orthodox mission



  • lol. 

    Please share the joke!
  • Here's another podcast on Orthodox Mission:

    "The mission is such a unique place. It's amazing how the poor are our teachers and open our eyes to the realities of what our Faith means.

    Not long after I was ordained to the diaconate I was asked by a seminary to give a lecture on Orthodox mission and what our mission does.

    Unfortunately the group was only able to come on a day that the mission was closed.

    I thought to myself "how could I teach about the mission without the community being present." Though I found it a little strange, I managed to muster up my skills from my teaching days and give them some understanding of what the mission is.

    We spent the greater part of the morning discussing the history of St John's, how the mission came to be, and how our various programmes developed.

    It was a delightful discussion, that is until the end, or so I thought…

    Once I opened the floor to questions one student asked "Father Deacon, I understand what it is you are doing but why are you doing it?"

    I paused for a moment then asked him to explain further.

    What he said next took me by surprise.

    He said, "Isn't the whole point of this to convert everyone? To make them all Orthodox?"

    Again I paused, my initial reaction was disappointment, I honestly felt I had let the students down because I had spent two hours talking to them, and he just came and told me that "Aren't we supposed to evangelize them all?"

    I then began to speak about St John the Merciful and why we call him the Compassionate one. 

    I explained how the word compassionate comes from a Latin word meaning "to suffer with". In its greater form it is a deep awareness of someone else's suffering, making it so that you want them not to suffer.

    In other words, compassionate means to suffer with another.

    St John was a model of this, that led the mission to follow his path. 

    The room went quiet, everybody was contemplating on what I had just spoken. 

    Instead of getting angry or agitated I actually looked around the mission and I saw all the empty tables and I began to think that I serve every day.

    I remembered on the day of my ordination to the Diaconate, how many of the people from the mission actually came? I was amazed.

    And while I was giving my speech at my ordination, I metioned something that I didn't actually have written. And I said that "I'm not ordained to serve only the parish but everybody in this community..."

    At that moment I finally broke the silence by sharing a quote by St John the Merciful himself. I said, "Those whom you call poor and beggars, these I proclaim my masters and helpers, for they and they only are really able to help us and bestow upon us the kingdom of heaven."

    I told the young man that by thinking that our sole purpose was to convert everyone we're putting a pricetag on compassion. This in turn makes us no better than other groups who say "I will give you this piece of bread, but you must attend Bible study on this such and such day or come to Church on this certain day."

    I remembered all the people I had spoken to since I started working at the mission and how many of them even knew where the Chapel actually was. I explained how we had two tables at the mission.

    The table of the Rich and the table of the Poor. And sometimes people will never cross over from the table of the poor to the table of the rich. Some will but it may take a lifetime. 

    As I reflected on this I was glad that the question was raised. It brought about a very fruitful discussion and opened the eyes of many including my own. 

    Like some who don't actually know, it wasn't too long that I too thought this way. Though the young man didn't agree with what we were doing in terms of 'not evangelizing aggressively' and 'that we shouldn't be helping non-Orthodox', I couldn't help but empathize with him. I prayed that God would open his eyes further.

    As I prayed about this, God opened my eyes to see that the young man was one of the poor that St John referred to. The poor are my masters and helpers. He wasn't much different than the homeless or the poor person, who comes and eats at the mission and doesn't want to talk about God. The young man wanted to discuss God, but refused to be poor. He lacked knowledge that compassion means to carry each others burdens, to walk with someone who's poor, down a path that is lonely and dark, and to encourage that person that they are not alone. 

    Compassion truly has no price."

    Compassion Has No Price, Parables of Community, February 09, 2015

  • "Their enduring love and commitment to Christ has made it possible for future generations to come to know God. And as we are embraced by Christ and become one with Him, our lives are transformed into living icons of our Lord and of His sacrificial love for the world. The dogmas, teachings and traditions that were defended, therefore, are not antiquated theories, philosophies, or broken rubrics. They are tangible guides and spiritual directives for how we ought to live our lives according to the Holy Gospel.
    Beloved brothers and sisters, perhaps now more than ever before, it is important to declare our Orthodox Christian Faith, for the world is suffering and desperately searching for peace and reconciliation. As the world produces distorted images of the truth, we must share the beauty of the Gospel. As the world resorts to violence and hatred, we must respond with love and forgiveness. And as the world falls deeper into despair, let us ask God to grant us courage to endure and to allow us to serve as icons of hope for our neighbor."

    Archbishop Demetrios of America on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, 2015
  • "We express Orthodox mission incarnationally. When the people you're reaching out to, particularly when they are poor, you really have to get out of your head. You have to start with the body as St James says in his epistle, "if someone comes to you and says I'm hungry or I am cold, don't say to them 'God bless you' or 'the Lord loves you'. But begin by feeding them and clothing them."

    And this is what I mean by incarnationally. 

    You have to start with the body. 

    How do you welcome a person who is cold, hungry, anxious, angry, afraid? How does practical Orthodox theology express itself when it attempts to reach out in compassion? How do we evangelize without using words? 

    It would follow common sense that depending on a Church's theology the manifestation of this Divine Philanthropy would look, touch, smell and taste different.

    Over the years, it is in the physical expression of Orthodox theology that we have learned to appreciate the theology, the dogmas of the Church, of the Fathers, over and over again, the last twenty eight years, we learn that door is the most important ingredient to an Orthodox mission. 

    It wasn't so long ago when I remember as a child knowing that Churches were always open. I remember the discomfort I felt when as a young boy I learned from my priest that because of insurance policies now the Church would be closed more of the time. It seemed sacrilegious, unthinkable  for me as a young boy to imagine that the doors of a Church ever closed. Today no longer does this shock any of us, it is normal.

    Is it coincidence, I have been thinking lately, that it was around this same time that in our society we started to see a dramatic decline in attendance. 

    The mission can't be open twenty four hours, seven days a week, but we find that either through the bakery or because of different programmes, or liturgies are going on in the building, the mission is pretty close to being always open. One of my dreams is that it would never close.

    But a door can be both a sign of welcome and a sign of exclusion. A door even be a way to be selective to who you let in. People know that when they walk into our door, they know that they will not be turned away. Sometimes for safety reasons this policy has been challenged. We can't allow certain people for example who are inebriated or people who would be a danger to themselves as they came into the building. 

    So we learned to open the door in reverse. What I mean by this is in those cases we'll extend the mission to the street. In some cases where a person has to be served a meal on the steps of the mission, we will do that, opening the door in reverse. Taking the food out to the person but also making sure that one of the mission people keeps company with the person so that they don't eat by themselves. 

    Sometimes it's not even possible for the person so close with other people, it is a danger to themselves and others to be in the mission and so we will open the door in reverse by meeting that person in a local coffee shop.

