It was Patriot's Day 2013 in Massachusetts. Few around the world are now unaware that the Boston Marathon was run that day. Few are also now unaware that the new Boston Massacre occurred on that day as well. On April 15, 2013 (Patriot's Day), I was writing on my computer at the time and getting 'pop-up' Breaking News alerts of 'an explosion in Boston.' As an example of how common, and thus de-sensitized, I think many of us, including myself, have become to such news alerts, I paid it little attention. As per my work routine, at 4:00 PM CA time I turned on TV News while sorting my email. I immediately saw, once again, that the world as many of us have come to know it was, once again, radically changed.
I want to take the lead from a seminarian who was interviewed by one of the national networks, (I do not recall which network as I was constantly flipping news channels), whose witness reminded that any experience can be made a Godly one if it is tied to prayer. The seminarian and his wife were actually caught in the cross-fire that killed one of the alleged perpetrators: the older brother. Bullets were flying around them. They used the time to pray to God for deliverance during this "nightmare."
We can think of all the responders who came to the aid of the many injured. If their service was done with a pure heart and Godly spirit, then it became a channel of spiritual and psychological healing for all involved. We can also reflect on the great endurance of the victims, their family and friends, the heroic law enforcement officers [let me mention the many from far away states] and the people of Boston, who were on lockdown and living in a state of fear. I believe the apt slogan that has emerged from those affected is "Boston Strong."
By Bishop John Abdalah, Diocese of Worcester and New England
April showers bring May flowers, and our Lenten efforts bring Paschal celebrations, but what about April snow and ice? What kind of Pascha comes from those kinds of intense surprises? I suppose it depends on a number of things. April snow and ice may be likened to all those events in life that we don’t like and don’t want. We may see no possible good coming from them, and no joy or benefit from enduring them. They may be temptations that arise from sickness, or unhappy people in our lives, or perenially dissatisfied folks who chair church committees, or judgmental dogooders with weak boundaries, invading our personal space and butting into our business.
What do you do with such things? John Dalack and his daughter, Khouria Leila Ellias, told a group of New England retreat-goers in Norwood last month that you thank God for it. All of it! This concept of thanking God for everything that we endure is sewn within the rich fabric of our Orthodox Christian heritage. God loves us and we can use all of April’s snow and ice to prepare us for Pascha. I heard a young man thank God for the cancer that claimed his mother’s life, for cancer was the instrument of her “translation” into heaven. As a pastor, I saw many mothers deliver their children to God as their children’s suffering ended, along with their lives; they thanked God for accomplishing everything that we need to be rejoined with our loved ones in Him. I have seen people lose jobs and get better or healthier ones. I have seen others repeatedly knocked down, and have myself been knocked down, only to get up stronger and wiser each time.
By Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
It is well-known among Orthodox Christians that the word orthodoxy—often used as a shorthand for our faith—has two parallel meanings. It is composed of two Greek words—orthos and doxa. Together, they form orthodoxia, rendered into English as orthodoxy. The word orthos literally means “straight,” and those familiar with geometry will recognize it in the word orthogonal, which refers to something lying at a right angle. Those who know something about dentistry will think of orthodontics, which concerns itself with straight teeth, while the orthopedist wants to make sure your skeleton is straight (literally, orthopedics means “straight children”). It should come as no surprise that Greek uses orthos metaphorically also to refer to something that is true, since we English speakers use straight to refer to reliability and truth, especially in such terms as straight-talker or to be set straight. And of course someone who is on the right path is on the straight and narrow. And no doubt our minds are also called to the use of the word straight to refer to a properly ordered sexuality or even from a decade or two ago when straight referred to someone doesn’t take recreational drugs.
The other side of the word orthodoxy is what may intrigue us more, however, and it is the doxa which gives orthodoxia its double meaning, for doxa can mean both “opinion” and “glory.” Often, in thinking of orthodoxy, it is this first meaning that occurs to the world—an “orthodoxy” is a hard and fast, unmovable set of teachings or opinions. And this meaning should occur to us, as well, that Orthodoxy is very much about the straight, true teachings of the Church, teachings that cannot be changed. The orthodoxy of the Orthodox Church is therefore precisely a deposit of faith, a theology that will never be altered, because it is the truth. It is the straight teaching, the true opinion.
