by Fr. James C. Meena
from The Word, May 1981
I would like to share with you some reminiscences of the past. When I was a child, my parents would always admonish me when I would leave home for some social occasion, “Remember who you are and always make us proud of you.” Whenever I would forget that admonition one or the other of them would say to me, usually in anger, “We are not raising bums in this family. We are raising decent people.” I remember some of the movies and radio stories of those days where parents who were raising children who were lazy and did not want to go out and get a job or who felt that the world owed them a living saying to them, “I didn’t raise you to be a bum, I raised you to be a good person, get out and get a job, take care of yourself.”
For some reason or the other during the course of this past month, that word “bum” kept going through my mind in recollection. Maybe God was trying to inspire me to say something about it in relationship to the sad reality that on the Sunday after a major Feast, whether it’s one day or three or four days following, the Church is almost always half empty. Yet after the climax of the Holy season, when the Church was filled with people and the communion lines extended to the doors of the Church and beyond and when the liturgy was extended in time because there were so many people coming to the chalice and when we were concerned about hearing all the confessions before Liturgy and having enough time to do this and then to come to Church the following Sunday and witness all of those good people who came to the chalice absenting themselves from the same Eucharist and the same celebration, I wonder if God does not want me to say; “We are not raising spiritual bums in this Godly household.” God does not punish us immediately for our indolence but I think somehow he keeps a record of those items when we put “me” first and Him second.
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Acts of the Apostles
"Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and alms-deeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that be would not delay to come to them." (Acts 9:36-38)
Why did they wait till she was dead? Why was not Peter solicited before this? So right-minded were they, they did not think it proper to trouble the Disciples about such matters, and to take them away from the preaching: as indeed this is why it mentions that the place was near, seeing they asked this as a thing beside his mark, and not now in the regular course. "Not to delay to come unto them:" for she was a disciple. And Peter arose, and went with them.
And when he was come, they led him into the upper chamber." (v. 39.) They do not beseech, but leave it to him to give her life. See what a cheering inducement to alms is here! "And all the widows," it says, "stood round him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them."
The Feast of the Life-giving Spring which is kept on the Friday of Bright Week has its origins in the 5th century. It is the feast that commemorates the consecration of the Church of the Life-giving Spring outside of Constantinople.
The very large and beautiful church named in honor of the Theotokos of the Life-giving Spring was built about the middle of the fifth century by the Emperor Leo the Great (457-474 AD), outside of Constantinople. Emperor Leo was a pious man (he is commemorated on January 20th) and before he became Emperor, he had encountered a blind man, who being tormented with thirst asked him to help him find water. Leo felt compassion for him and went in search of a source of water, but found none. As he was about to cease his search, he heard a voice telling him there was water nearby. He looked again, and found none. Then he heard the voice again, this time calling him "Emperor" and telling him that he would find muddy water in the densely wooded place nearby; he was to take some water and anoint the blind man's eyes with it. When he had done this, the blind man received his sight.
After Leo became Emperor, as the Most Holy Theotokos had prophesied, he raised up a church temple over the spring, whose waters worked many healings, as well as resurrections from the dead, through the intercessions of the Theotokos. From this, it came to be called the "Life-giving Spring."
by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, April 1968
“Now on the first day of the week at early dawn, they came to the sepulcher bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold two men stood by them in dazzling garments; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them: ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’. . . And they remembered His words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (ST. LUKE 24:1)
SOMETIMES we are too hasty and pass lightly from our Lord’s crucifixion to the resurrection. Before the joy and the victory of the good news that “He is risen,” Jesus’ followers felt total despair that accompanied the tragedy of failure.
For two reasons we cannot afford to forget the disciples’ sense of abandonment on that unique Sabbath: if ye dare assume that by baptism we have been adopted into the family of His followers, we must make their emotions our own; secondly, by empathy with those in the Upper Room, by knowing their fear and confusion after the One person who gave their lives meaning, direction and beauty had been murdered, we can begin to deal with tragedy when it enters our personal lives.
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1975) puts forth the idea that religion can be defined "as man's search for ultimate meaning." This implies a spiritual vision of the universe. A science without God would posit that the cosmos is nothing but something that exists in space or space-time. However, as Eastern Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov (2001) notes, such a position "offers no constructive explanation to deal with existence." To put it another way, it begins and ends with the question: Is this all there is?