    Not everyone can or is ready to walk through the doors of the Church, as we are referred to by the neighbours, they always refer to the mission as the Church. Even when someone comes in, some may not want to talk to anybody, others prefer to be left alone, some carry sorrows, others carry a lot of rage. And the door of the mission then becomes a physical expression that the Kingdom of God is truly among us and its doors, like the doors of Peter's house in Capernaum, are open wide to receive the suffering of people.

    I don't recall anyone removing our roof yet to come inside like in Peter's house. Although some have tried to come in through the window. But they were not looking for healing but for something to take home. 

    The doors being unconditionally open, what this means is that at anytime someone could come in and disturb, challenge or as is often the case, demand that you let them squeeze you with a bear hug. And all depending what you are doing at that moment it can be a very beautiful moment or also very frustrating. 

    There are actually three doors in the mission. The first one opens the street into the hall, or the trapezia. Another way to see it, it opens the doors of the street to the Church. 

    The second set of doors are guarded by angels that were painted by a man who was living in his car at the time parked permanently in front of the mission. These angelic doors lead into the Chapel, what could be referred to as the Nave. 

    And then there are a third set of doors referred to as the Beautiful Gates, which lead into the Altar area. 

    Each door potentially flows into the next. But each person has a particular journey. I have seen people sit outside the Chapel doors for over several decades until one day they took the step and walked into the Church. 

    Others almost without effort are led by an invisible hand to the very steps of the beautiful gates. 

    When a person enters through one of these doors, they're no longer just entering a social service programme. Our Orthodox theology of the meaning of matter and of space, makes what happens within these consecrated walls, part of each person's journey towards God. 

    Each room contains the presence of the Holy Spirit because in each room there is a table. Each of the doors opens to a table. In the hall, in the trapezia, the table of the poor is found. Where St John Chrysostom says "we can celebrate in the Sacrament of the brother." 

    In the Chapel, there's also a table, the Table of the Lord. 

    In both we are challenged by St Paul to discern the Body of Christ at the risk of our own condemnation. For it is not just the poor that are on this journey towards God, but also those who come to serve. We too must and need to learn to come and to see where God dwells."

    The Doors, the Doors, Parables of Community, August 07, 2014 
  • Here's a documentary on Fr David Kirk (Memory Eternal) who was director of Emmaus House in Harlem.
  • Here's a documentary of another house of hospitality (this time an Eastern Rite Catholic community):
    The Welcome Home
  • Here's also something that came out of the Council of Nicea which we don't hear quoted enough:

    Canon LXX (70) of The Captions of the Arabic Canons Attributed to the Council of Nicea.

    "Of the hospital to be established in every city, and of the choice of a superintendent and concerning his duties."


    "Houses of hospitality must be built for the poor in every city of every diocese"

  • "Christian love is always both human and Divine (beware of anyone who mixes or divides these two). To be active it needs to be rooted in the beloved community; it must flow out of the concrete, lived reality of local Eucharistic community.

    From the beginning of its history, this sense of “Diakonia” has been present in the Church. It has always been so present and so immediate that it is even a sacrament in the concrete person of the deacon. Diakonia is personalized in the Church to the point of a sacrament! When you look at the rubrics of Eastern Liturgy, you notice that a “normal” Eucharist requires a deacon. This is not just a ritual custom; it is so because Diakonia is an integral part of each community and it is the way in which the very nature and mission of the Church is expressed. This is a far cry from seeing deacons as mini-priests or glorified altar boys!

    The future that our experience of the gospel points is a way of love practiced at personal costs by small parishes, communities and families. Supported by some “professionals” but not replaced by them."

    An Orthodox Priest in 1992
  • More on Diakonia:

    & http://www.iocc.org/orthodoxdiakonia/index.php?id=p5


    The Church inherited the main body of its teachings on assisting the poor from the Old Testament, preserving these doctrines and giving them a new context in the light of the example of its founder, Jesus Christ, who "came into the world not to be served but to serve" (Mark 10:45).

    The apostles continued to live in accordance with Jesus' teachings, "devoting themselves to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:45).

    According to the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 6) the deacons were the first to be called to service in the name of Christ, which meant that this "diakonia" also came to be written into the duties of the other levels of the priesthood. It was the deacon's task to be "the hands of the bishop" under the bishop's direction, while the priests were responsible for helping the bishop to look after and teach the flock of Christian people.

    Prior to the times of Constantine the Great, the giving of assistance and hospitality was part of the Christian's creed: Every Christian was expected to provide lodging for three nights to any stranger who came to his house. In early times, however, the responsibility for accommodation lay with the priests and the bishop, while the financial resources of the local congregations were divided between the poor, the sick and the church building funds.

    Witness, teaching and diakonia were inseparable in the Early Church, so that the third-century church in Rome, for instance, had more than a thousand people who had devoted their lives to Christian diaconal work.

    A common calling but different talents

    Early Christianity stood out from other elements in society by virtue of the greater emphasis it placed on equality between individuals, and this was reflected in the existence of deaconesses as well as deacons. They, too, were consecrated by the laying on of hands and were responsible for both charitable work and the teaching of Christianity to women.

    The relations between bishops, priests, deacons and laymen in the Early Church were based on the notion of having a common calling but different talents. This was evident in the induction of priests into different tasks within the Church, which involved not only an appeal for the guidance of the Holy Spirit but also the participation of the whole congregation in the installation of a new servant of the Church.

    The work of the priests in the Ancient Church always had both a liturgical and a social dimension.

    Sharing in the Early Church

    Following the Edict of Milan in A.D. 312, the Church's administration was adapted to that of New Rome, and its charitable work was developed to a point where each church also served as a diaconal centre.

    The importance of "diakonia" was also acknowledged in the canons of the Church. The Council of Nicea in A.D. 381 declared that "Houses of hospitality must be built for the poor in every city of every diocese" and the Apostolic Constitutions (§59) stated that, the providing of assistance to poor was a duty for all bishops, priests and deacons.

    At this stage churches and charitable institutions began to be built with state funds, and principles upheld by Christianity, such as acts of charity, began to exercise influence in a whole.

    It was through Christianity that human equality first became a cornerstone of European social policy.

    Pure souls, not costly garments

    The Church Fathers laid emphasis on the relationship between the Eucharist and social justice. Since many of the Fathers were monks, the monasteries developed into centres for diaconal work.

    "The Lord ate from a common bowl, and asked the disciples to sit on the grass. He washed their feet, with a towel wrapped around his waist - He, who is the Lord of the universe! He drank water from a jug of earthenware, with the Samaritan woman. Christ made use his aim, not extravagance" (St. John Chrysostom).

    "Feeding the hungry is a greater work than raising the dead" (St. John Chrysostom).

    "The Body of Christ in the Eucharist demands pure souls, not costly garments" (St. John Chrysostom).

    "We are all of the same family; all of us are brothers. And among brothers it is best and most equal that all inherit equal portions" (St. Gregory of Nyssa).

