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The Parish, the Priest and the Parish Council

Primate’s Message Delivered at Biennial Parish Council Symposium

By Metropolitan Philip

From The Word, December 1994 

Esteemed members of Parish Councils:

On behalf of the entire Archdiocese, I would like first and foremost, to welcome you to the Antiochian Village and especially to the Heritage and Learning Center. While here, I am sure that you will have the opportunity to see our camping facilities where your children spend some of their summer. You will also see our library which now houses more than twenty-five thousand volumes. Moreover, you will see our museum and School of Iconography, our beautiful dining room and the rest of our fine facilities. Surely, without your cooperation, the Heritage and Learning Center would never have existed. I am most thankful to you.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Two Articles on Christianity and School

Below you will find two articles taken from the archives of Orthodox Family Life. May God bless you and your families as you begin a new school year.


 

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.

Food That Perishes: An Orthodox Approach to Food and Eating Disorders

by Fr. George Morelli

Remove falsehood and lies far from me;

Give me neither poverty nor riches--
Feed me with the food allotted to me;

Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, "Who is the LORD?"
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:8, 9)

At first glance, considering food in the context of Orthodox spirituality and practice may seem inappropriate. But closer examination indicates, in fact, a rather intimate, meaningful connection between the two. We can see this in the quote from the Book of Proverbs that opens this essay. We should eat "the food allotted to us," and which is necessary for our sustenance. To do otherwise is to make ourselves vulnerable to two spiritual dangers.

Problems with Food as a Spiritual Disorder

The first spiritual danger is that we may become so focused on food as an end in itself that it distracts us from what should be our true end: God. In the most basic and first of the commandments, God told us, "I am the LORD your God . . . You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2, 3). This commandment is echoed by Jesus: "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment." (Matthew 22:37, 38).

What is our treasure: God or food? As Our Lord told us, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:34). As our holy father Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain tells us, "If you want to take someone away from God, give [them] plenty of material goods . . . [they] will instantly forget Him forever" (Ageloglou, 1998).

Chaplain's Corner + Bullying: Defacing God's Image

by Fr. George Morelli

The recent arrest of local office holder in California for the corporal punishment and name-calling abuse of a child made headlines. Arrest, office holder, politician or not, bullying is always an egregious affront to God and to man whom He made in His image.

Plain and simple, bullying is abuse. Those who bully and those who are bullied are found everywhere. Bullies can be bosses, clergy, military superiors, parents, police, teachers or simply acquaintances etc. Children and adults can be the brunt of bullying. They can be called loathsome names, be belittled, laughed at and/or be ignored. Emotional abuse is one form of bullying that is often most unnoticed because of its ubiquity and subtlety. These practices in our society are so common as to go virtually unperceived. However, emotional abuse but can be equally devastating to the victim as physical and or sexual abuse. Research has shown that victims are susceptible, for example, to clinical depression, suicide and other disorders.

Summa Contra "Fundraisers"

by John Truslow, Archdiocesan Stewardship Team
from
The Word, January 2008

Historical Comment

Historian of Church Doctrine Jaroslav Pelikan once remarked, “Before Constantine [in the 3rd century A.D.], stewardship might have meant giving your life; after Constantine, stewardship consisted of paying your taxes” (“Orthodox America,” p. 193, in Good and Faithful Servant: Stewardship in the Orthodox Church, edited by A. Scott). This meant that Orthodox Christians were weaned away from biblical disciplines of giving over a millennia and a half of various (Christian and later Muslim) governments authorizing the collection of tax money, a portion of which supported the Church. Why “give” when the money will be taken from you to support the Church anyway, whether you want that or not? Quite so!

You will look in vain today in the (mostly 4th century) Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom for a rubric that specifically directs the collection of tithes or offerings at a particular point in our worship, even though sacrificial offerings have been very much a part of worship as long as there have been records of worship, biblical or extra-biblical. Why? Why bother to have offerings when we have already given at the tax office? Quite so!

August 22, 2012 + About the Prophecy of the Miracles of Christ

by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
from
The Prologue from Ohrid for August 22nd

"Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart and the tongue of the dumb sing" (Isaiah 35: 5-6).

Come, brethren, let us be amazed at the power of our living God Who opened the eyes of mortal men to see in the greatest distance of time that which will come to pass. And still to see in the minutest details as though this prophet [Isaiah] himself was an apostle of Christ, walked with the Lord, witnessed the miracles of miracles, how he gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, the lame to walk and to the dumb, voice and speech. When John the Baptist in prison sent his disciples to ask Christ: "Are You He who is to come or do we look for another?" (St. Matthew 11:3), the Lord Christ answered them in the words of His prophet Isaiah: "Go and show John again those things which you do hear and see: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up" (St. Matthew 11: 4-5).

