Saturday, August 30, 2014

True Faith is Neither Self-Righteousness nor Despair: Homily on the Rich Young Ruler in the Orthodox Church (12th Sunday of Matthew)

St. Matthew 19:16-26
            Many of us probably make a list of things we have to do from time to time so that we will not forget something on an especially busy day.  If you are like me, sometimes you go down a list like that and check off doing an errand, paying a bill, or calling the plumber. When we have a lot to do, we likely feel pretty good about ourselves on those rare occasions when we accomplish everything on our list.  There is nothing wrong, of course, with checking everyday chores, but it is a mistake to approach the Christian life in that way.  For to participate personally in the salvation that Jesus Christ has brought to the world is a calling of any entirely different sort that must not be reduced to a simple list of tasks.  
            Unfortunately, the rich young ruler who asked Jesus Christ what he had to do in order to find eternal life did apparently think of his relationship with God in terms of a list of accomplishments. So when the Lord told him to keep the commandments of the Old Testament, the man said that he had checked them all off, that he had completed God’s requirements.  But just to be sure, this fellow asked what he lacked, what else he could do. And that is when the Lord told him what he did not want to hear, for he challenged him to do something well beyond his list:  “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
This fellow was rich and loved his possessions, so he became very sad and apparently walked away in despair.  The Lord knew how hard it is for people who have it all in this life to enter the kingdom of heaven, for they are tempted strongly to love their possessions and status more than God and neighbor.  But in response to the disciples’ question “Who then can be saved?”, Christ said “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  In other words, even people like this fellow may find salvation by God’s grace.   
            The Lord challenged the rich young man by giving him a commandment that went to the core of his being, to what he loved the most, his money.  By telling him to do what he did not have the spiritual strength to do, Christ challenged him to stop thinking about his relationship with God as a set of simple laws or behaviors that he could master.  The truth is that anyone who responds to the Old Testament commandments by saying that he has always obeyed them since childhood has a very shallow understanding of what God requires of us.
            Recall that Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount that we are guilty of murder if we hate and insult others.  He taught that we are guilty of adultery if we lust in our hearts.  And if we do not love God with every ounce of our being and our neighbors as ourselves, we have broken the greatest of the commandments.  Unless we are spiritually blind, we should see immediately that none of us has mastered God’s requirements, none of us may stand before the Lord bragging that we have done all that was expected of us.   
            Christ jolted this man out of his delusion, out of his false self-confidence, by giving him a commandment that He knew he did not have the spiritual strength to keep:  giving away all his beloved money, possessions, and power.  Perhaps for the first time, this fellow was challenged to see that eternal life is not a matter of checking off a list, not something that we can accomplish simply by a bit of will power.  And since Christ came to unite our fallen humanity with divinity and to conquer sin and death, it is pretty clear that even the most law-abiding person still needs the mercy, grace, and love of the Lord in order to inherit eternal life.  By our own power, it is simply not possible to share in the holiness of God, but with Jesus Christ, all things are possible.
            The Christian life is an ongoing struggle against our own spiritual corruption and that of the world in which we live.  We must cooperate with our Lord’s mercy by resisting temptations and following His commandments as best we can.  But even our ability to do so is not simply our work, for we are enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to grow in holiness and find healing for our souls beyond what we can accomplish by ourselves.  Likewise, no matter how much progress we make in the Christian life, the journey to “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” is an eternal one, an infinite undertaking that will not be completed in this life.  The more we participate personally in Christ, the more aware we will be of our need for mercy; the more aware we will be that we have only just begun to find healing for our souls.
            Regardless of what some say, Christianity may not be boiled down simply to leading a morally decent life and having warm feelings about God.   If that were the case, I suppose that some could claim that they have checked off that box and now need only wait to receive their reward.  But that would be a very watered-down form of the faith that would call us neither to holiness nor to a realistic understanding of our spiritual brokenness and weakness. Christians who fall into the self-righteous mindset of those who think they are so holy that they may judge and condemn others do so in part because they have such a shallow and impoverished view of their own spiritual state, of what God requires of us, and of how we all stand before Him in need of mercy and healing.
            Too many Christians in our society are just like the rich young ruler.  We think that we have done all that God requires and accept illusions about our own holiness, when in reality we love ourselves and our possessions more than God and neighbor.  One of the great blessings of the Orthodox Church is that we have so many resources to shake us out of such complacency.  Before I became Orthodox, I always thought that I had to supplement what the churches I attended expected of me because they seemed to expect so little.  But Orthodoxy really does call us to be “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect”: to love and forgive our enemies; to reject all unholy and tempting thoughts; to pray constantly from the heart; to fast and deny ourselves on a regular basis; to confess our sins honestly and turn away from them; and to shine with the light of the Divine Glory in every dimension of our lives.  This is the fullness of the Christian faith that should lead us to fall in our faces before God as we call for His mercy, not to brag about how righteous we are or to judge our neighbors.
            Of course, we always stand in need of the Lord’s mercy, as the Jesus Prayer so clearly demonstrates.  But we cannot rest content with any type of spiritual disease or disobedience in our lives. We must always pursue healing, strength, and wholeness.  Orthodoxy teaches the fullness of the Christian faith, emphasizing both our need for God’s forgiveness and our calling to become more like God, to become participants in the Divine Nature by grace.  We do not earn God’s favor by checking off a list of laws, but neither should we become lax by presuming His forgiveness if we are not sincerely repenting, which means reorienting our lives according to His will for us.  We must not be like someone who realizes he is going the wrong way on a journey, feels bad about it, but keeps going in the wrong direction.  We have to actually stop, turn around, and go the right way.  If we do not, we have not really repented or reoriented our lives. 
Not everyone, of course, is tempted to self-righteous thoughts of perfection.  Some people know quite well that they have not served God faithfully.  That recognition is a blessing because it clues us in to the truth about ourselves.  But even those with that level of spiritual vision may be tempted to walk away in despair when they hear what the Lord requires of us.  “How could I possibly live the life to which Christ calls us?,” we may ask.  If that is your question today, focus on the final words of the passage: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  The good news of the gospel is that there is hope for us all in Jesus Christ, especially when we have come to see how far we are from Him, how we have not served Him faithfully, and how much room for healing there is in our souls. 