    "The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help." (St. Basil the Great)

    "Wealth, which so often leads men the wrong way, is seen less for its qualities than for the human misery it stands for. The large rooms of which you are so proud are in fact your shame. They are big enough to hold crowds and also big enough to shut out the voice of the poor. True, even if the voice were heard, it would be ignored.... The poor man cries before your house, and you pay no attention. There is your brother, naked, crying, and you stand confused over the choice of an attractive floor covering." (St. Ambrose)

    Mission and diakonia

    The complex diaconal structure of the church of New Rome disappeared in the course of the 15th century, when the overthrow of Constantinople and the loss of the old patriarchates to Islam meant that the Orthodox Church moved to new areas.

    One of the outstanding examples of Orthodox missions in these new areas was the work of St. Stefan of Perm (1340-1396) in Northwest Russia. For him witness was an inseparable part of diakonia, and his successful proclamation of the Gospel went hand in hand with charity and a humble attitude towards the clash of cultures.

    The notable Russian monastery builder Joseph of Volokolamsk (1439-1515) similarly emphasized charity, so that his monastery came to feed as many as 5000 people a day. He also underlined the need for good order in the life of a monastery, as this was essential to the achieving of the necessary capacity for social work.

    Another major monastic figure of the same period, Nilus of Sora (1433-1508), chose to favour self-denial and poverty, believing that simplicity and service did not call for a grand framework in order to be effective.

    Brotherhoods and sisterhoods

    The reforms begun by Peter the Great in the 18th century undermined the role of the parishes and monasteries as diaconal centres, and various brotherhoods and sisterhoods emerged to take care of the Church's social work. These had an immense influence on the process of rediscovering the Orthodox sense of social responsibility on the threshold of the Industrial Revolution.

    There were many of these brotherhoods, placing emphasis on different aspects of charitable work: feeding the hungry, taking care of orphans and helping alcoholics.

    Among the best-known organizers of social work in the early 20th century were the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna and St. John of Kronstadt.
  • edited March 2015
    Here it appears that works of mercy are also linked to Theosis. It makes me wonder if Orthodox Mission is deeply rooted in living our baptism, in the implications of Deification. I also wonder what happens when an Orthodox "mission" or a Church denies or suppresses the teaching of Theosis.

    Here's what one "Eastern" Orthodox Father says:
    "Nothing is so fitted for deification…and nearness to God as mercy offered with pleasure and joy to those who stand in need. For if the Word has shown that the person who is in need of having good done to him is God - "inasmuch as you have done it,"(Mt24:40) - then He will much more show that the person, who can do good and does it, is truly God by grace and participation, because he has taken on a proper imitation of the energy (energia)…of His own kindness."
    - St Maximus the Confessor, Mystagogy 24 (PG 91 713A-B)

    And here's what one of our "Oriental" Orthodox Fathers says:
    "There is yet another way (of demonstrating the Incarnation), which is not theoretical in nature: namely, the certainty that results from (spiritual) exercise and inner purification. The fathers, who along this path have arrived at the utmost end, have testified that the Christian faith alone is true. The proof of this is their attainment of contact with God to the extent that (divine) traces of him became manifest in them, as well as their constancy in that faith and their devotion to it until they offered themselves up (in martyrdom) without separation from it and in obedience to it." - Al-Safı ibn al-Assal, Brief Chapters on the Trinity and the Union, ch. 9 ed. Khalil Samir, SJ, in Patrologia Orientalis 42.3, no. 192 (Brepols: Turnhout/Belgique, 1985). Trans. S. Davis.

    So maybe the saints become Christ. They are deified, and live out kenosis and love incarnate. They are willing to go to the lowest parts of Sheol to say to their brothers and sisters, behold even here Love abides.

    I could be misreading though.
  • mission is about getting people into heaven. Simple.

    Thinking of heaven as a place and thinking of mission as a (moralist) duty to get as many people in there seems to be more of a Protestant reductionist mode of thinking. That way of thinking also might mirror islamic modes of thought where all must be subdued or conquered, or converted to "people of the book."

    I'm not sure Orthodox mission speaks in either of these modes.

    Also see "The Problem of Going to Heaven" http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2015/03/03/the-problem-with-going-to-heaven/
  • One of the commentors in that previous blog post writes:

    "The problem with the Bible as “A Holy Book” is that such an idea is fundamentally anti-incarnational. It ignores the fact that Jesus took on our full human nature so that we might share intimately in the divine nature, not from afar and not in subjection to anything but the ineffable love that gives rise to the incarnation.

    God’s will for us is mercy, transformation and freedom. Most human beings would rather not be free. We prefer our slavery either to sin or the obedience to some form of law and/or morality.

    The meaning of the Gospel is greatly changed by whether one looks upon it as something we must do or something into which we must be changed by the grace of our Creator. As Father Stephen has said often: Jesus Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live.

    That is why Orthodox missiology is defined by feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and the orphaned as well as teaching the truth of the Church but excluding no one."
  • Here's a curious statement on Mission by HG Bishop Youssef of SUS Diocese:

    Q: Could in the future we see an Orthodox Church in America, non-ethnic means non-Coptic?

    A: Let me say it this way, let’s look at church history. When St Mark went to Egypt, St Mark went by himself. Yes there were some Jewish people living in Egypt, for on the Day of Pentecost when you read in Acts 2, some of the people who were present were people from Egypt. But the Egyptian spirituality – or the Coptic – because Coptic means Egyptian – spirituality grew over the years, and St Mark gave them the foundation, but he allowed the spirituality of the Egyptian Church, of the Coptic Church, to grow.

    For example, in Antioch we hear about the Antiochian Orthodox spirituality. Armenia – we hear about the Armenian Orthodox spirituality. When we speak about the Armenian Orthodox spirituality, Indian Orthodox spirituality, Ethiopian Orthodox spirituality, we are speaking about the work of the Holy Spirit in this specific culture. The work of the Holy Spirit in the Egyptian culture, in the Armenian culture, Syriac culture, and so on.

    Here in America, the situation is a little bit different, because the Church here in America, I’m speaking about the Coptic Church, serving until now mainly the immigrants. And until now, the percentage of the immigrants to the citizens who were born here and grew up here, actually the majority are the immigrants. For this reason we are in a transitional period. And even up until the past 2-3 years, the numbers of immigration were decreasing, but the 2nd and 3rd generation started to grow, and the Church actually was tuned towards the American culture. But in the last 3 years, a lot of Egyptians immigrated to America. All of us felt this phenomenon, that we began to go back to the 70s and 80s, when the immigrants started to be more than the citizens.

    Besides, here we don’t do an active preaching or evangelism among the American culture. The ones who join us just for the sake of the Church are very few, but mostly they join because of marriage. That’s actually facts, I’m not discussing whether it’s right or wrong, I’m just sharing with you the facts of the situation.