The Trail of the Tithe

by Fr. Thomas Zell
from
AGAIN Magazine, Fall 2005

One of my earliest childhood memories is of piling into the back of our family car on Sunday morning and heading off to our little Baptist church in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Along with ensuring that my brother and I were properly cleaned and dressed for the occasion, my father would always drop several coins into our hands, so that we in turn could drop them into the offering plate at church. Tithing was something Dad faithfully practiced all his life, and he wanted to make sure his sons followed suit. Having lived with this tradition for so long, and loving it so much, it is hard for me now to stop and look at it objectively. But since the concept has become somewhat an object of debate today, I would like to examine both the myth and the realities behind this practice, and to follow the trail of the tithe.

The King of Salem Blesses Abraham: Engraving by Julian Schnorr von Carolsfeld (c. 1851–60).The King of Salem Blesses Abraham: Engraving by Julian Schnorr von Carolsfeld (c. 1851–60).Tithing in the Old Testament

In English, Greek, and Hebrew, the word “tithe” comes from a derivative of the number “ten,” and means the setting aside of a tenth of one’s income for a specific, often religious purpose. Tithing is an ancient practice—very ancient.

Commentary: Profiles in Moral Courage

by Fr. George Morelli

The one who is not with Me is against Me; and the one who gathereth not with Me scattereth. (Mt. 12:30)

Whosoever then shall break one of the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of the heavens; but whosoever shall do and teach them, this one shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. (Mt. 5:19)

Most of us are aware of the profound moral courage of Dan T. Cathy, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A who had the fortitude to say that marriage should only be between a male and female. It is unusual for me to write a commentary suited for an editorial page, but Cathy's words were so clear and the thousands of Christians who supported him so heartening that I decided to part from my usual practice. Please understand my sole purpose is to affirm the teachings of Christ and how Orthodox Christians should apply them.

This commentary is offered in the spirit of true Christian witness. We are called to model our commitment of Christ and His teachings.  I have written frequently on this theme, especially about the necessity of this witness between parents and children.  I have recommended using news media stories and open-ended Socratic questions in dialogue to explore the Mind of Christ and His Church on these kinds of issues (Morelli, 2010).  Adults can do these between themselves as well.

August 15, 2012 + Homily III: On the Dormition of Mary the Theotokos

by St. Andrew of Crete

This is the final goal of the covenants God has made with us; this is the revelation of the hidden depths of God's incomprehensibility. This is the realization intended before all the ages; this is the crown of God's oracles, the inexplicable, supremely unknowable will of him who had cared for humanity since before creation began. This is the first-fruit of God's communion with his creation, of His identification as Maker of all things, with what He has made. This is the concrete, personal pledge of God's reconciliation with humanity, the surpassing beauty of God's sculpture, the perfectly-drawn portrait of the divine model. This is the first step to all ascent, to all contemplation; the holy tabernacle of him who made the world; the vessel that received the inexhaustible wisdom of God; the inviolate treasury of life. This is the spring of divine radiance, which can never be drunk dry; the impregnable stronghold, raised so high over all of us in its purity that it can never be conquered by passion. Through this woman [the Theotokos], the pledge of our salvation has been made and kept, in that this marvelous creature has both reach the limits of our lot and has paid the common debt proper to our nature. And if not all the features of her life were the same as ours, that is due simply to her nearness to God.

Money and the Church

by Ron Nicola
from
The Word, October 2003

“Money and the Church” is the title of an article the Department of Stewardship has used in its parish workshop programs for many years, and the phrase is also the focus of an initiative being launched by this department. The author of the article, Fr. James Worth, is identified in the article as the pastor of the Transfiguration of Christ Church in Denver, Colorado. The former codirector of the Antiochian Archdiocese Department of Stewardship, the late George Dibs, introduced me to this article in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and its clarity and style fit beautifully with the workshop materials we were developing. I never had the pleasure of meeting Fr. James, but if his pastoral skills were reflective of this beautiful article, I am sure he served the Lord in a manner befitting our Orthodox teachings and traditions.

The Ministry of the Parish Council

by His Grace Bishop Joseph
from
The Word, October 2002
Delivered to parish council members of the Western Region in June 2002

Christ is in our midst!

I would like to thank all of you for the holy ministry you are performing in your parishes. May God reward you abundantly.