None of us will enter the Kingdom of Heaven because we have checked off a list or somehow become perfect by our own moral power.  All of us should tremble before a calling that seems so far beyond our abilities.  And all of us should take heart that, if salvation is possible by God’s grace even for the rich young rulers of the world, there is hope for us too in Jesus Christ.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

Patriarch John X Hosts Historic Meeting with Syriac Patriarch Ephrem III

In a historic meeting on August 17, 2014, His Beatitude John X, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, hosted His Holiness Mar Ignatius Ephrem II, Patriarch of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church, along with a distinguished delegation traveling with him. The meeting took place at the ancient St. George Antiochian Orthodox Monastery located in the "Valley of the Christians" in the town of Meshtaye in northwestern Syria. Before his election to the Patriarchate, His Holiness served as Archbishop of the Eastern United States for the Syriac Orthodox Church.
A complete English translation of the welcoming speech by Patriarch John X can be read at Notes on Arab Orthodoxy. Patriarch John X said in part:
It is a great pleasure for me to say to you, "How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together!"
The Psalmist once said this and today your sweet faces and the smiles of your children say this. The stone of this holy monastery say this. If they could speak, they would sing of their longing to see loved ones and would chant welcome to them all as living stones in the body of the Antiochian Church that first sang the name of Christ and spread it to the lips of all humankind. We welcome you most warmly. It is better for us to say: welcome to your home in the Monastery of Saint George. Our meeting today is a message to the world that the seeds of Christian unity will by watered first by us in Antioch, just as Jesus' disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
How good and pleasant it is to meet under the shelter of Saint George, whom the churches of the world know and whose name they take. How beautiful it is to pray in blessed days ruled by the Virgin Mary in the sublimity of her purity and the light of her holiness. How good and pleasant it is to meet in Syria, our homeland and yours, in Syria where they named our ancestors Christians, in this land that has welled forth to the world with the waters of her Euphrates the teaching of Saint Ephrem, the saint of repentance. In this land, Christianity had its infancy and from here the spark of Christian love went out to Rome and all the corners of the earth. This land gave us Ignatius of Antioch, who was bound in the shackles of this present age just as many of us are shackled in these circumstances. However, these shackles did not restrain the determination of faith. These  are the same chains and shackles that will shatter before Syria and her steadfastness, the steadfastness of her leaders, her army and her people. Through the work of her good children, Syria shall rise up and shake off the ruin that has come to us from abroad. She herself will bury in her soil all those who permit themselves to tamper with the eternal monuments of her life. We have said and we will continuously say: our salvation is in dialogue and in the political solution, in word and deed. To the outside world we cry out from here in this Valley: look honestly at what is happening in Syria and Iraq, particularly in Mosul, and in every place that has falsely and deceitfully taken up the mantle of "Springtime". Look honestly at the tragedy of Palestine. Look at Lebanon, which is paying a high price. We have known this land as the birthplace of the alphabet, which is an image of the need to encounter the other. We have not known her to be a hotbed for takfirism, terrorism and kidnapping. We in this Middle East are fed up with language of solidarity and wishful thinking on the part of those who are entrusted with decision and action. We have had enough of slogans while our bishops Youhanna and Paul, our priests and our people are being kidnapped while the world watches. The smile of our children is more precious than the falsehood of the world's slogans. The soil of this land where we were born, live and die is our treasure, our well-being, and our vessel for passage into true life. 
http://www.antiochian.org/patriarch-john-x-hosts-historic-meeting