    Of course, the future is in the hand of the Lord. But, what I can expect in the future, is that the 2nd and 3rd generation will grow and it is our task and our calling and our responsibility to keep them inside the Church. For this reason the people who want to impose the Egyptian culture on the Church, who want Arabic liturgies, Arabic language, etc – wrong! If we do this, we will lose the 2nd and 3rd generation. We need actually to keep the culture American. About the doctrine and the dogmas, it will remain Orthodox, pure, with no change. But the culture – and culture is broader than the language. Some people think that culture just means we speak English. No, the culture is a broader term than the language. And we must keep the American culture here. Yes I know we are in a transitional period right now, but it will pass.

    And after this I hope – just like we spoke about the Coptic spirituality, Armenian spirituality, Antiochian spirituality – I hope that one day we will speak about the American spirituality: the work of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox of America. We cannot make the American spirituality by taking this from the Evangelical or Protestant American churches – only this is the “American spirituality”?! That’s very dangerous and very, very risky. American spirituality is the work of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church in the people who live here in America. This will be clear in the American culture, and the Orthodox Church here will truly be a light shining in the middle of America.

    We had a meeting last month here at St Stephen’s with all the bishops of North America – United States and Canada – and some of the fathers who started what they call the “mission church”. Actually, we discussed whether the nomenclature of “mission church” was correct or not. “Mission church” means that we have to do mission. The one who is doing mission should not sit in the middle of Florida and say I’m going to do a mission church, and then I take the Copts who are already in the Church – and say ‘This is a mission church’.

    If I want to do a mission church, I should do it in Dakota, for example, where there are no Copts at all. Then this will be a mission church. If I want do a mission church, I should do it in a state where there are no Copts at all. This makes sense – it’s a mission church.

    But we agreed that we should name these churches ‘American Orthodox Church’ or ‘American Coptic Orthodox Church’. That is, it’s Coptic in its roots, but it is in the American culture.

    For example, if we start an American Orthodox Church, what do we mean by this? We mean we will make sure that everything in this church 100% should be American in the culture. I’m speaking here about the culture, but the faith is the Orthodox faith. Actually I started to plan in every state we will have one church like this to be purely in the American culture, and I chose actually the first state to start this will be in Tennessee, in Nashville. Why in Nashville, Tennessee? Because over there, the majority is Egyptian. The 2nd generation and some converts are lost, for this reason, I’m thinking of starting the American Orthodox Church in Tennessee.

    One of the requirements of the priest we will ordain there is that he doesn’t understand Arabic at all! But I’m scared they’ll teach him Arabic there!

    From http://returntoorthodoxy.com/bishop-youssef-orthodox-mission/
  • http://www.stsilouan.org/priestmusings/Lenten Diary 2015 Week One.html

    Lenten Diary 2015 Week One

    Forgiveness Sunday. Golden cloths and shimmering candle-light. People standing together, a few, then many; intimately, quietly. Many faces, many names, I know, some I do not. Silence and peace reign here, though turmoil and inner noise come in with us. Into the garden.

    It's good to see Steve here standing behind the choir, in his spot. Not here in her spot is Baba: how can we walk into Lent without her? Will she find a way to come with us even now? Her seat is occupied by a Coptic priest whose presence brings beauty. Many young people stand here, many people of all ages. People walk in from time to time, some greeting others whom they know. We're here together, for our own reasons, perhaps some pure and some less pure, but it doesn't seem as though God is asking our reasons. It seems he is simply pleased to see us.

    This in itself is rather remarkable; many of us don't expect anyone to be happy because we've walked into the room.

    The priest sings, the deacon, the choir, chords fitting harmoniously into my consciousness and drawing out peace from me, peace I'd forgotten I have. As the choir sings, "My prayers rise like incense," the incense begins to rise, softly, sweetly. In the harshness of life, can such things be! They must.

    The prayers sung by the choir, the longing and hope, fill my soul. "Let us cleanse our soul and cleanse our flesh! Let us abstain from every passion as we abstain from food!" Their voices help give meaning to eating and drinking, to bodies, a connection between soul and body. Do our little efforts, our little trials and failures and successes, matter? This vespers whispers Yes. How strengthening to enter into this time together, and to be taught and sustained by these ancient liturgical texts, this long long tradition of humans turning towards the inner desert.

    As we sing, the melodies change, the colours change: gold and white turn to purple and deep red, the Lenten tones are heard once again, so beautiful. Last Pascha when we said good-bye to them it was with some sadness; why should there be sweetness in entering into Lent, the time when we turn and face Hell, the hells we have made for ourselves and others, the decay and corruption we live in but generally hide from? I could take the physical fast, perhaps, without the sweetness of the liturgy; but I couldn't take the spiritual struggle.

    All too soon, the vespers ends and we go out of this blessed chapel into the blessed space of the refectory, where so many tears have been shed, so many meals served, so much work and labour and futility and real transformation! Shabby and prosaic, with the chairs stacked in the corners and the well-worn vinyl floor, but glorious too, shining. The Church, the real Church where God and his people meet, is tangible here.

    We gather in a large circle four or five people deep. The priest asks his people's forgiveness for not carrying them well enough, for not always having time or patience for them even in prayer. He asks forgiveness on behalf of the Church, for times they have been hurt by it. Everybody gathered here then takes time to forgive and be forgiven by each other: each person exchanges words of forgiveness - human and divine - with every person in the room, if they wish. As they do, the choir sings the Paschal hymns.

    For half an hour, all we hear are murmurings of forgiveness and hymns of resurrection. "Forgive me." "I forgive as God forgives." "God forgives you, and I forgive you." This, then, is the Kingdom? Forgiveness and mercy? They must be, for here on earth we so desperately need them, and so rarely acknowledge that we do. Our armour protects us even from knowing we are hurt or hurting. Here the armour isn't taken away, but becomes soft and supple, as the unspoken is spoken, and the heart for once takes first place. Forgiveness, mercy, and the Paschal hymns: Lent begins with echoes of Easter streaming through. Maybe that's why we can take courage to go into Lent, because it too reveals the resurrection, even the darkness shimmers with light, as the shadowy chapel does, and as (perhaps) our hearts do too.

    It's good, good, to say and hear these words of forgiveness, this touch of the hand, with people known and unknown, little children to whom I bend down, tall men to whom I reach up, old and infirm who slowly, slowly take my hand and kiss my cheek, even unborn babies bringing their forgiveness to us who offer them such a broken world. Forgive us, little ones. Let us give you at least this heritage of mercy and forgiveness, and teach you to love it and carry it with you all your lives.