"“Let alone the little children, and cease hindering them to come to Me; for of such is the kingdom of the heavens." And He laid His hands upon them..." (Mt. 19:14-15)
Tragic news is set before us every day by the ever-present news media. Bombings, gang shootings, child abuse, starving refugees, massive floods. So much, so often, that we could get inured to it. But some days there is news that demands deeper attention, deeper mourning, a more sustained search for solace.
December 14, 2012. A Breaking News alert caught my eye while I was at my computer on a teleconference call, a report of a “massive school shooting in Connecticut.” I casually mentioned it the conferences, then when the call ended, I turned on the TV news. Only in extremely exceptional circumstances do I ever watch TV during the day; the last time was in 2001 –the terrorist attack on the United States that resulted in the tragic death of all those victims and left such untoward psycho-spiritual aftermath. For the rest of that day I continued to watch the news and followed breaking developments on internet media.
Contemplating the blessings of the Advent season, at times we ponder whether we have lost our blessings to the material world in which we live. Surrounded by ostentatious displays of wealth and unhealthy indulgences, we realize that they are slowly taking the place of more appropriate preparations for the celebration of Christmas. The very foundation of the Christmas Feast is the birth of an unassuming Child born quietly, humbly. The King of Glory was born of a mother who was turned away from every house, in a cave among the animals who could not speak.
Advent is the time of our preparation to meet the Lord of Lords. Certainly, we desire to offer our best gifts to the Christ Child, but they must be gifts of substance - the gifts of prayer, repentance, forgiveness and love.
“But whosoever shall cause one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be to his advantage that a millstone turned by an ass were hung upon his neck, and he were drowned in the deep of the sea." (Mt. 18:6)
In the United States and many European countries as well, we are coming up to the annual festival of the celebration of "All Hallows' Evening." Its roots go back to ancient pagan Celtic tradition Samhain (pronounced: Sah-ween) when villagers would light large outdoor fires and put on costumes to hide from and ward off roaming ghosts of spirits and the dead. The Research Center of the Library of Congress reports: "It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living."[i]
The Celtic region included the area that is now modern Great Britain, France and Ireland. Also part of the pagan banquet was that animals andcrops were placed in the bonfires as a sacrifice to the pagan gods. The conquest of the majority of Celtic lands by the Romans in 43 AD added additional pagan elements to the feast. One was Feralia, a late October festival wherein the Romans memorialized their dead. Second, was a day to sacrifice to the Roman goddess Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees.
Pomona's symbol is the apple. To this day, apples are common in modern celebrations of this festival. The name of this festival has also been changed. It is no longer referred to as "All Hallows’ Evening." All know it by the name "Halloween."
By Bishop John Abdalah
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.
By Father John Abdalah
As Orthodox Christians, we greet one another with this confident exclamation during the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord. With this seasonal greeting we affirm that Jesus, who took on flesh and was born into our world, is indeed the Christ, and worthy of glorification.
Monday mornings have a bad reputation. Many priests find it that way, too. On a typical Monday morning, we preachers go to our studies and look up in the lectionary book which epistle reading and gospel reading are assigned for the liturgy on the next Sunday. Then we preachers take our Bibles and look up those passages. All very easy so far! Now comes the hardest part of preaching: figuring out what to say in the sermon about one of those passages for next Sunday! Some Monday mornings, that is easy. Some Monday mornings, it is tough.
I had a tough Monday morning one week back in May. I knew that I wanted to preach on the gospel reading from John 17 for that Sunday. I’ll have to admit, however, that when I read it over again that Monday, my reaction was a bit of “ho-hum.” It comes up each year on the Sunday between Ascension Day and Pentecost. And it gets read in Holy Week, too – it’s part of that longest of all gospel readings, the first one on Holy Thursday evening. And so I’ve preached on it quite a few times before. So “hohum” was my reaction – what to say about this passage when I preach on it one more time? And then something in the passage jumped out at me, something I knew was in John 17 all along, but it hit me differently somehow that Monday morning, so let me tell you about it.
John 17 is part of Jesus’ long talk with the apostles, and long prayer to the Father, on Holy Thursday evening, the night before He was crucified. In this part of John there is quite a bit about the Holy Trinity.
by Donna Farley
When was the last time you began something new? As long ago as college, perhaps, or a new job? When you got married or had a child or moved to a new town?