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Forgiving Others as Christ Forgives Us: Homily for the 11th Sunday of Matthew in the Orthodox Church

Matthew 18:23-35
            If you are like me, there are times that you realize that you have wanted for yourself something that you were not willing to give others.  It is so easy for us all to fall into the self-centeredness of seeing things only from our own point of view, of focusing on our own needs and desires to the point that we treat others quite poorly and become hypocrites.   As we can see from today’s gospel text, Jesus Christ addressed this common human failing in a memorable and disturbing parable that applies to us all when we refuse to forgive others.  
            A servant owed his ruler more money than he could possibly earn in his entire life.  When he could not pay, the master was ready to sell him and his entire family in order to cover the debt.  But the servant begged for more time to pay, and the master showed mercy even beyond his request.  He actually forgave the huge debt; the man owed nothing and he and his family were safe from punishment.  How tremendously relieved and grateful the man must have been.
            Then that same servant found another servant who owed him a much smaller sum of money.  Since that man did not have enough to pay the debt, the first servant had him put in prison until he could pay.  He refused to show him any mercy at all.  When word of his response reached the king, he was furious that the man to whom he had shown such tremendous mercy would not even be patient with his fellow servant.  So the king put the first servant in prison until he could pay all that he owed.  Jesus Christ concluded this parable with the harsh warning:  “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
            This parable gets our attention because we all find it hard to forgive at least some of the people who have wronged or offended us.  Sometimes we enjoy holding grudges against others; perhaps we get a perverse boost to our ego by thinking that we are better than someone else, that we are somehow justified in looking down on them.  Sometimes we hate the fact that we hold grudges.  We may not want to remember bad things about other people, but unpleasant memories play over and over in our minds and we feel powerless to stop them.
            Like everything else in the Christian life, forgiveness is a journey, a process of growth as we share more fully in the life of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Notice that the Lord concluded the parable by saying that we must forgive our brothers from our hearts, from the depths of our souls.  Though it may be a necessary first step, it is not enough simply to put on a good face and stop saying angry words and behaving badly toward someone who has wronged us.  The goal is to be fully reconciled with them, to forgive and forget, to show them the same love and mercy that the Lord has shown to us with a pure and whole heart. 
            Even as we always want God to forgive us when we sin, there is no limit to the forgiving, reconciling love that He calls us to give our enemies.  When St. Peter asked how many times he was to forgive his brother who sinned against him, maybe seven times, Christ said, no, ‘seventy times seven.”  In other words, we should always forgive; there is never a point where the Christian becomes justified in judging, condemning, and refusing to show mercy. Surely, we all have a long way to go in fulfilling that commandment. 
            In order not to give up and despair about our struggle to forgive others, we have to remember what it means to be in Christ.  Most fundamentally, to be a Christian means to participate personally in the life of the Holy Trinity by grace.  Jesus Christ bring us into eternal life such that we partake in His victory over sin and death.  The holiness, mercy, and love of the Lord become active in us, become characteristic of us as unique persons, as we share more fully in His life. 
The more we find healing and transformation in Him, the more we will extend His forgiveness to those who have wronged us.  If we refuse to do so, however, we refuse Christ and refuse to participate in His mercy.  When we refuse Him,  we condemn only ourselves.
In moments of anger and pain, it is usually much easier to judge, hate, and condemn than to love and forgive.  Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, we human beings have distorted our relationships with one another, allowing fear, judgment, and insecurity to divide us.  Early in the book of Genesis, their descendent Lamech brags that he will avenge himself seventy-seven fold.  In other words, he was like a mobster or a terrorist who loved to shed blood and never showed mercy to anyone.  While our desire for revenge surely does not go as far as that, we do find it almost impossible to forgive seventy times seven as Christ forgives us.
Like any other area of weakness in the Christian life, our struggle to forgive must begin with an honest acknowledgement before God that we hold a grudge against someone else, that we have not forgiven that person.  Even as we ask for God’s forgiveness, we should ask for His help in being reconciled and forgiving completely whatever wrong has been done.  We must also pray for those who have offended us, asking God’s blessings on them.  And when we are tempted to remember what they have done or to judge them, we must immediately turn our attention to the Jesus Prayer and remembrance of our own need for mercy and forgiveness from the Lord and from those whom we have offended throughout the course of our lives.  We need to recognize that we are not the blameless judges of others, but those who stand in constant need of grace, mercy, and healing together with those who have wronged us.
It is a long struggle, but if we consistently turn away from unholy thoughts, we know that they will lose their power over us.  “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) The less attention we give to our temptations, the more they will diminish.  Overtime, we will grow in forgiveness from our hearts and learn to replace grudges and resentment with love, to be at peace with our enemies, as much as it depends on us.
The challenge is greater, of course, if the others involved in these relationships continue offending us and acting like our enemies.  Many would tell us that we are fools to keep forgiving someone a second, third, or fourth time.  But remember what the one who told us to forgive seventy-times seven said from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  There is no limit to the forgiving love of Jesus Christ.  And if we are in Him, there can be no limit on our forgiveness either.  We who want His mercy must show it to others.  Otherwise, we reject Him and condemn ourselves.
It may be impossibly hard for us to remember when we are angry with someone, but every human being bears the image of God.  In that we have done it to anyone, we have done it to Him.  Few of us have the spiritual health and vision to see the Lord’s image even in those who have offended us.  But we must remember the words of St. John:  “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar.”  (1 John 4:20) It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and souls that we will find the strength to stop lying in this way, to treat others as we would treat our Lord Himself. 

Obviously, Christ has done us no wrong; we need His forgiveness, not the other way round.  The more we share in His life, the more we will share in His love by forgiving those who have wronged us.  We fool only ourselves by thinking that we may accept His mercy without also showing that mercy to those who have wronged us.  It is time for us all to put on Christ and relate to others as He relates to us.  If we refuse that calling, we hurt only ourselves.  But if we embrace that calling, we will play our unique role in the salvation of the world.          