    At last, all have given and received words of forgiveness, and the phrase "God forgives" has been echoed all round the church and in every ear over and over and over; perhaps we may start to hear it, one day. We come back to the cross and the choir begins, slowly, meaningfully: "Christ is risen from the dead..." the people pick up the words and tone, and the hearts now entering the desert go with this proclamation,"... trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life." We go to the cross knowing the Risen One is among us already; and knowing the cross is among us. We enter Lent with the song of victory on our lips. This moment makes me weep. I know, I know, that this is true. Long ago, I begged God: "show me this is true, make me to know this is true - that Christ is risen from the dead and death is trampled!" And he has shown me, and still so much of me forgets, doubts, wonders, seeks. How my soul absorbs the joined voices, here in this darkling plain, claiming the light.

    First Monday in Lent. Great canon. I am sick. So no candle light and sweet songs for me, except in my heart.

    Tuesday in Clean Week. Canon and Compline are beautiful, pure, intense, distilled. Begging for God's mercy, over and over, for all of us, for all our sins and sinfulness; I feel aware of human sinfulness, collectively and personally, and I feel the whole sweep of human history, as I generally do after the canon since that is what it's about. I wonder what I am doing for God or man, and what God or man are doing for me, too! Have I failed you, God, or have you failed me? What are those dreams of my heart and have I given up on them?

    Wednesday of first week in Lent. The Presanctified, the first of this Lent, was... pure. St Silouan Parish has flowered in its Lenten liturgies. The choir prays together in their song, and the people pray together. I am struck anew with the improbability that this place should exist, that such beauty in the desert should have come to be. The desert has become more barren, the surrounding city and the global climate far starker than when St John's was first planted here two decades ago. And the chapel and its jewel of a liturgy have grown in beauty, with a glowing-red heart like a ruby.

    "Holy Presanctified things are for the holy." Are we holy, then? Is there holiness enough after all, despite everything? Are you really just waiting for us to come home, loving us, enjoying our beauty, eager to have us with you? How could it be so? Is it like that with you, Lord, when you see us?

    Walking into the chapel and letting the ruby-red flower take over is good, good. I long for bread and soup, and clear cold water, afterwards.

  • http://www.stsilouan.org/priestmusings/Lenten Diary 2015 Week One.html


    Friday in Clean Week. The first Akathist Hymn of this Great Lent. At first a sprinkling of people but as the Hymn progresses, they gather. The Mother of God. I hear her in the Hymn, so many images and terms for her. I see her surrounded by flowers, pink and white; they were arranged carefully by one of the women who come regularly to the Mission during the day, and early today she showed me proudly the fruit of her work. I look at the Theotokos, holding Jesus, and have a glimpse of why God became man and not woman - only woman could carry him and hold him - in this way the fullness of woman/man is accomplished in the Incarnation.

    Amid this gentleness, I feel the pain and anguish of the world: the terrible violence and rupture growing like a blood-spill in the Middle East, the word "martyrdom" suddenly with new, present meaning rather than an ancient term as it has always been, the 21 Egyptians dying with the name Christ on their lips. The turmoil and upheaval here in our country - where people are clamouring for the "right to die," not the Charter-enshrined right to live - where hurt and hurting people, confusion and depression, seem everywhere. The torment we are in. And at the end of the service, we are told this: If you are worried about the world, if you are trying to figure it out, then come to Church - come to Christ. So simple.

    I stay after prayer and do my best to heed this word, and simply come to Christ, and not tell him or plan or work anything out. I feel the turmoil within, too. But I am not alone. Silent figures are dotted around the chapel. Reader after reader sings the words of the Psalms, the ancient dialogue between the human heart in its present pain and God in his mercy. I sit with them and him for a long time.

    This week has reminded me how the body and the soul need each other. The Church is always reminding us that the soul is the higher reality, but nonetheless they are stuck together, and if the Incarnation is real then that stuck-togetherness is God's intention and good for us and to be lived deeply, not discarded. The liturgies of Lent are so very tactile, so much of the flesh, from prostrations and fasting to incense and gentle-light-in-the-darkness. Because during Lent the body is persistently pressed, the soul flows (like those olives being pressed into oil, or grapes into wine). Somehow this first week of Lent has helped me realize my body is crying out in need of my soul, as a child cries for its mother. The soul cries for the body too but in a different way; I recall a funeral hymn lament of the soul's anguish, torn from the body at the moment of its death. So body cries out to soul, and both together are held in Christ. This is what the Church really does know how to do.
  • edited March 2015
    "Orthodox teenagers were speaking disparagingly about forms of worship they had experienced at an ecumenical service.

    Girl: 'They even had guitars in church.'
    Another girl: 'We had to sing - and mime! - a "harvest" thanksgiving chorus about MacDonald's hamburgers!' [I was treated to a rendition.]

    S.M.: 'I'd feel an idiot singing that in a church! But be careful to get your reasons for being so scathing right! At least they were thanking God, singing about Christ. That's quite something nowadays. You can glorify God by a guitar. Or just enjoy it anyway, there's no sin in that. The really important point is not that it was laughably corny, but that it is a mistake to keep adapting the Liturgy, to replace inspired services. It is not wrong in itself to add another means of worshipping for other moments.'

    Girl: 'The girls at school don't want it; the teachers make it up to try and be up to date.'

    S.M.: 'Yes, to "keep the young people in Church". C.S. Lewis says, "If something is not eternal, it is eternally out of date." Look at the rock charts. By the time you compose a service based on this week's style and get it approved by a liturgical committee you'll be ages behind the fashion and have to start again. And there's no guarantee you're inspiring truth about God. It is not a service tested by centuries of praying saints. I'd rather struggle to pray like St. John Chrysostom myself. It's more sure. And it will take me a lifetime to get all I can out of it. The things that don't matter so much can change week by week.'"

    From Sister Magdalen of Essex's "Conversations with Children: Communicating our Faith," (Essex: Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 2004) 194-6. ISBN 1874679215.

    I wonder if borrowing from other Orthodox Churches would be considered "behind the fashion" or relearning from centuries of praying saints in our EO and OO Churches.
  • Interesting observations by Fr Peter:

    An interview with Fr Peter Farrington By Fr. Daoud Lamie
  • Here's an interesting blog post referencing Fr Athanasius Farag:

    A biblical model for mission: Fr. Athanasius Farag

    The following is based on the teaching of Fr. Athanasius Farag, my spiritual father and a mentor to many, who teaches a great patristic bible study on Sunday nights.

    The dialogue of Christ with the Samaritan woman in John 4 serves a basic model for how a Christian engages in mission. Here are some guiding principles from the text.

    1) Beyond Barriers

    There are often artificial but significant barriers that prevent humans from honestly engaging with each other in authentic dialogue. Ethnic, racial, gender, and religious are a few. Jesus broke them all in a single conversation. He spoke with someone of a different ethnic group, with a different religious practice who was a different gender...all radical things, especially for the time.

    Our first principle is to meet people with one label only; they are a human being in the image of God. That is the basic platform for conversation. People can tell when you look down on them for whatever reason. Christ never did that. He treated others as equals. And He RESPECTED religious differences.