Spiritual perception, however, would begin the search for meaning by looking at the universe and seeing that the meaning of life permeates, from within, the cosmos that we inhabit. In the words of the Psalmist: "The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands." (Ps 18: 2). But there is another way of knowing God that is beyond any glory possible to be conceived by man, because God is so much greater than the limits of man's perception. The other path for intuiting God is the path of negation. Unknowingly, this is the path many who deny God have stumbled upon. For those with spiritual perception, such knowledge could be described as a mystical path, an antinomy that is knowledge-beyond-knowledge. The Hebrews had a sense that no word can capture God. They referred to Him as Adonai (Lord) rather than a word they would not speak, YHWH (Yahweh). St. Gregory of Nyssa (1978), describing Moses, said that when "he grew in knowledge, he declared that he had seen God in the darkness, that is, . . . he had come to know that what is Divine is beyond all knowledge and comprehension." The Book of Exodus (20: 21) tells us, "But Moses went to the dark cloud wherein God was." And David the King and Prophet writes of God: "He made darkness His hiding place; as His canopy around Him." (Ps 17: 12).
by Fr. Theodore E. Ziton
from The Word, April 1959
Winter is now past! The snow is gone, and the gardener prunes his trees and vines for another harvest. Nature joyfully cries out: “Stop, look and listen for spring is here!” Yes, there is a glorious resurrection in nature. STOP! or you will tread upon the tender flowers that have just risen from the dead. LOOK! and you will see that old tree whose branches in winter resembled the long arms of a ghost, but now the tree begins to bloom with fragrant apple blossoms. LISTEN! and you will hear the singing bird so full of song that it seems he will burst his little throat. The earth sounds a note of joy and gladness. Everyone picks up the melody and intones the words: “Stop, look and listen, for there is a resurrection in nature.”
In the Songs of Songs we read: “Arise, my dove and come: Winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth.” (2: 10-12). Yes, the winter of Calvary is past; the storm of sorrow is gone, and Jesus the Nazarene, whose very title in Hebrew means the Flower, has appeared in glory today. Beautiful was that Flower when it took its roots in the dark cave of Bethlehem. Fragrant was that Flower when it was bruised and pinned to the Cross which became its vase: but glorious is that Flower today, for It now fully blooms never to wither away again.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Mt. 5:4)
In the first article I wrote (Morelli, 2012) on applying the Beatitudes to Orthodox Christian parenting I pointed out that it is also no accident that after Christ's time in the wilderness confronting and overcoming the temptations of Satan, the evil one, He was prepared for His public life of teaching. The first of Jesus’ teachings is the Sermon on the Mount, in which He gave us the well known Beatitudes (Mt 5: 1-12).i
Such a period of spiritual preparation for being aware of the enticements of the world, its adversities and how to confront them is not the usual practice of Eastern Christians awaiting Holy Matrimony. Rather, is not uncommon that in preparing for a holy and blessed marriage, the male and female shortly to become one flesh focus their attention on the worldly joy of marriage and relegate the spiritual factors to second place. An emphasis on the worldly aspects of marriage is certainly the main focus of secular society, in which a wedding is, for many, part of an elaborate booming and costly industry.ii Unfortunately, the focus is on merely worldly joy rather than spiritual joy In fact, however, there is an important aspect of spiritual joy that can and should be stressed in a true Orthodox Wedding. A passage in our Orthodox Marriage Service emphasizes such happiness. This is no better expressed than in the prayer sung by the choir after the sharing of The Common Cup:
by V. Rev. Fr. John Abdalah
from The Word, April 2000
A Christian is one who is defined by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, even in a day and age when some who call themselves by God’s own name deny the reality of the very act that defines them. You see, our God is one who acts in history and, in history, rose from the dead as was foretold. Risen from the dead, He is alive, and working in each of us. We are in Him and He is in us. His life in us could not end on Calvary; Life could not die. He can only be with us if He is risen from the dead, and He is.
We can speak of this with such confidence because He has revealed this to us. First, to those of us who heard His voice through prophecy even centuries before the incarnation, then to those among us who witnessed His earthly life and His empty tomb, then by those who stood with us as martyrs and confessors, suffering greatly to witness to the truth, and finally to those of us who, through prayer and love, have had these truths revealed to us in this modern age. All of this can only be so if He became man, died and rose from the dead. Only in rising from the dead can He lift us up into His resurrection, and save us.