History Today: The Forgotten Christian World

By Orthodox Christian News in Orthodox News

Aug 22, 2014  0 Comment(s)  Tags: 
By Philip Jenkins
When we think of great historical events we naturally imagine them in visual terms, of great movements. But our mental maps are often too small. We know, for instance, that Christianity began in Palestine and swept west into the Roman Empire to develop a firm base in Europe. With such a picture in mind it is easy to imagine the Christian church establishing itself across Western Europe, in Britain and Ireland, and then eventually making the leap across the Atlantic into the New World. Nothing in that picture is actually wrong, but it is sadly incomplete. At the very same time that Christians were moving west into Europe in the first two or three centuries ad, others were travelling eastwards into Asia, and south into Africa. By the mid-sixth century, Christian monasteries were operating in China. And we are not speaking here of a few brave missionaries. As late as the 11th century – almost the halfway point of the Christian story to date – at least a third of the world’s Christians still lived in Asia. Even in 1250 it makes sense to think of a Christian world stretching east from Constantinople to Samarkand (at least) and south from Alexandria to the desert of the Ogaden, almost to the Equator.
These Christians differed vastly from our familiar idea of the medieval Christian world. Many Westerners are used to thinking of the church at this time as a narrow and intolerant affair, in which popes and bishops owed their power to their alliance with secular kings and emperors. According to this stereotype the church knew next to nothing about outside cultures or faiths and, if it did, it treated them with fear and contempt, a hostility that became most obvious in the Crusades. But in fact most early Asian Christians lived in a world in which they rarely or never allied with states and kings and always operated as minority faiths living in states dominated by other religions – by Persian Zoroastrians, by Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus. Christians existed alongside these other faiths, and regularly engaged in dialogues that were friendly and cooperative. In China and south¬ India, by the eighth century, members of the Nestorian Christian church used a distinctive symbol in which the cross is joined to the lotus, symbol of Buddhist enlightenment.
Many aspects of Christianity that we conceive as thoroughly modern were in fact the norm in the distant past: globalisation, the encounter with other faiths and the dilemmas of living under hostile regimes. How can our mental maps of the past have become so radically distorted?
Christianity began in the Middle East, in Palestine, Syria and Egypt, and the fact that those regions were part of the Roman empire provided opportunities for Christian expansion along the trade routes of the Roman world. Christians benefited from Roman stability and order and they used the familiar languages of empire, Greek and Latin. Within a few centuries, the great cities of the Roman world had also become the leading centres of Christianity. But, at the same time, an almost identical story was developing to the east of the Roman frontiers, within the Persian empire. In the fourth and fifth centuries, the Persian empire stretched from Syria to what is now Pakistan and deep into central Asia and this empire too offered the kind of stability that churches needed to expand.
The backbone of Christian growth was the Silk Route, most of which ran through Persian territories. The great city of Antioch, where the term ‘Christian’ first arose no later than ad 50, was a terminus for an ancient trade connecting the Mediterranean world to Persia and Central Asia. Throughout late antiquity and the Middle Ages, the Silk Route ran from Syria into northern Persia and into what are now the nations of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Travellers passed through such cities as Merv, Bukhara and Samarkand, along a route that ultimately took them over 4,500 miles into the heart of China. From Bukhara you could follow the branching roads and tracks that linked Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent.
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Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.

Is ISIS Prompting Reappraisal of Pacifism and Just War?

"Christian thinking has to offer both hope and sobriety, each of which requires perseverance and patience." -- IRD President Mark Tooley

Contact: Jeff Walton, Institute on Religion and Democracy, 202-682-4131, 202-413-5639 cell, jwalton@TheIRD.org 

WASHINGTON, Aug. 21, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ -- ISIS invasion of Iraq and subsequent horrors, for which Iraq's dwindling Christian minority is a chief victim, has reanimated talk about Christian Just War teaching.

Citing the call by Iraq's Chaldean Patriarch for military intervention, a group of prominent Christian thinkers, with others, has declared on the site iraqrescue.org that "nothing short of the destruction of ISIS/ISIL as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims." Urging U.S. and international help for local forces against ISIS, they assert that "no options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table." They want expanded U.S. air strikes against ISIS and U.S. arms for the Kurds, among others. The most prominent church official on this list is the Southern Baptist Convention's chief public policy spokesman.

Pope Francis' recent statements about the morality of force against ISIS similarly appear to permit a limited use of force. He said on Monday in flight home from South Korea: "In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor."

IRD President Mark Tooley commented:
    "Christian thinkers and others who urged the 'destruction' of ISIS within the parameters of Just War teaching offer bracing moral clarity. All persons of good will and realism must agree with them on some level. The challenge is to convey that even after the hoped for destruction of ISIS, violence and upheaval, which are intrinsic to humanity, will continue, especially in the Mideast. Christian thinking has to offer both hope and sobriety, each of which requires perseverance and patience.

    "Maybe the Pope's opaque green light for implied military intervention without specifics is the best approach for church officials whose ecclesial authority or influence is global, primarily the Pope himself. It also tacitly acknowledges the limited vocational expertise and mandate of church officials for political and especially military specifics.

