences of wasting Godly gifts when He said: “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required?” (Lk 12:48) This is especially true for the apostolic churches who have the greatest gift of all, the Eucharist, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord God and Savior Himself passed down to us from Christ to the apostles in an unbroken succession to our bishops. Christ did this when He ordained His apostles by saying: “Do this in remembrance of me." (Lk 22: 19). These are not relativistic statements; they are the cornerstone of the Body of Christ - the Church.

Chaplain's Corner: Compassion - The Forgotten Virtue

by Fr. George Morelli

Even a casual look at the world today would reveal an abundance of self-centeredness and fixation on ideologies. Compassion is well hidden. This despite many of the world religions and the findings of psychologists teaching that mercy and compassion lead to favorable personal and social outcomes. The Hebrew prophet Ezra tells us,” For if you return to the Lord, your brethren and your children will find compassion with their captors, and return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him." (2Chr 30: 9).  Buddha taught that, "Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed." [http://www.compassion.ancientfountainofyouth.com/about.html].

Our Eastern Church Father St. Isaac of Syria links compassion to an essential characteristic of God Himself: "God's holy nature is so good and compassionate that it is always seeking to find some small means of setting us right." St. Isaac also points out that, "Among all God's actions there is none which is not entirely a matter of mercy, love and compassion: this constitutes the beginning and end of His dealing with us." (Brock, 1997).

Smart Parenting XXIII: Coping with Bullying

by Fr. George Morelli

...but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through... kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love.... (2 Cor 6:4,6)

In a recent Smart Parenting essay on the spiritual and practical aspects of love (Morelli, 2011), I start out simply with  St. John's most profound yet un-complex understanding of God: "God is love." (1 Jn 4:16). This love is shown in the relation of the persons of the Holy Trinity amongst themselves, God's creation and continuing care for His people, and the self-emptying (kenotic) love Christ has for us by His incarnation, passion, death and resurrection for our salvation.  I then go on to point out that we must understand  the meaning and application of Divine Love in our families and to the world. We have to emulate in our own lives this same love and model this to our children and others by our behaviors, which should be:

a set of actions that are aimed at the good and welfare of the other. Love means having truly beneficent care for the welfare of others in thought word and deed.

In a follow-up essay, (Morelli, 2011b) I point out that if love is understood in this way, we would be given one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, peace. And in turn, children disposed to peace in working through their relationships with others.

September 28, 2011 + The Ten Commandments

by Rev. Fr. Theodore E. Ziton
from The Word, October 1958

“And God spoke all these words, saying,

  1. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.   You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. “Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image.
  3. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. “Honor thy father and thy mother.
  6. “Thou shalt not kill.
  7. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. “Thou shalt not steal.
  9. “Thou shalt not bear false witness.
  10. “Thou shalt not covet.” (Exodus 20:1-17)

In the Ten Words, or the Ten Commandments, which God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai we find the foundation upon which rests the structure of our civilization. The Ten Commandments are timeless and ageless. There will never be an age or a civilization when it will be right to kill, to steal, to commit adultery, or to lie. The Ten Commandments are a moral conviction which binds mankind together. They echo in all the Churches of Christendom. They constitute the most ancient of all creeds, to which men of good will everywhere give assent. They strike a universal chord and sound the music of that eternity which God hath set in the heart of man.

Winner of the 2011 Oratorical Contest: Madeleine Lengyel-Leahu

“For all of us who doubt the strength of our faith; for all of us who are not called to be eaten by lions, or thrown into a fiery furnace; for all of us who are not called to die for our faith; those holy apostles, those twelve men, they knew the one thing we would need most, our life-preserver in a sea of trouble, our sanctuary from those who tempt us, our teacher to help guide our course: those amazing, gifted men of the priestly ranks.”