Over the next few months, young people will be registering for one of the eight summer camps in our Archdiocese. If you know any of these young people who have been to camp before, you know that they have started their countdowns to the first day of camp. They spend hours on Skype and Facebook talking to their camp friends throughout the Archdiocese, and they go into a post-camp depression when they return home from camp.
So what is it about the camp experience that makes our young people love it so much? Certainly, there are many things that contribute to it: the friends, the activities, the counselors and staff, and being in the outdoors, to name a few. The thing that makes camp so special, however, is the camp environment, which presents a living experience of the Orthodox faith. In 1978, the Archdiocese purchased the Antiochian Village, and His Eminence Metropolitan Philip appointed the Archmandrite Fr. John Namie (+ 2001) of blessed memory as the first Camp Director. Thanks to the vision and leadership of these two great men, this mission of presenting a living experience of the Orthodox faith in the camp setting has become the standard at all of our camp programs in the Antiochian Archdiocese.
When asked by Constantine Nasr in 1998 why campers come to camp, Fr. John Namie responded,
[Christian living–] that’s why people come here: to learn Christian living by doing it. It’s the best way to learn. The best way to learn is by doing things. When you come to the Village, you get to do everything in a Christian fashion. You get to love each other, and that means that you get to share with each other your life.… We get to pray, both privately and in church. We learn church hymns, we have a good time at our meals, and we play a lot and play hard. It’s great to be at camp. It’s one of the greatest experiences that a young person can have.
In 2007 the leaders of two separate Christian groups in the Philippines contacted His Eminence Paul in Sydney, asking to join the Orthodox Church.
Many long and fruitful discussions were held between His Eminence and the two leaders, which culminated with His Eminence inviting them to Sydney for further face-to-face discussions. They arrived in May 2007, where they stayed as guests of His Eminence for three weeks. The teachings of the groups were considered and they also learned about Orthodoxy. At the end of the three weeks, both leaders stood and declared: “We accept what the Orthodox Church accepts and refuse what She refuses.” His Eminence answered them, “Welcome home,” the phrase with which Archbishop Philip welcomed the converts.
In December 2011, one of our Orthodox priests in Manila called His Eminence to report that he had been in contact with three different groups and some individual leaders who had all come to the conclusion that they would like to join the Orthodox Church. The Archdiocese began communications with these groups. We learnt that the larger group, consisting of some seven thousand families, knew much about Orthodoxy and that their leaders were very proud to call themselves “orthodox” with a small o.
On Saturday, January 28, His Eminence travelled to the Philippines to visit his parishes and to meet with the new groups. On Tuesday, January 31, His Eminence and seven clergymen of the two larger groups met and discussed their teachings over three full days. At the conclusion of this meeting His Eminence welcomed them to the Antiochian Orthodox Church and promised to bring some of their clergy to Sydney for training and ordination, to be followed by a trip to the Philippines by His Eminence to train and ordain the other leaders.
by V. Rev. Fr. Stephen Rogers
from The Word, April 2000
“Clothes make the man.”
That old adage aptly states that what we wear goes a long way towards determining how we perceive ourselves and are perceived by others. Billions and billions of dollars are spent each year in this country on the garments we wear. From formal wear to beach wear, shopping for clothes has become the national religion, with the shopping mall serving as the cathedral. We use our clothing to cover up our imperfections and to draw attention to our finer points. We wear clothing to identify with a sports team, a culture, a lifestyle or an economic class. What we wear says who we are, or more honestly, who we would like to be.
On the Sunday preceding Holy Week, the Glorious and Brilliant Entrance of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), we read in the Gospel of Matthew of a different use of clothing. “At that time, when Jesus drew nigh unto Jerusalem and was come to Bethpage unto the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples saying unto them, ‘Go into the village and you shall find an ass tied and a colt with her; loose them and bring them to me’.” And further in the Gospel, as Jesus entered Jerusalem we read, “And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way and others cut down branches from the trees and strewed them along the way.”
by Fr. Ayman Kfouf
Great Lent 2012
I- Historical Background
Fasting is not new in the Church. Fasting had its origin in the life of our first parents Adam and Eve. Fasting was the first, and only, law given to Adam and Eve1.