    He's God. He invented the way to worship....yet He was willing to hear a woman out who spoke to Him about the way she worshiped and responded with love and respect. Can we not do the same?

    2) Elevate the Average

    In this encounter in John 4, everything seemed "ordinary." The place wasn't "special" and neither was the time or atmosphere. The only thing that made it holy, was the presence of God. Our spiritual encounters are not made spiritual by where they happen, but because God is present with us in all places and fills all. One church father puts it "Everything the Christian does is SPIRITUAL because he does it by the Spirit of God in him."

    Jesus met a woman at the water cooler. He elevated a potentially ordinary conversation into one that saved a woman and her entire village. We have the divine, God-given ability to raise our conversations from meaningless small talk to a means of salvation. Just a casual chat that's intentional and filled with love can go deeper.

    We must have the awareness to sanctify the "average" and see that nothing is actually average. There's no such thing. Our life is ALL holy. There aren't "spiritual" parts on Sunday's and then "other." It's all spiritual and all has the power to save.

    3) Divine Dialogue

    Even God didn't just stand there and bark out orders at people. And if anyone is entitled to do it, it'd be Him. He chose discussion. He ASKED QUESTIONS and engaged her mind. What humility!

    Through the dialogue, He reached the point of touching her human need. Every heart is in need and is seeking to fill that God shaped hole by one way or another. "You have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts remain restless until they find rest in you." writes St. Augustine.

    We must be brave enough to have an honest conversation that goes beyond the surface and touches the reality of our human needs.

    4) Real Revelation

    This isn't a gimmick. Sharing Christ isn't like selling a used car where it's a series of empty manipulative strategies. The ultimate way a heart sees Jesus is through revelation. God reveals Himself. We get to be A PART of that process, but we certainly don't create it. (Thankfully) It's Jesus who must reveal Jesus.

    This takes the edge off a bit. We have no role to force. If the living Christ is real, any heart seeking Him will by no means be cast out.

    5) Watch the Witness

    At the end of the encounter, the Samaritan woman became a witness. She went and spoke to her village about the Man met and even though she was blown away by the unique and life changing meeting, she wasn't an arrogant know-it-all now. "Could this be the Christ?" She asked. It's a question that raises some eyebrows. We'll have to check this guy out for ourselves.

    That's the ultimate goal of the Christian witness; to raise an eyebrow. We evoke enough curiosity in people so that they must "come and see" themselves. They can't believe God second-hand based on our faith. That never lasts.

    Jesus is too personal for that. He's not interested in hand-me-down faith. He wants to meet every individual heart where it is. Perhaps our role is just to remind those around us that "no one ever spoke like this man.."

    There's just SOMETHING about this Jesus that must be seen for ourselves...Could this be the Christ?
  • Church as a community

    The Asceticism of the Open Door

    Last week, FatherDeacon Pawel shared at our weekly clergy meeting the story of a Church that was celebrating its 105th anniversary. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy the priest announced that this was the last liturgy in that Church, the parish would be closed due to lack of membership. Over 100 years ago the founders of the Church walked through the doors of the Church he said, but later he reminded them, "you closed those doors behind you with other people locked out."

    Now they faced the reality that the Church had just a few members left. It is part of human nature to simply take care of one's own, to talk to our friends, to reach out to those with whom we feel more comfortable or attracted to. But a Church is a community and a specific type of community. The Church is the Body of Christ on Earth and it includes all, it excludes none. In fact if there is a preference it is for those whom the world considers unattractive and uninteresting, yet even in our own parish here in Toronto, I'm reminded how we find people excluded, sitting by themselves often Sunday after Sunday ignored. 

    Recently, guests told me that this is what struck them about our parish, groups that are clearly comfortable with each other but also people who clearly do not belong anywhere. If the Agape meal is the liturgy after the Liturgy, if it is the experience among us that because we have received the Heavenly Food all is changed, then the Agape meal needs to reflect this change even in our social relationships.

    We're very careful not to break the fast with food but are we as careful to live these new relationships in Christ where the least among us is loved, welcomed or at least included in our conversation?

    I've just recently been reminded how Baba who has recently gone to be with the Lord, how she would draw people in, literally call them to be part of our parish. Without her outreach some of these people would have slipped away and been lost to themselves and the Church.

    Asceticism is a struggle to love, to live in a way that is reflective of what we have become, of what we have received in Communion. It begins right at the dismissal when the priest says "Let us go forth in peace..." and as we set the tables for the Agape meal. The meal of Love.

    I remember a few years ago being at an Agape in France, everyone around us broke the fast in groups, Wine, Sausages, Cheeses were shared. Only our group that was made up of visibly poor people ate old stale bread, boiled potatoes and eggs that we brought. No one talked to us, no one offered us any food. The singing at the divine liturgy was amazing. The liturgical discussions that followed the liturgy were truly out of this world, the service was deeply theological, but I will never forget the coldness that followed. 

    It is natural for relationships to be erotic. I like you, You like me, that's the kind of thing. But the meal after the liturgy is intentionally called the Agape meal because that is where we are challenged to live what we have experienced in the Liturgy. The real test for any Orthodox parish including our own is how we embrace the least among us. This Lent, let us be Zealous in the Asceticism of the Open Door, as we are in keeping the fasting rules at each Agape.
  • Lessons from a Space

    Deacon Pawel, Lessons from a space.

    Usually parables of community are about a person or a persons but today I'd like to speak not about a person as such but about a place and what this space means. For those of you who've never been here a little lesson on the geography of St John the Compassionate mission.

    To start at the bottom of St Johns entering by a set of steps at the side of the building you will find yourself at the basement. The basement includes a laundry area essential for the daily work of the mission and the bakery which is actually a separate building next door to 155 Broadview Ave. The basement area also includes the office where all the administration and accounting of the mission, the thrift store and St John's bakery takes place.

    Then there's an open area that is used for various things including food for families, bridges on Wednesday evenings, catechism, orientation for new volunteers and so on. The furnace room which is next to this space doubles up for all kinds of storage and a workshop.

    To the rear is "the Cage", where food is stored and where freezers preserve our meats etc are to be found. There is also an area, hardly and office where Angela who does all our text stuff including our newsletters is to be found. At the very end of our basement is our sacristy which means that all the vestments used in the chapel go on an interesting little trip through the basement, up some steep steep stairs, through the main refectory area to the chapel, arriving a few feet above where they left from.

    If you would enter St John's via the main entrance the first thing you would see is the wall that separates the "hall" (in inverted commas) from the "chapel proper". On this wall is a large fresco of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, which in Orthodox Tradition is also an icon of the Holy Trinity. On the walls are frescos of several saints:

    St John the Compassionate who is the inspiration for the life of St John's

    St Maria of Paris who is the inspiration for the Lived Theology School

    St Silouan the Athonite who is the patron of the mission parish

    St Xenia of Saint Petersburg who is the patron of St Xenia house which is a house of transition from homelessness to housing.