I am so grateful that I was born into the Orthodox faith. There are so many people who wander about in this world with no sense of purpose or belonging, but never an Orthodox Christian. Every Orthodox Christian knows exactly why they are here. In God’s plan, He made all of us, male and female, in His image. And the purpose of our life is to see the image of God in ourselves and in everyone around us. In my most recent understanding, I am not merely an Orthodox Christian because my parents thought I should be baptized. I am not merely an Orthodox Christian because my family goes to church on Sunday mornings and other holidays. I am an Orthodox Christian because of the choices I make every single day. I didn’t get here by accident and I didn’t get here simply because I was born into a certain ethnicity. But I got here, at this point in my life, because of the people in my life. And while I will forever be grateful for my grandparents, and parents, and aunts, and uncles, and even my cousins, I am personally humbled by the relationships I have had with the men who have dared to wear that distinctive collar, who drop to their knees, and fight for me, like a man after God’s own heart.

September 21, 2011 + The Church, Vertical and Horizontal

by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, May 1967

“Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with... ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at table. But when the disciple saw it, (they said) “Why this waste? This ointment might have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor. Jesus said... ‘She has done a beautiful thing to me. For the poor you always have with you, but you will not always have me.’” (Matt. 26:6)

Generally, there are two types of critics of the Church, both of whom see the Church imperfectly.

On the one side, there are the activists, whose idea of Christianity is almost exclusively that of social welfare. They see the need for action and reform at every level of society. Salvation as a goal is replaced by human improvement. Christianity is to witness to the world its concern for humanity.

The Church for the activists fails because it concerns itself with dogmatic Truths that are not “relevant” for “modern man.” The Church as an institution no longer “relates” to society; therefore, it must redeem itself.

At the other extreme are the contemplatives, who see everything in the light of eternity. This world is sinful and corrupt; it has always been so, and will be this way until the Second Coming. All this will pass, so there is no need to be concerned about world conditions… “God will provide” is their motto, so we waste our time getting involved in the world.

September 14, 2011 + The Liberating Cross

by V. Rev. Fr. Stephen Rogers
from The Word, September 2000

On the Sunday following the Exaltation of the Cross we hear Christ say: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s sake will save it.”

On the face of it, this seems a hard statement, this demand to deny ourselves and take up a cross. After all, I already have so many demands and responsibilities placed on my shoulders. I have to pay the bills, raise the kids, clean the house, go to work, go to school, please my spouse, take care of my failing health. . . how can I place a cross on my shoulders when I’m already carrying so much?

I’ll go to church, pay my assessment, pray before dinner — that’s about all I can handle.  We read these words of Christ and they sound like a demand, a requirement. It sounds burdensome to carry a cross, to deny myself, to lose my life in order to find it. It almost sounds like a form of slavery, this demand to deny myself.

Just the opposite is true. Christ promised us that, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Christ came into the world not to bring slavery, but to bring liberation — liberation from sin and death. It is sin and death to which we are enslaved. The way of the cross is the way to freedom.

September 7, 2011 + My Bible, My Friend

by V. Rev. Fr. James Meena
from The Word, September 1987

In the Gospel of St. Matthew, we hear Jesus quote the ancient scripture from the prophesies of Isaiah and from that moment on, He began to preach this message: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand,” (4:12-17). Those particular words have stirred up some anxiety and fear in the hearts of people without warrant for many years. Jesus was not threatening us, nor should we interpret this statement, as do some of our fellow Christians, as being just a precautionary admonition, “repent or else,” because the scriptures are filled with “or elses.” It was not necessary for Jesus to come and to utter another one. What He was saying is, in effect, prepare yourself for it because there is no way that you can enter into that kingdom so long as you bear in your conscience the brands of sin and guilt for having transgressed the commandments of God.

Now Jesus, though He is the Son of God, was steeped in scripture. All throughout the testaments of the four evangelists, we find Jesus quoting the scriptures and it is necessary for us to learn from His example that it is necessary for us to be able to understand scripture, not merely to memorize chapter and verse, for Jesus simply stated: “The prophet Isaiah said,” and He knew that the people to whom He was speaking understood because they knew the scriptures. It is necessary however for us to know the spirit of scripture, its teachings, its intent.

Book Review: Christian Education in the Small Membership Church, Part 3

Part 3: Where Does It Take Place?