The Old Testament provides an extensive record of fasts kept by the Jews as commanded by God2 and fasts, without specific commandment, in times of distress, grief or when asking for forgiveness3.
In the New Testament, the Lord Himself fasted for forty days4. He commanded His disciples to fast after His ascension5 and prescribed fasting as a spiritual weapon against evil6. After Christ’s ascension, the disciples continued to practice fasting, beside prayer, in every aspect of their apostolic lives7 and they handed down this tradition to their disciples to preserve and practice it after them.
The aforementioned scriptural examples of fasting inspired Christians to imitate them, thus fasting quickly became part of the regular Christian experience. Evidently, the earliest Christian documents show that fasting in the first five centuries took different shapes and passed through various phases of transformation until it evolved into its current form today.
The practice of fasting in the first and second centuries took the shape of complete abstention from food for a day or two8. During the third century, fasting was extended to a full week in preparation for Pascha (Easter). By the fourth century, fasting had transformed in form and length and had evolved from a one week preparation for Pascha into a forty day fast9.
by Fr. James C. Meena
from The Word, January 1983
One of the things that housewives experience, to their utter frustration, is to make preparations for the biggest meal of the day, take the food out of the freezer and refrigerator, clean the vegetables, get everything ready and put it into the necessary pots and pans, place it on the stove and then remember an errand that needed to be run. Leaving the food to prepare itself on the stove top or in the oven, they run their errand and return to discover that, after taking all the pains of preparation, they forgot to turn on the stove. The food did not cook, so the family had to wait for supper. This has happened at my house and it has probably happened at yours. So I would like to discuss with you the need to turn on our stoves.
I recently had a very pleasant experience in demonstrating to the younger classes of our Church School the meaning of the preparation for the Divine Liturgy. One of the things I said to these children is that these gifts which are brought to the Church, bread and wine, which are prepared on the Altar of Oblation, are still very common gifts, things of the earth. They are changed into spiritual things by the energy of our prayers, yours and mine, and by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. But, unless we exert the energy to turn on the flame of the Holy Spirit, then that which we are cooking up just stays uncooked.
And whenever thou art praying, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, in order that they might be made manifest to men. Verily I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou whenever thou art praying, enter into thy chamber, and after thou shuttest thy door, pray to thy Father Who is in secret; and thy Father Who seeth in secret, shall render what is due to thee openly. (Mt 6: 5-6)
From the times of my earliest memory these words of Christ were implanted on my mind. A simple practical example of putting this into practice was the proper way of saying the Prayers at the Table, popularly known as 'grace' before and after meals, while in public. It meant making a silent and mental Sign of the Cross and saying the appropriate prayer mentally as well. Any public display of one's commitment to Christ, would, at that time and locale, have been considered hypocrisy.
However, the world of my early years was spiritually and culturally very different from the world that has ushered us into the second decade of the 21st Century. Practically everyone in my hometown was a practicing Christian. There was one devout Jewish family that had a small grocery store and a travel truck to service remote areas. On any given Sunday morning most people went to the church of their choice. It might be said that there was a shared culture of the value of religion in daily life. If someone ostentatiously displayed some overt religiosity, in all likelihood such a display would have been considered hypocritical.
In the mid 1960’s there was a popular folk song that played the airwaves: The Sounds of Silence. It was originally written in the wave of national grief that followed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However, this song actually reaches far beyond the historical event and touches a fountain of great spiritual depth. Consider a couple lines from the song: "Hello darkness, my old friend I've come to talk with you again . . .The words of the prophets are written. . .And whispered in the sounds of silence." A very appropriate reflection for the start of Spring comes from the saintly Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. . . .We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
The value of silence cuts across so many religious traditions. The prophet Habakkuk (2: 20) instructed the Jews: "But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." Buddhists find in silence the meaning of the universe: "When a man knows the solitude of silence, and feels the joy of quietness, he is then free from fear and he feels the joy of the dharma [basic principles of the cosmos].i In the Islamic tradition Rumi notes: "I implored the sage in earnest last night to unveil the mysteries of the universe. He whispered softly in my ear, "Silence! It is something to perceive but never to say."ii
President's Message: Society of St. John Chrysostom - Western Region
Light of the East Newsletter - Winter, 2012
by Fr. George Morelli
In past President's messages I have not focused on the non-Apostolic Churches and their ecumenical situation, as that might seem irrelevant to our SSJC-WR concerns. However, in my past President's messages I have talked about moral alliances that both Catholics and Orthodox can form. Such alliances have been proposed by Pope Benedict XVI and Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev for example. Whether formally established, or just expressed informally, such alliances assume a set of common principles or moral viewpoint, easily possible between Catholics and Orthodox, but not necessarily between “Christian” groups. An example of this came to my attention recently in an Australian news source report on a disturbing statement issued by an Australian ecumenical council of churches: "The community needs to know that there is a range of views held on many topics in the Christian tradition. . . ."