    "As for the Christian pacifists and neo-pacifists, they might perform a service if they emphasized and demonstrated their own commitment to nonviolence. But their expectation of a disarmed state rejects orthodox Christian teaching. And dreams of a Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. style movement emerging in the Mideast are dangerously delusional."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Patriarch John X: Syria shall rise up and shake off the ruin that has come to us from abroad

Source: Notes on Arab Orthodoxy

Patriarch John X's speech welcoming Patriarch Ephrem II to the Monastery of Saint George al-Homeyra
My brother, Your Holiness and Beatitude Patriarch Mar Ignatius Ephrem II Karim,
My brothers the bishops and priests,
People of the Syriac and Greek Church of Antioch who are one and great in their faith and ardent zeal,
Beloved and neighbors of Saint Ephrem,
My beloved who are gathered here under the shelter of Saint George the Victory-Bearer,
It is a great pleasure for me to say to you, “How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together!” The Psalmist once said this and today your sweet faces and the smiles of your children say this. The stone of this holy monastery say this. If they could speak, they would sing of their longing to see loved ones and would chant welcome to them all as living stones in the body of the Antiochian Church that first sang the name of Christ and spread it to the lips of all humankind. We welcome you most warmly. It is better for us to say: welcome to your home in the Monastery of Saint George. Our meeting today is a message to the world that the seeds of Christian unity will by watered first by us in Antioch, just as Jesus’ disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
How good and pleasant it is to meet under the shelter of Saint George, whom the churches of the world know and whose name they take. How beautiful it is to pray in blessed days ruled by the Virgin Mary in the sublimity of her purity and the light of her holiness. How good and pleasant it is to meet in Syria, our homeland and yours, in Syria where they named our ancestors Christians, in this land that has welled forth to the world with the waters of her Euphrates the teaching of Saint Ephrem, the saint of repentance. In this land, Christianity had its infancy and from here the spark of Christian love went out to Rome and all the corners of the earth. This land gave us Ignatius of Antioch, who was bound in the shackles of this present age just as many of us are shackled in these circumstances. However, these shackles did not restrain the determination of faith. These  are the same chains and shackles that will shatter before Syria and her steadfastness, the steadfastness of her leaders, her army and her people. Through the work of her good children, Syria shall rise up and shake off the ruin that has come to us from abroad. She herself will bury in her soil all those who permit themselves to tamper with the eternal monuments of her life. We have said and we will continuously say: our salvation is in dialogue and in the political solution, in word and deed. To the outside world we cry out from here in this Valley: look honestly at what is happening in Syria and Iraq, particularly in Mosul, and in every place that has falsely and deceitfully taken up the mantle of “Springtime”. Look honestly at the tragedy of Palestine. Look at Lebanon, which is paying a high price. We have known this land as the birthplace of the alphabet, which is an image of the need to encounter the other. We have not known her to be a hotbed for takfirism, terrorism and kidnapping. We in this Middle East are fed up with language of solidarity and wishful thinking on the part of those who are entrusted with decision and action. We have had enough of slogans while our bishops Youhanna and Paul, our priests and our people are being kidnapped while the world watches. The smile of our children is more precious than the falsehood of the world’s slogans. The soil of this land where we were born, live and die is our treasure, our well-being, and our vessel for passage into true life.