Click here to read Part 1
Click here to read Part 2

In her book Christian Education in the Small Membership Church, Karen Tye discusses the beginnings of the Sunday School, and the reasons it became relegated to formal Sunday morning classes exclusively.  In this section, she encourages us to expand our vision of Christian Education beyond the traditional Sunday morning box, to examine the one-room schoolhouse model , and the homeschooling concept of education.

The one-room school model is firmly fixed in American history, as it was the way early small communities collaborated to educate their children.   This form of education is certainly custom made for the small church school, which must of necessity have groups with a range of ages, as did the one-room schoolhouse.  In this sort of setting, older children learn while helping younger ones, and younger children have the older students as ready-made role models.  Each student learns at his own pace, and receives individual attention from the teacher, and there is very little presented in the group lesson format. 

August 31, 2011 + from Homily LXIII

The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel According to St. Matthew

". . . But when the young man heard it, he went away sorrowful" (Matthew 19:22)

After this the evangelist, as it were to show that he hath not felt anything it was unlikely he should feel, saith, "For he had great possessions." For they that have little are not equally held in subjection, as they that are overflowed with great affluence, for then the love of it becomes more tyrannical. Which thing I cease not always saying, that the increase of acquisitions kindles the flame more, and renders the getters poorer, inasmuch as it puts them in greater desire, and makes them have more feeling of their want.

See, for example, even here what strength did this passion exhibit. Him that had come to Him with joy and forwardness, when Christ commanded him to cast away his riches, it so overwhelmed and weighed down, as not to suffer him so much as to answer touching these things, but silenced and become dejected and sullen to go away.

What then saith Christ? "How hardly shall the rich enter into the kingdom of Heaven!" blaming not riches but them that are held in subjection by them. But if the rich man "hardly," much more the covetous man. For if not to give one's own be an hindrance to entering the kingdom, even to take of other men's goods, think how much fire it heapeth up.

Why can it have been, however, that He said to His disciples, that "hardly shall a rich man enter in," they being poor men, and having no possessions? Instructing them not to be ashamed of their poverty, and, as it were, excusing Himself to them for suffering them to have nothing.

Revisiting that Kindness and Forgiveness Are Next to Godliness: Even in Church

by Fr. George Morelli

The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings (Ps 144: 17)

Even a casual reader of the articles I write cannot help but notice the spiritual emphasis, based on the example of Christ Himself, that I place on kindliness, forgiveness and Godliness. (Morelli, 2006b, 2007a, 2007b) Therefore, it should come as no surprise how spiritually upsetting a recent opinion piece by a Russian journalist which was forwarded to me:  

One value that the . . . Orthodox Church does not have enough of is kindness and compassion. The upholding of ritual and rules often supplants genuine feeling and compassion. Among Orthodox priests there are many who would sternly tell a woman, “cover your head” in church, oblivious to the fact that the woman is trying to calm down her crying child and has no time to find or readjust her headscarf. A sad young woman who comes to a church to seek solace may hear: “You can’t wear trousers here.” I have witnessed such scenes myself and I can imagine how many souls have been turned away by such uncharitable severity. As long as the . . . Orthodox priest does not become a shepherd first and an administrator second, the faith of many . . . will remain a dream and not a source of spiritual fortitude.i

What a sad account about some who are supposed to pastor the people of God! Now I would like to dismiss such stories as isolated incidents or mere accidents. Unfortunately, I myself have been subjected to similar treatment by hierarchs and priests, and I have witnessed laity being similarly treated. Regrettably, I have also heard numerous complaints from pious individuals visiting parishes and monasteries describing very similar situations.