    St Moses the Black who reminds us that the Church is without discrimination.

    And the fresco of Christ blessing the loaves and the fishes based on an ancient fresco of this subject, the artist who was a refugee volunteer at St John's some years ago made it personal to St John's as the faces of those depicted are faces of people who have been or are members of the community here. The face of Christ is that of what one could call a Toronto street Christ, you could see such a face here especially during the winter early morning breakfast programme. 

    This refectory area on Sundays and big feasts is transformed into an extension of the Chapel proper to accommodate all those who come here for services. So what is it at those times? Church? or Hall? or Refectory? In reality it is properly the Narthex of the Church and traditionally the Narthex was where tables would be setup after the Divine Liturgy for the faithful to eat a common meal similar to the Agape feast of the early Church.

    To the casual observer it appears to change from Church, to hall, and back to Church and back to hall again. But appearances deceive because it is in reality always Church. And in our life here, the Narthex is restored to its ancient and original function. 

    Only last week someone who has been attached to the life here for over twenty five years commented on an occasion where someone was using bad language in the basement and was rebuked by someone else who said "you can't speak like that here, this is a Church."

    Our views of what is and what is not Church are sometimes too narrow and too restrictive. 

    St John Chrysostom said that the Church should have two tables, a table of the Lord and a table of the poor. He spoke about Liturgy after the Liturgy, and what is this Liturgy after the Liturgy if it is not serving the poor and those in any kind of need? As poverty is so much more than the mere absence of wealth. The same person who made the comment on the basement as Church remarked, "at St John's serving the poor was the starting point not an add on to 'Churchy activities'"

    Or as the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius remarked many centuries ago, "the problem of these Christians is not only that they feed the members of their own community, they serve anyone in need." Marcus Aurelius saw such behaviour as a threat to the established order of the Empire and that is why he martyred so many Christians as an only way of controlling this abominable unRoman behaviour.

    Though they may not take part in any of the services at the mission, although of course some do, those who come here are in little doubt where they are coming, they are coming to the Church.

    Perhaps they have a better insight than some believers who do come here only for Church, for Worship, in that they recognize instinctively that Church is more than just a place, it is, or it should be a community of people, a community of people through whom the Liturgy flows, and that in fact it makes little difference where you are in the building or what you are doing in the building. It is all Church, it is all Liturgy, it is all about where the people of God assemble. So after all, this podcast is about people and not just about a place.

  • The Tenderness of God, The Tenderness of the Poor


    Part of the challenge and the beauty of living Orthodox mission is to learn to accept the tenderness of the God in our lives through the poor. One evening I was taking a walk through the neighborhood of the mission. I observed families and friends walking together enjoying one another and that evening I was feeling particularly alone. Out of nowhere Lucy crossed the street towards me.

    Lucy is a beautiful elderly woman who for a while lived at St Xenia house, one of the houses of the mission that practices hospitality. She lived at St Xenia house but had to leave because she couldn't handle the alcohol. And since that time I believe that Lucy had been couch surfing, that is, sleeping here and there wherever she could find somebody who would welcome her for the night. Lucy that evening came up to me and asked me if she could walk with me. I consented but I thought in my heart this is not really what I need right now but I realize that we have to stretch.

    So she takes me by the arm and here we are walking down Queen street arm in arm. At first I'm embarrassed, my thoughts were "this doesn't look good," she looks the part of a homeless person and people must wonder what is this man doing walking with a homeless woman arm in arm. But Lucy is particularly lovely this evening and talkative.

    She shares about her struggles, even of her hurt of being asked to leave St Xenia house. But she also shares how deeply the mission has helped her and her gratitude towards the mission for this.

    Then as fast as she appears she decides that it's time to go and bids me goodbye with a kiss on the cheek. That evening it was Lucy's turn to minister to me, to serve me, in my poverty.

    Another time I was walking on Queen street and this time I came across a couple. They were a First Nations couple who were living in the city, a most beautiful couple with a lot of dignity, that I have never seen completely sober. We greeted one another. They were panhandling. The man ordered me to stick out my hand. I obeyed. And soon enough he poured in them all the money he had received that day in his half eaten styrofoam cup. My first thought was "Oh this doesn't look good, the executive director of the mission exhorting money from the homeless". But I realized that in fact this was a moment of grace. The man said proudly to me "you always feed us, now it is our turn to help you." I accepted the money and thanked them with all my heart. And I recalled the words of Jesus when he said, "it is more blessed to give than to receive." That evening a couple, never quite sober, had helped a priest and in turn were blessed by the One who loves them and calls them by name.
  • Where the gospel is effectively preached, the heart is speaking, and the speaker is listening to hear the sound of the heart’s own door opening. Saint Paisios famously offered this observation:

    Often we see a person and we say a couple spiritual words to him and he converts. Later we say, “Ah, I saved someone.” I believe that the person who has the disposition and goodness within him, if he doesn’t convert from what we say, would convert from the sight of a bear or a fox or from anything else. Let us beware of false evangelization.

  • “And if the world is more tired than ever before of religion’s discourse and if the words do not move anyone, then we have a situation worse than that of the tower of Babel. It is not so much a confusion of languages but utter chaos at the very heart of language itself. We no longer understand each other. Communion is completely shattered and we exist only in isolation from each other.

    […]The only message which is powerful any longer is not the one which simply repeats the words of Christ, the Word, but the one which makes Him present. Only His presence will make the message, as the Gospel says, light and salt for the world.

    […]It is necessary that the Christian message no longer be the repetition of a catechism lesson. It is necessary rather to be one in whom God Himself speaks. If we find Christ again in the Gospel, it will be because each word read there already contains His presence.

    […]During the ages of the ecumenical councils, monasticism evoked a powerful appeal, announcing the end and many generations of Christians were moved, yes, transformed by the striking image of the heroism of these holy women and men. Today monasticism is above the world but not within it. Christianity is called now, more than ever, to find itself at the same time both above the world and within the world, and this is essential. The problem is not so much one of new language but the real danger is of reducing the message, lowering its demands. We must again raise it to its proper level. ‘The one who is near Me is near fire.’ It is neither paradox nor dialectic which consumes, but fire. We need to return to the simple and striking language of the parables. ‘Never has anyone spoken with such power.’ (John 7:46)”

    Paul Evdokimov’s pamphlet: A Letter to the Churches, pgs. 7-9

  • Here's an interesting newspaper article by FrDn Joseph Gleason:


    Parenting is More Important than Evangelism
    // The Orthodox Life

    This article was published in the following newspapers:

    Norris City Banner – Wednesday, November 19, 2008
    Ridgway News – Thursday, November 20, 2008
    Gallatin County Democrat – Thursday, November 20, 2008


    Parenting is More Important than Evangelism

    There is no question that evangelism is very important. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, he said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). We call this command the “Great Commission”.