by Fr. James C. Meena
from The Word, March 1985
First I think it is necessary for us to understand what renewal really means before we go on to talk about asceticism. You have heard it said that Jesus Christ makes all things news. According to St. Paul “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is passed away, behold, the new has come,” (II Cor. Chapter 5 Vs. 18).
Renewal is not simply making something appear as new. We take an old piece of silver, for example, and we polish it up until it shines and we say it is like new. That is not renewal in the Christian sense. Renewal is to take something old and worn and weighted down by sin and corruptibility and by the exerting of the Divine Will to recreate it anew so that that which had made it old no longer exists in its character. The word, “renewal,” does not apply to material things. Anything that has existed for any length of time cannot be renewed in the Christian sense but the human being who is committed to Christ Who, by His Divine Will makes all things new, that creature becomes a new recreated person. That newness in Christ means the total expunging of all that was the old so that one may start again as a new person. Our record is washed clean. All of our sins are wiped away from the slate of our life and we are given a new start.
The following is an excerpt from Great Lent, by Alexander Schmemann
From The Introduction
When a man leaves on a journey, he must know where he is going. Thus with Lent. Above all, Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter, "the Feast of Feasts." It is the preparation for the "fulfillment of Pascha, the true Revelation." We must begin, therefore, by trying to understand this connection between Lent and Easter, for it reveals something very essential, very crucial about our Christian faith and life.
Is it necessary to explain that Easter is much more than one of the feasts, more than a yearly commemoration of a past event? Anyone who has, be it only once, taken part in that night which is "brighter than the day," who has tasted of that unique joy, knows it. [...] On Easter we celebrate Christ's Resurrection as something that happened and still happens to us. For each one of us received the gift of that new life and the power to accept it and live by it. It is a gift which radically alters our attitude toward everything in this world, including death. It makes it possible for us to joyfully affirm: "Death is no more!" Oh, death is still there, to be sure, and we still face it and someday it will come and take us. But it is our whole faith that by His own death Christ changed the very nature of death, made it a passage — a "passover," a "Pascha" — into the Kingdom of God, transforming the tragedy of tragedies into the ultimate victory. [...]
by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, originally posted on Roads From Emmaus
Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas, 2012
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Every single person, whether a man, a woman, or a child, has been given by God a deep, primal longing for Him.
We generally go through our days thinking of our desires for other things: I want breakfast. I want to sleep. I want to feel loved. I want some coffee. I want to get through this day. I want to finish this project. I want to buy a house. I want a car that won’t break down. I want to find someone who loves me. I want to be somebody. I want to make a difference. I want to get out of this traffic. I don’t want to die.
But if we really start to think about any one of our desires—pick one, any one—then we will find that they are fundamentally a desire for life. The desire for food is an obvious one, just like the desire not to die. But even our desires for possessions are about desiring life—we think they will help us feel alive, or at least that they won’t get in the way. A car that breaks down restricts my life, but a good car will get me there. Even the desire for accomplishment or love are about our desire for life.
But what is life, anyway? Is it simply to be animated, to be breathing and having our hearts beat rather than to be stilled and lying in a grave? Is it getting everything we want? Is it to “be all you can be”? Is it having a big list of accomplishments? Is it feeling safe, comfortable and secure? Is it even feeling content?
Those things are not life, but they do all point to what life really is.
The Following is an excerpt from Great Lent, by Alexander Schmemann
From Chapter 5, Section 1: Taking It Seriously
What could be not only a normal but a real impact of Lent on our existence? This existence (do we need to recall it) is very different from the one people led when all these services, hymns, canons, and prescriptions were composed and established. One lived then in a relatively small, mainly rural community within one organically Orthodox world; the very rhythm of one’s life was shaped by the Church. Now, however, we live in an enormous urban, technological society which is pluralistic in its religious beliefs, secularistic in its worldview, and in which we Orthodox constitute an insignificant minority. Lent is no longer “visible” as it was, let us say, in Russia or in Greece. Our question thus is a very real one; how can we –besides introducing one or two “symbolical” changes into our daily life—keep Lent?