Chaplain's Corner: Anger - The Boomerang Emotion

by Fr. George Morelli

The display of anger is so common that it frequently goes unnoticed. Rather, it has become  the  expected response to any slight, no matter how trivial or harsh, given to someone by someone else in society.  Some "getting back at" or  "vengeance" is the norm. No one is exempt, parents, coaches, athletes, referees, police officers, teachers or those acquitted of a criminal offense. Interestingly, a recent news report noted that displaying anger at subordinates, especially combined with the use of scatological words, has also become the required norm to be an effective leader.  [http://www.blogging4jobs.com/business/swearing-makes-you-a-better-leader/]

Psychologically, anger occurs because we perceive ourselves to be "intruded on" to the extent that it justifies aggression, vengeance, and retaliation.  To display this level of anger we have to have to see ourselves as very 'important.' St. Basil tells us "Anger nurses a grievance. The soul, itching for vengeance, constantly tempts us to repay those who have offended" [St Basil the Great, Homily 10]. I am so important, so above others that I have the "right" to act uncharitably toward others. Note that I am making an important distinction between annoyance, which in fact could motivate a useful adaptive response such as being more focused or trying harder, with real anger.

There may be some who would perceive angry individuals as effective leaders, but, in general, psychologists have found damaging boomerang effects for anger displays: relationships are fermented, people will tend to retaliate; it cognitively distracts from solving problems, and even if what I am angry about has some truth to it, my over-reaction lessens my credibility.

August 24, 2011 + Who We Are and Why We Live

by Seminarian Joshua Makoul
from The Word, September 1999

In a world so consumed and fixated with worldly pleasures and riddled with secularism, it has become dangerously easy for the Christian to lose touch with his identity as a child of God and to forget who he is and why he lives. Each day we are bombarded by forces that smother the Spirit in us and attempt to strangle the life of Christ in us. This is a process that happens very subtly, without us hardly even noticing it. We are reminded of the parable of the sower who went out to sow his seeds, and “some of the seeds fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked the seed so that it became unfruitful” (Matthew 13:7). Perhaps the greatest danger to the Christian living in the world today is to allow that gradual process to take hold in his or her life, in which we gradually become less mindful of the things of the Spirit: prayer, confession, scripture reading; less sensitive to sin, more mindful of material pleasures, and increasingly attached to life in this world. It is a subtle process through which, without us hardly noticing it, our life, our inner life, fades away and becomes hardly distinguishable from the life or existence of the non-believer. Before we realize it we have become the prodigal son who, this time unknowingly, wanders away from the Father and finds himself far away and almost unrecognizable to himself. It seems that we are in need of reminders and examples to help us remain vigilant to who we are and why we are here.

Book Review: Christian Education in the Small Membership Church, Part 2

Part 2: It's all About People!

Click here to read Part 1

In her book Christian Education in the Small Membership Church, Karen Tye reminds us that Christian education, like so many other things in life, is not primarily about programs or curriculum, it is about people.  When you are talking about a smaller church and its educational program, this is even more the case.  In a smaller church, you do not have the large numbers to draw from for participation, everyone knows everyone else, and in general, healthy interaction with the people involved becomes even more crucial.  The history of the parish comes into play, and so do the personalities of the parishioners.  Positively, in smaller programs, the talents and good will of the people are often the greatest assets of the church school.

Tye feels, along with most educators and psychologists, that there are three aspects of the human being that must be taken into account when teaching them- especially children:

August 17, 2011 + Candles and Lights

by Fr. Theodore Ziton
from The Word, April 1968

The candle is one of the oldest and the most widely used sacramentals in the Church. It is one of the richest religious symbols or instruments used to express spiritual ideas. It is seen glowing throughout the entire Church and is used in every Sacrament except that of Confession.

Two things are needed for the illumination of the Church. They are oil and wax. The oil which comes from the fruit of the olive tree is symbolic of the grace of God. It is an indication that the Lord sheds His grace upon men, while men on their sides are ready to offer Him in sacrifice deeds of mercy. Pure wax which is collected by bees from the flowers of the field, is used as a token that the prayers of men offered from a pure heart are acceptable to God. And, too, the pure wax, produced by virgin worker bees, is a beautiful figure of the pure body of Christ, born of the Virgin Mary.

Thus, we see that the Church used and uses visible things of God’s creation to lead man to the invisible majesty of God’s Kingdom.

