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Featured Reflections

Serving Christ Our God and Our Church

Icon by the hand of Janet JaimeIcon by the hand of Janet Jaimeby Violet K. Robbat, The Word, May 2015

When the Angel Gabriel informed Mary that she had been chosen to be the Mother of Christ, Mary, because of her faith and obedience to God, responded with, "Behold the Maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to visit His friends Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. He stayed and had supper with them. Martha prepared the meal and served Jesus, while her sister "took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair" (John 12:3). With their many gifts, Martha and Mary served Christ, each in her own way.

After Jesus was crucified and was buried, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb of Christ with spices to anoint His body, as was the Jewish custom of that time. They found that Christ's body was no longer in the tomb. Instead, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe. He told them to go to Jesus's disciples and tell them that He had risen. The women were frightened and quickly left the tomb, telling no one. "Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept" (Mark 16:9–10).

May 6, 2015 + Reflections on Mid-Pentecost

The feast of Mid-Pentecost, and indeed the whole season of the Pentecostarion, is a period of joy and brightness, and yet the Pentecostarion is not without hymns of compunction. Just as the period of Great Lent is not void of the light of the Resurrection, so too the period of Pascha is not void of the theme of repentance. The light of Pascha and Pentecost compels us to recognize the darkness within us and to seek purity and renewal that we may be able to fully share in the joy and holiness of the Spirit:

As we come together on the mid-feast between Your Resurrection and the divine descent of Your Holy Spirit, O Christ, we praise the mysteries of Your wonders. Wherefore, on this day send down upon us Your great mercy.
(Vespers for the Wednesday of Mid-Pentecost, doxastikon of the stichera)

Mid-Pentecost strengthens our preparation for Pentecost— a preparation which requires a renewal of faith and an intensified effort to ascend the heights of righteousness and purity to which we were called when we became members of Christ's Body. The joy of Pascha lies in a vigorous response to the Resurrection and the presence of the Holy Spirit within us and around us. The more sensitive to His presence we become, the more aware we become of our own sins. And our response to this sinfulness is not a paralyzing despair, but a renewed hope and desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit:

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.

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.

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.

Living the Christian Life in a Secular Age

by His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph

The following remarks were given by His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph at the Ss. Athanasius and Cyril Symposium held at St. Andrew Orthodox Church, Riverside, CA on February 7, 2015. The Theme of the Symposium was "The City, a Desert – Living the Life of the Desert in the Midst of the World". Other speakers included Archimandrite Irenei, founder and director of the Institute, Archimandrite Gerasim, rector of St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral in Dallas, TX and former abbot of St. Herman Monastery in Platina, CA, Fr. Andrew Cuneo, rector of St. Katherine Mission (OCA) in Carlsbad, CA and V. Rev. Josiah Trenham, pastor of the host parish.

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Reverend fathers and deacons, beloved faithful, and you who seek for the refreshing waters in the oasis of the Church, I extend the blessing to you in the name of the Lord. We take up a powerful theme in this conference, a theme which brings us to reflect upon the relationship of our Christian faith and life in this tempestuous and dynamic world around us with the simple quiet and solitude of the desert wilderness.

Why Should I Pray

by Fr. Michael Keiser

The other Sunday, a friend of mine who is a pastor took an informal survey of his congregation during the homily. “How many of you struggle with your prayer life?” he asked. Every hand in this parish of nearly three hundred shot up! The priest admitted that prayer was his own greatest spiritual struggle. The fact is, practicing effective prayer is like fighting on the front lines in a war. Our greatest challenge is to pray!

This is an interesting time to be Orthodox. Our secular world provides little certainty for people’s lives, and the Orthodox faith issues an unchanging message of truth and stability. Orthodox Christianity may be the last firm footing on which to stand, yet it would be fair to say that very few Orthodox Christians are aware of the depth and richness of the Church’s spiritual tradition when it comes to personal devotion. We Orthodox are big on externals. Our liturgical worship is a drama of striking beauty and color, of scent and sound. But besides being beautiful, icons, vestments, chanting, and incense together constitute an important statement about God. He has created us as physical beings in a material world, and we approach Him using the elements of that material world. The way in which we Orthodox worship involves all of our senses and physical nature, so that we may respond to God with all of our being—our bodies as well as our minds and souls.

However, there is something else that is as essential to our spiritual growth as outward worship, and that is personal prayer. Anyone who wants to grow closer to God must develop a disciplined prayer life.

What Is Prayer?

Public worship and personal prayer are the twin support beams of the spiritual life for any believer. All our growing will take place within the framework they provide. But they are not the same thing, and they are not interchangeable.

Message for the New Year

By Archpriest George Shalhoub

Beloved,
I greet you and your loved ones in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, Who became one of us in order for us to become one with Him.

I am fascinated by the popularity of New Year's Eve resolutions, as if our lives depend on them, and how so many people do not adhere to their resolutions. National statistics state that 90% of all resolutions will be forgotten within the first few days of the New Year.

I wish to point out the first major feast day of the New Year is January 1st, St. Basil the Great and on January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany (the appearance of God at Christ's baptism). We read in the Gospel of St. Mark that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit appeared at Jesus' baptism. (Mark 1:10-11)

In Him is our beginning and our end. And, unless we make room to receive God, as He appeared to us, everything will remain old in us. His appearance renews and transforms us, making us children of the most high God by entering into communion with Him through the mysteries of the church—the Holy Eucharist, the Blood and Body of Christ. Our faith teaches us to believe in Christ and in His Holy Church. God is timeless. Therefore, we do not wait for a new year, because God's grace is a living engine that moves us every moment, every day, every year through the rest of our lives.