I lift up my prayer in your name to the Mother of Light, Our Lady the Virgin. I lift it up with the candles of the Umm al-Zunnar Church and with all the refugees who have been separated from their families and their people by the present circumstances. I lift up my prayer to the Virgin and say:
O All-Holy Virgin who dwells in the abode of heavenly glory, who protects us and all the children of this Middle East, light of our life and balm of our wounds, companion of the exhausted who wipes away the tears of those who sorrow, we take refuge in you and ask you to place your faith in our hearts. Wipe away our weaknesses with the light of your Son and shelter Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the entire world in the peace of Christ the Lord. Teach us, O Mother, how to be sons and rise above the cares of this world to find in you a lamp to light the paths of our life. Show us, O maiden who adopted simplicity and sweetness, how to make our souls shine with the light of the resurrection, how to make the power of hope in God pulse within us, and how to make our souls into a vessel whose pilot is Christ and whose sail is the imitation of His saints. Be our consolation, our protection and our ardent intercessor.
In these blessed days we give you praise as an offering and candles as a supplication. By our candles make the light of consolation glow in our hearts. Wipe away the tears of this present age and crown the brow of those who love you with the peace of the Child of the manger. We ask you, O daughter of our earthly form, to form our souls with the power of firm hope in the dawn of our resurrection, the resurrection of our people, of our nations, of our Middle East. You who swaddled your heavenly Child and and made your bed beside him in the cave, swaddle our souls in humility and the power of hope. Make your bed beside the land of the Middle East and preserve it. Preserve our precious Valley and pledge your all-surpassing protection to our children in the homeland and the diaspora.
O Mother, be at the side of Mother Thekla and strengthen those who are in hardship. Draw the souls of the departed to your breast and to the breast of your little Son. You who rejoiced to see the resurrection of your Son and our God, make us worthy to rejoice at the return of peace to Syria, Iraq and every corner of the world. O traveling companion of John and Paul, be with our brothers Youhanna and Paul and with all those who have been abducted. Be with them. We say this as we know you are with them where they are. Wipe away from the eyes of humanity the lies and falsehood of these present days. We ask you to bear us all in your prayer to the Lord and to accept our song as incense before your Son.
We ask you, a daughter of this Middle East, to quench the flames of war here. Warm it with the warmth of love. O wellspring of love, cause souls to blaze with its brilliance and by its dew quenches tormented hearts. If these days are the cross for this Middle East, your consolation is what lightens the burden of bearing the cross. Your recollection covers minds with the dew of the resurrection dawn. Following the example of your Son, we do not fear Golgotha in your presence, O Virgin. Be a safe harbor and shelter and preserve this people who seeks the mercies of your Son, to Him be glory unto the ages amen.
Once more, Your Holiness, welcome to your home. May the Lord God grant us to always walk according to the guidance of His teachings. Welcome, beloved, children of the Syriac Church. Welcome to our brothers to whom we are bound by ancientness of faith, the first breaths of holiness, love of monasteries, the prayer of monks, love of the land and the power of hope in Christ the Lord, to Him be glory unto the ages amen.