Let me talk to you as children, friends, parishioners and Parish Council members. I would like to take the opportunity to share with you some thoughts on the ministry of the Parish Council in the life of the Church. When I say ministry, I am not saying this to “spiritualize” an otherwise secular job. A Parish Council member, through the acclamation of the community in which the Holy Spirit resides, has a charism, a special gift and responsibility to represent and serve the community. This ministry comes forth from God, who is the center of all things. This is why Council meetings are held in the Church, begin and end with prayer, and always are conducted with the priest present.

Like organs in a body, each Parish Council member has a special function. All of you have different talents and skills that you bring together to form a single body. The Council meeting is not an arena in which we do battle with others. We do not seek to defeat our enemies and compete with others. Each vital organ of the body works together for a common goal, and so Parish Council members must support one another. The aim is to speak with one voice.

August 8, 2012 + How Our Life is in the Lord, Not in Sensual Things

by St. John of Kronstadt
from
My Life in Christ

When God looks mercifully upon earth-born creatures through the eyes of nature, through the eyes of bright, healthful weather, everyone feels bright and joyful. When there is a healthful breeze, there is wholesome air in all bodies and souls; but when a cold, damp, strong wind blows, then everyone feels oppressed in soul and body. Many earth-born creatures groan from maladies; many give themselves up to despondency and melancholy. So powerful and irresistible is the influence of nature upon mankind. And it is remarkable that those who are less bound by carnal desires and sweetnesses; who are less given up to gluttony; who are more moderate in eating and drinking, to them nature is more kindly disposed, and does not oppress them--at least, not nearly so much as those who are the slaves of their nature and their flesh. O how clear it is that our life is in the Lord, and not in sensual things; how clear it is that the Lord is in everything "which worketh all in all." [296]

The New Martyrs In Syria

A message from the President of SSJC-Western Region
by Fr. George Morelli

Even a cursory reading or exposure to the current news media has made the world aware of the new martyrs among the Christians of the Apostolic Churches in Syria. Christians make up merely 10% of the 22 million inhabitants of Syria, with most belonging to the Greek Orthodox, Melkite-Greek Catholic and Syrian Orthodox Patriarchates of Antioch. A recent Eurasia Review article reported that, "The areas controlled by the opposition are witnessing the rise of radical forms of Sunni Islam with the extremists not willing to live in peace with the Christians. Many of these gangs and armed groups operate independently of the Free Syrian Army, which rejects such kinds of discrimination against minorities." What was once a peaceful country has become a battleground of destruction, devastation and death. It is feared that a continuation of armed hostilities will result in the mass exodus of Christians similar to what has happened in the ethnic cleansing of the Christians of Iraq and Palestine. Another Eurasia Review article comments: "The extinction of the Middle East’s Christian communities is an injustice of historic magnitude."

August 1, 2012 + Guidance Toward Spiritual Life

by Ss. Barsanuphius and John
from
Guidance Towards Spiritual Life, pg. 106

Question #416 to Ss. Barsanuphius and John:

Sometimes I see in my heart that evil thoughts surround my mind like wild beasts, but cannot at all harm me. What does this mean?

Answer from Ss. Barsanuphius and John:

This is a deception of the enemy, in which is concealed high-mindedness, with the aim of convincing you that evil thoughts cannot harm you in the least, so that thereby your heart might become exalted. But be not deceived by this, but rather remember your [spiritual] infirmity and sins, and call on the Holy Name of God for aid against the enemy.

July 25, 2012 + About Slaves Who Preach Liberty

from The Prologue for July 25th

"While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants (slaves) of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage" (2 Peter 2:19)

The apostle still speaks of "the impure, the impudent, and the self-willed", reminding the faithful, to beware of their misleading "proud and false words". He first said about them that: "they speak evil of dignities of the glory of God" and second: "that they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness" (1 Peter 2:18). Now he further speaks about how they promise liberty i.e., they promise something which they themselves do not possess, for being overcome by impure passions, they are slaves to their own passions, submissive slaves to the greatest tyranny of this world. O my brethren, how relevant for us are these apostolic words written some nineteen hundred years ago!

Smart Parenting XXVII + Applying Christ's Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are They Who Hunger and Thirst after Righteousness

by Fr. George Morelli

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled."  (Mt. 5:6)

The terms righteousness or the righteous that we read often in Sacred Scripture and spiritual reading are frequently ill-understood. This fourth beatitude from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5: 6) can help us understand the depth of spiritual meaning of righteousness.