The candle is lit to illumine God’s home, the Church, but it is also a confession that He is the Light of the World, and that we attest to that light by our belief through prayers to Him. The lighted candle reminds us, too, of Christ’s gospel, the Holy Bible, which dispels the darkness of sin and ignorance; the lighted candle also stands for the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth. For the individual Christian the candle’s flame means the faith that makes us “children of the light.”

Book Review: Christian Education in the Small Membership Church

Part 1:  Who Are We?

In her book Christian Education in the Small Membership Church, Karen Tye reviews the tendency of churches in America to want to “Super Size” their churches, much as we do our burger meals. She emphasizes however, that small churches are not just smaller, but also, different from their larger counterparts, and that we must realize this as we plan any programs in our churches, perhaps especially Christian Education programs. Smaller is not only different, but in some respects, better for the purposes of educating our children. While there are certainly differences between our Orthodox Churches and the Protestant ones she focuses on, most of the generalities she discusses run true for us also.

The first step in planning Christian Education programs in the smaller church, Tye says, is to evaluate what you have in your particular church.  There are certain characteristics of all small churches:

  1. There’s a strong sense of community
  2. It’s like a family
  3. It has deep traditions
  4. There is a high percentage of participation
  5. The organizational structure tends to be simple in nature
  6. Worship is the prime activity

While some of these characteristics may show up very strongly in one church, another may find different characteristics more true for them.  Deciding what your church “is,” involves evaluating the degree to which each is applicable in your case.

August 10, 2011 + All Things Are Possible to Him Who Believes

by Fr. John Abdalah
from The Word, June 1990

If we consult a Bible concordance for the words “belief” and “faith”, we find many pages of Biblical references. So very much has been said in the Scriptures and by the Fathers, yet these words are still misused and misunderstood. In the Western Churches, debates on “faith alone”, or “faith and works”, have caused division and strife. Today, in our consumer-oriented society, as we look at the Scriptures, we tend to want to know what is promised, what we deserve, and what we can get from our faith and belief. Certainly, “all things are possible to him who believes”; but only from searching the whole of the Scriptures and the mind of the Church, can we come to understand what is revealed to us by God. Our understanding of faith cannot be limited to a belief in the existence of God. Satan knows that God is God, the demons recognized and knew Jesus Christ, and many devil-worshippers recognize, yet wish to deny, what God reveals to us.

One aspect of faith is trust: to trust that God will take care of all that we can not; to trust that God in His Wisdom will bring us all to salvation. Nevertheless, knowing about God and trusting in His might is still not enough. We are called to believe and to trust, and this belief leads us to experience God in the Church that He established, guides, and lives within. Our God “rests in His Saints”, and abides in His Church.

June 8, 2011 + from Homily IV

Commentary of St. John Chrysostom on the Acts of the Apostles

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven."   (Acts 2:1-2)

DOST thou perceive the type? What is this Pentecost? The time when the sickle was to be put to the harvest, and the ingathering was made. See now the reality, when the time was come to put in the sickle of the word: for here, as the sickle, keen-edged, came the Spirit down. For hear the words of Christ: "Lift up your eyes," He said, "and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest." (John iv. 35.) And again, "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few." (Matt. ix. 38.) But as the first-fruits of this harvest, He himself took [our nature], and bore it up on high. Himself first put in the sickle. Therefore also He calls the Word the Seed. "When," it says, "the day of Pentecost was fully come" (Luke viii. 5, 11): that is, when at the Pentecost, while about it, in short. For it was essential that the present events likewise should take place during the feast, that those who had witnessed the crucifixion of Christ, might also behold these.

"And suddenly there came a sound from heaven." (v. 2.) Why did this not come to pass without sensible tokens? For this reason. If even when the fact was such, men said, "They are full of new wine," what would they not have said, had it been otherwise? And it is not merely, "there came a sound," but, "from heaven." And the suddenness also startled them, and brought all together to the spot. "As of a rushing mighty wind:" this betokens the exceeding vehemence of the Spirit. "And it filled all the house:" insomuch that those present both believed, and in this manner were shown to be worthy.