Source: http://www.pravmir.com/patriarch-john-x-syria-shall-rise-shake-ruin-come-us-abroad/#ixzz3B4FSTnVl

What Orthodox Families Must Do to Keep the Kids Orthodox

Priest Geoffrey Korz | 10 January 2014

It is common in Orthodox parishes to find faithful people asking, why aren’t more kids coming to church? It’s an important question, since it raises two deeper issues: firstly, where will the Church in the Western World (outside traditionally Orthodox countries) be in twenty years, and secondly (and perhaps most critically); what on earth have Orthodox families been doing for the last few decades that has resulted in most parishes being almost devoid of young people?
Obviously, somewhere, the transmitting of the precious Orthodox faith from one generation to the next has not been accomplished. Of course, building faith in young people is a one-to-one exercise, requiring the time and concerted effort of parents, who bear the primary responsibility for this task. If young adults (or not-so-young adults) do not love Christ’s Church, the question must be asked, what exactly has been the highest priority of their home life? Academics? Getting a good job? Sports? Social life? Entertainment?
Saint Paul tells us that whatever we sow, that is the thing that we shall reap (Galatians 6:7): whatever we put into our children – a love of music, international travel experiences, unbridled ambition, a concern for the poor – it is very likely that this will profoundly shape their character. Similarly, as St. John Chrysostom tells us, the things that we allow to surround our children will either reinforce or undermine our primary influence on the life of our children (his Admonition to Parents is a tremendously helpful read for all mothers and fathers). Where can we start with this immense task? Consider the following:
1. SHOP AND PLAN LIKE YOU’LL SPEND ETERNITY ELSEWHERE. We are all tempted to desire to be like the world, to be liked by those around us, and to “fit in”. Sometimes the cost of such acceptance is too high. The way in which we use our money and our time says a lot about whether we are planning more for this life, or more for eternity. If we are planning primarily for this life, why would our children even consider worrying about their spiritual life? When our chequebooks, online shopping, and recreational trips to the mall outweigh the time spent at church or at prayer, why would our children turn out any other way?
2. STOP WORKING AND SHOPPING ON SUNDAY. This is a concrete way to set aside time for God. The Lord tells us that the sabbath (Sunday, for Christians) was made for our sake (Mark 2:27) – for our rest and spiritual rebuilding from the spiritual maelstrom that tears us apart during the other six days of the week. If we lack the strength to live a spiritual life, we should ask why!
3. PROVIDE ORTHODOXY AS AN IDENTITY OPTION. Orthodox kids in the western world are usually provided with two mutually exclusive and spiritually poisonous options: retain a foreign culture (language, name, history, etc.) as your primary identity, in order to somehow “keep” the Orthodox faith as part of that culture, or become westernized and leave your faith and culture behind. The whole idea that Orthodoxy is “part” of any culture is of course absurd, since two millennia ago, nearly every culture was thoroughly pagan. Even recently, many “Orthodox” cultures fell under the hypnotic effect of Communism, and today many are intoxicated with capitalist materialism.