Firstly, it is not something merely external or superficial or as defined in the dictionary as simply being "morally upright." Our Lord starts out this beatitude by connecting righteousness with hungering and thirsting for it. This means that righteousness must come from the depths of our spirit, that is to say the center of our minds and the depths of our hearts.

Chaplain's Corner + Selective Focusing

by Fr. George Morelli

Cognitive psychologists call it mental filter or selective focusing. (Beck, 1995). Basically, this thinking distortion and, most importantly, spiritual error is that one pays attention to one detail in a situation (usually an inauspicious factor) and fails to focus on all the details, especially factors that may be favorable. One contemporary elder of the Eastern Church, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, (Angeloglou, 1998) describes it this way. People can be divided into two categories. "The first resembles the fly. . . it is attracted by dirt." He goes on to whimsically note that if the fly that was in a garden could talk it might say: "I don't even know what a rose looks like." People who resemble
the fly "always look for the bad things in life, ignoring and refusing the presence of the good." Other people are like the bee that can be found in a garden "always looking for something sweet and nice to sit on."

A brief psychological self-test may help us to see what kind of outlook we take. In uncertain times, do I expect the worst or the best? Will something go wrong for me if it could go wrong? Do I see the future as bleak or bright? Do I think that good things happening to me are rare or common?

July 18, 2012 + Children in an Ever-Changing Society

by Fr. Joseph Shaheen
from
The Word Magazine, January 1980

“As I behold the sea of life surging high with the tempest of temptations, I set my course toward Thy tranquil haven and cry aloud to Thee: lead thou my life forth from corruption, O Most Merciful One.” (Heirmos — Ode 6)

These words from the Canon of the Dead, in the Orthodox Funeral Service, describe very well the exceptional dilemma faced by the youth of today.

Ah, for the peaceful, pastoral, uncluttered, unrushed, unsophisticated, uncomplicated days of the past. The day when father and son walked together at the plow and prayed their labor would produce a bountiful crop, when mother and daughter sat and ground the grain to make the bread needed to sustain life. All the labours of man that were performed, were to the fulfillment of God’s command “be fruitful and multiply.”

It was simple, no hang-ups, no frustrations . . . work just to survive. No Vogue, no Glamour, no Better Homes and Gardens, no Redbook, no Cosmopolitan. Just survival. There was no concern with what shall we wear? What shall we eat? The concern was, shall we eat? Mankind was
concerned with just existing. Everyone had a role, a responsibility, like the meshed wheel. All the links were necessary or the wheel would not function.

Somewhere along the way, from that day until now, many changes have taken place. Who thinks about the labour required to provide a loaf of bread? Who concerns himself with the needs of others? How many people have been so rudely awakened as of late when it was discovered that maybe our big beautiful cars could be the dinosaurs of a future generation?

July 11, 2012 + About How the Kingdom of God is Gained with the Heart and Not with the Tongue

from The Prologue, January 3rd
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

"Not everyone who says, `Lord, Lord'will enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 7:21)

Brethren, one does not gain the Kingdom of God with the tongue, but with the heart. The heart is the treasury of those riches by which the kingdom is purchased; the heart and not the tongue! If the treasury is full with the riches of God, i.e., a strong faith, good hope, vivid love and good deeds, then the messenger of those riches, the tongue, is faithful and pleasant. If the treasury is void of all those riches, then its messenger [the tongue] is false and impudent. The kind of heart, the kind of words. The kind of heart, the kind of deeds. All, all depends on the heart.

Hypocrisy is helpless before men, and is even more helpless before God. "If then I am a father," says the Lord through the Prophet Malachi, "If then I am a father where is the honor due to me?" And If I am a master, where is the reverence due to me?" (Malachi 1:6). That is, I hear you call me father, but I do not see you honoring me with your heart. I hear you call me master, but I do not see fear of me in your hearts.

July 4, 2012 + How to Read the Bible (Part 2)

from Orthodox America, Issue 4, Vol. 1, No. 4, October, 1980
by St. Justin Popovich

Prayerful Preparation

Just as important as knowing why we should read the Bible is knowing how we should read the Bible.

The best guides for this are the holy Fathers, headed by St. John Chrysostom who, in a manner of speaking, has written a fifth Gospel.

The holy Fathers recommend serious preparation before reading and studying the Bible; but of what does this preparation consist?

First of all in prayer. Pray to the Lord to illumine your mind--so that you may understand the words of the Bible--and to fill your heart with His grace--so that you may feel the truth and life of those words.