One idea that leads and guides our family during the Lenten season is the use of our Lenten coin box. Around the start of the Great Fast, we bring home our Lenten coin boxes from church. Throughout the season, we are to give alms to the poor and needy by putting coins into the box. After celebrating the Feast of Pascha, we return our filled coin boxes to church, who then distributes the money to those in need.
by Fr. Peter G. Rizos
from The Word, April 1986
The Holy Fathers of the Church have determined that there are three indispensable means of participating in Great Lent. They are fasting, spiritual vigilance and prayer. These disciplines derive from God's word and have through the centuries been the mainstay of Eastern Orthodox spirituality or life in Christ.
When Jesus had fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness in preparation for His saving ministry, we are told that the devil tempted Him to change stones into loaves of bread. The Lord rebuked the tempter with the words, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'"(Matthew 4:14; Deuteronomy 8:3). In this way Jesus succeeded where Adam had failed (Genesis 3:1-6). His answer to Satan is a trenchant affirmation that to live our lives as though God did not exist, that is, "by bread alone," is to live according to a demonic lie.
The Lord's words and steadfast self-denial alert us to the particular lifestyle He expects of His followers, expressed elsewhere: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).
The 9th Annual Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) College Conferences concluded as they always do – with college students longing for more spiritual nourishment and opportunities to be part of an Orthodox community. Thanks to the generous scholarships provided by The Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, over one hundred Antiochian Orthodox college students attended College Conference, along with their peers from other jurisdictions. One student explained, “I go to school in Arkansas and cannot tell you how grateful I am, both for College Conference, and for the scholarship The Order provided. There are not many Orthodox students at my school, and being here helps me to remember who I am and why my faith is so important to me.”
OCF is host to three separate conferences. One is held in the south at the Diakonia Center, one in the west at St. Nicholas Ranch, and the largest and most established is held in the east at the Antiochian Village.
Lent is not only a time for personal renewal; it is a time for parish renewal as well. The Church is reborn every time someone enters the community. This is true even when the new member comes from another Orthodox parish, or a Christian communion outside the Orthodox Church, or is baptized as an infant or adult. The community is changed to make room for the new member who will build relationships, assume responsibilities, and even need to find a place to stand and sit in the worship.
To be deliberate about our parish renewal through this transition, the Church has appointed this Lenten time of fasting and intense prayers. We rediscover our roots with our new members as we read during the weeks of Lent from the Old Testament. We rediscover our innocence as the catechumens ask questions and express delight at the Orthodox perspectives. We regain our fervor as see the community grow and see how God is active in the lives of the catechumens and in our own.
We can not take this process for granted. Not every Lent sees catechumens in every parish. Not every parishioner is even aware that the Church is growing and that God is calling people to Himself. Perhaps at some places and at some times, communities don’t grow simply because the community is on “vacation” or asleep when people come knocking on our doors, or even when they sit in our pews. This is a great tragedy and we will be held accountable for this on Judgment Day. We really need to be deliberate about being ready to witness and care for those whom God is calling. Some prospective members are walking into our Churches unnoticed; others are working and playing with us all day long, waiting for our invitation to share in the life God has prepared for all. If this is too abstract, let me be more concrete:
As we pulled up in the shuttle bus from Jacksonville Airport in Pennsylvania, the evening mist was rolling in to nest in the green grounds of soccer fields and meditation walks. Being from Los Angeles, I found that the air was remarkably clear, and the sky gray but peaceful – the traffic, blessedly non-existent.
We drove past Pittsburgh, in its modern glory of geometric glass and metal, through the quiet suburbs and semi-rural neighborhoods featured so lovingly in M. Night Shamalan’s movies like The Village, and finally through the lovely little town of Ligonier towards the Antiochian Village.
The St. Stephen’s Course of Studies is a three-year correspondence program designed for those who want to study Orthodox theology but cannot attend an Orthodox seminary. St. Stephen’s students do one residency week each August for three years. Most people stay one week per year, but students from other countries sometimes do two weeks in one summer to save money on travel. I did two weeks because, well, Los Angeles virtually qualifies as another planet.