Having a rich sense of inherited culture – whatever the culture is – is a formative seed in the soul of a child, since a rich appreciation and love for inherited tradition prepares a child’s heart for Orthodox living (since our faith is timeless, and requires inoculation against the passing winds of fashion). But a child’s first loyalty, the loyalty that must be cultivated and exemplified by each parent, is loyalty to the unchanging treasure of the Orthodox faith. If a young person thinks they have lots in common with other Orthodox people because they are Orthodox, there is a good chance they will remain faithful. On the other hand, if a child believes he has more in common with other peers who share their culture, whether those peers are faithful or not, it’s probably too late – the young person does not have an Orthodox Christian self-image, and tremendous work needs to be done.
4. LEARN THE ORTHODOX FAITH – ACQUIRE THE MIND OF THE HOLY FATHERS. For parishes that use the English language, this means teaching Orthodoxy to adults (catechumens and long-time faithful) so they can pass it on at home, while teaching kids. The temptation to “make Orthodoxy Canadian” must never turn into a watered-down practice ; this is one of the big reasons ethnic Orthodox people do not trust missions using the local vernacular language with the task of religious education: watered-down, “modernized” Orthodoxy is a scandal to people who are already deeply fearful of losing their imported culture. Sadly, many examples of “North America” Orthodox missions are full of attempts to redefine Holy Tradition, to revamp inherited liturgical traditions, and generally to try to “know better than all the faithful saints who have lived the Faith since the beginning. We must learn from history that Orthodoxy is a universal faith, for all times, places and peoples, and teach this critical lesson to our children.
5. CULTIVATE A NETWORK OF ORTHODOX FRIENDS OF ALL AGES. Imagine for a moment that the electricity supply was cut off to your home town. What would you do? Do you have alternatives close at hand? Many people – particularly younger people – would find life without electronic entertainment an almost unbearable reality. Similarly, many Orthodox parishes assume that the reality of foreign immigration will continue to keep their parishes vibrant, and full of Orthodox people. But what happens when immigration stops? What happens when the vitality of Orthodox life depends only on reaching those non-Orthodox who are already here? Sadly, we do not learn the lesson from previous generations of Orthodox immigrants: eventually immigration dries up, and we must start sharing our life of faith with other Orthodox people around us.
6. STOP TRYING TO “KEEP UP” WITH WESTERNIZED (IN PARTICULAR, “AMERICAN-STYLE”) RELIGIONS. There is a reason that chirpy music and jumping services win over people quickly: they appeal to the senses, and are easily embraced by the noisy hearts of those in the western world. If we are trying to pass on Orthodoxy to our children, the idea of emulating modernized religious life is truly absurd, since it fails to pass on to them the unique tools that only Orthodoxy has to give. Orthodox eyes that see timeless, unchanging truth, an Orthodox mind that understands the teachings of the Apostles’ faith, Orthodox ears that are drawn to eternal beauty, and an Orthodox heart that is trained in the inner stillness of prayer: these are gifts that the Orthodox faith gives. Our children need them. If we have access to them, and we fail to take the necessary steps to give them to our children, we have failed them.
As the Lord asks us, “If a son asks for bread from any fath


Source: http://www.pravmir.com/what-orthodox-families-must-do-to-keep-the-kids-orthodox/#ixzz3B4ETkF6P