Be aware that these are God's words, which He is speaking and saying to you personally. Prayer, together with the other virtues found in the Gospel, is the best preparation a person can have for understanding the Bible.

How We Should Read the Bible Prayerfully and reverently, for in each word there is another drop of eternal truth, and all the words together make up the boundless ocean of the Eternal Truth.

The Bible is not a book, but life; because its words are spiritual life (John 6:63). Therefore its words can be comprehended it we study them with the spirit of its spirit, and with the life of its life.

It is a book that must be read with life-by putting it into practice. One should first live it, and then understand it.

June 27, 2012 + How to Read the Bible (Part 1)

from Orthodox America, Issue 4, Vol. 1, No. 4, October, 1980
by St. Justin Popovich

The Bible is in a sense a biography of God in this world. In it the Indescribable One has in a sense described Himself. 

The Holy Scriptures of the New Testament are a biography of the incarnate God in this world. In them it is related how God, in order to reveal Himself to men, sent God the Logos, Who took on flesh and became man-and as man told men everything that God is, everything that God wants from this world and the people in it.

God the Logos revealed God's plan for the world and God's love for the world. God the Word spoke to men about God with the help of words insofar as human words can contain the uncontainable God.

All that is necessary for this world and the people in it--the Lord has stated in the Bible. In it He has given the answers to all questions. There is no question which can torment the human soul, and not find its answer, either directly or indirectly in the Bible.

Men cannot devise more questions than there are answers in the Bible. If you fail to find the answer to any of your questions in the Bible, it means that you have either posed a senseless question or did not know how to read the Bible and did not finish reading the answer in it.

What the Bible Contains

In the Bible God has made known:

1) what the world is; where it came from; why it exists; what it is heading for; how it will end;

2) what man is; where he comes from; where he is going; what he is made of; what his purpose is

how he will end;

Ministry to Those with Alternative Lifestyles

by Fr. George Morelli

"Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." (Jn 8:7)

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." (Jn 14:6)

A question has arisen among some ordained into the Apostolic priesthood of Christ as to how those who are living an alternative lifestyle, that is to say, outside of the teachings of Christ, should be ministered to? This question is especially relevant, but not limited to, clergy who serve in military and/or government chaplaincies. The ascendency of post-modernism, relativism and secularism, have politically legitimized lifestyles under the guise of "human rights" that were previously the domain of Judeo-Christian teaching. (Morelli 2006d, 2009) The pendulum of political correctness has swung from merely tolerating non-Christian teachings to forcing on a nation a worldwide religious correctness that some argue has the apparent goal of imposing secularist values and principles on all.i  As in the early days of Christianity, being a committed Christian, especially for clergy, will be a criminal act, subject to censure and punishment. I will point out in this essay that an Orthodox understanding of true priestly pastoring would ameliorate this concern.

June 20, 2012 + On Making Faithful Prayers

from My Life in Christ
by St. John of Kronstadt

If you wish to ask of God in prayer any blessing for yourself, then before praying prepare yourself for undoubting and firm faith, and take in good time means against doubt and unbelief. For it will go ill with you if during the prayer itself your heart wavers in its faith and does not stand firm in it; then do not even expect to obtain of the Lord what you have prayed for doubtingly, for in so doing you have offended the Lord, and God does not bestow His gifts upon a reviler. "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive," [17] said the Lord. This means, that if you doubt and do not believe, you shall not receive. "If ye have faith and doubt not," said He also, "ye shall have power to move mountains." [18]

Therefore, if you doubt and do not believe, you shall not have power to do so. "Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering, for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed," says the Apostle James; "for let not that man think he shall receive anything of the Lord. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." [19]

Chaplain's Corner + The Need of Prayer in Our Lives

by Fr. George Morelli

Prayer makes up a significant part in every major religious tradition. Thus, if a cross-section of Chaplain Corner readers were asked, “What is prayer,” a variety of definitions would likely emerge. Many would possibly resemble the one I remember from my childhood catechism: “Prayer is the lifting of our minds and hearts to God.” Prayer can be active or passive, individual or communal. Many of the different forms of prayer may contain aspects of worship, petition and thanksgiving.  Our Eastern Church Spiritual Father St. Mark the Ascetic tells us: "There are many different methods of prayer. . . . No method is harmful. . . .” (Philokalia I). St. Dorotheos of Gaza (Wheeler, 1977) reflects the common teaching of the Eastern Fathers that for prayer to be effective it has to be done with a pure heart. 

An Orthodox Perspective on Tolerance

Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  Mark 12:29-34

And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.  2 Timothy 2:24-26