    Evangelism is very important. But Godly parenting is even more important.

    In Mark 12:28, someone asked Jesus to identify the most important commandment of all. In response, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

    Have you ever read the next two verses?

    “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).

    Jesus tells us that the most important command in the entire Bible is in Deuteronomy
    6:4-5. And immediately after that command is given, God tells us that our primary responsibility is to diligently teach that command (and the rest of God’s commands) to our children.

    Witnessing to the nations is important, but teaching the truth to our children comes first!

    Think about it: In most of the churches you have ever attended, how many of the Christians there were first-generation converts, having neither a Christian father nor a Christian mother? Less than 10%? Less than 5%?

    I estimate that around 95% of members in most American churches are the children of Christians, and probably the grandchildren of Christians. While thousands of people are coming into the Church through evangelism, millions of people are coming into the Church through godly parenting.

    If the Church is willing to spend millions of dollars to send missionaries out to the furthest corners of the earth, then how much more should the Church be diligent to raise up her children in the Lord!

    Go ahead and get out your checkbook, and donate generously to your church’s mission fund. That is important.

    But first, sit down with your children every day, and teach them to love and obey God’s Word. That is more important.

    ~ Joseph M. Gleason
  • Here's one on a recent Saint:

    Evangelism - Elder-style


    I came across the following on the excellent blog 'Pithless thoughts' written by Steve Robinson whom some will remmember as one of the presenters of the "Our Life in Christ" podcast. As a (former) evangelical/charismatic it did at first surprise and disappoint me, after all isn't bearing witness to one's faith a given for the Christian life? However as I began to think about it more deeply Jesus does not appear to have gone out of His way to approach people to talk about the Christian message aside, of course, from His teaching. After all He said on more than one occasion that He only did what He saw His Father doing which begs the question how did He know when God was doing something unless it was made obvious through the interest of certain individuals? 

    Anyway here is what Elder Porphyrios (1906-1991) says: I do not speak about Christ, unless others want to, unless they ask."

    The Elder would say this not because of his ego, but because of his respect for the freedom of each individual.

    He would further explain: "I pray for those people, I will even work miracles for them, but I do not speak to them. I want their soul to open up and to ask me."

    People would say, especially the youth: "This is the first time we have seen a priest who says nothing to us about God."

    When a young girl confronted him on this, the Elder responded to her: "I beg you, my child Georgia, do not misunderstand me as to why I did not speak to you about Christ. I did not do it out of disrespect, but out of respect, because I do not speak with anyone about religious matters unless I am asked."

    By asking to hear something, a person willingly listens. And to these beginners the Elder would give a very light spiritual rule to follow to make sure they execute it with joy.

  • For the impact of beauty on mission here's an article by Fr David:

    Is Orthodox Evangelism is different?
    by Fr David Moser


    The first and most important thing to remember is that we do not bring anyone into the Church - its not our job. We do not attract people to the faith, we do not convince people of the Truth, we don't do any of that. God is the One Who attracts people, Who brings them in the door, Who convicts their hearts, Who brings them to repentance, Who convinces them of the Truth; we do none of this. Too often in the North American model of evangelism, the individual person is made responsible for doing God's task, but in attempting to do God's work, we neglect our own. What is our task? Our task is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit (St Seraphim), our task is the working out of our salvation, our task is to repent and weep for our sins, our task is to enter the Kingdom of God. This more than anything else is what we must do. This is an evangelistic task - indeed the primary evangelistic task.

    There are other "tasks", however, which derive from this one which are a bit more specific to "evangelism". It is God who brings people to the door of the Church and who convinces them that they should enter - however, we must keep the door to the Church open and visible. Hence, Orthodox evangelism must center on the Church - the beauty of the building, the beauty of the services, the frequency and availability of the services. Orthodox evangelism is served by beautiful icons, gold onion domes and crosses rising against the sky, the smell of incense, the pious and holy singing of the services. Orthodox evangelism is served by our visibility as Orthodox Christians in the world - the clothing of the clergy (and in these days the modest and humble clothing of the laymen as well) - the sign of the cross as we pray at each juncture of our lives - beginning and ending a task, eating and finishing a meal, starting and ending a trip, etc. Orthodox evangelism is the keeping of icons in our homes, in our offices, in our cars. Orthodox evangelism is keeping the fast without excuses or compromises. Orthodox evangelism is setting our priorities to forgo the allures of the world in order to be at divine services whenever they are held. Orthodox evangelism is denying ourselves and bearing our cross. Orthodox evangelism is keeping the door of the Church open and visible. While the Holy Spirit is the one who draws the world to Himself, it is you and I who keep the doors of the Church open and who welcome all who come.

    The second specific task that we as Orthodox Christians have in evangelism is the practical expression of God's love to mankind. Orthodox evangelism is greeting visitors as they come to the Church and then modeling (neither instructing nor condemning the visitor) for them proper behavior and demeanor in the Church. Orthodox evangelism is hospitality offered to share meals, to provide shelter and clothing as needed. Orthodox evangelism is to pray for our neighbor and to love our neighbor as ourself. Orthodox evangelism is going to the soup kitchen and serving there - Orthodox evangelism is giving to the poor without regard for "how the money will be used". Orthodox evangelism is visiting the sick in hospitals and praying for them. Orthodox evangelism is going the prisons (contact your local prison chaplain regarding how this might be done) and offering comfort and kindness to the imprisoned. Orthodox evangelism is loving your enemies (Elder Silouan of Mt Athos says that this is the true mark of a Christian - the love of one's enemies). Orthodox Evangelism is loving your neighbor as yourself. If we all did these things (and I am a wretched sinner and fall short of all that I have just said) then our Churches would be open and filled with light and glory drawing all who see her by the grace and action of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. We don't have to preach on street corners, we don't have to have "events" or revivals or seminars as evangelistic tools - we simply have to be Orthodox Christians "to the max" without reservation or compromise. That is Orthodox evangelism.

    From a Post to the Orthodox mailing list, dated October, 1999 by Priest David Moser
    St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church, 872 N 29th St, Boise ID

  • A proposition for evangelism.
    - By Fr. Jonathan Tobias

    Real conversion to real Christianity starts with the awareness that God is not only real, but He is Love (and thus Trinitarian).

    And as He is Love, His culture is Peace.Thus, His Church must be peace, and the ways of evangelism can only be that: transcendently peaceful and beautiful.

    So, the felt and experienced culture of the Church will be different, necessarily, from the surrounding dominant culture of violence and domination. The Church really does not need to worry so much about other religions as it needs to be concerned about the opposite of its own Christological culture. After the Resurrection, the other gods are only constructs. Simply put, when St Paul said to "come out from amongst them," he is calling the Church to exchange the values of the dark world for the values of the fellowship of the Light:

    Competition is exchanged for Cooperation.

    Conquest is exchanged for Compassion.

    Celebrity is exchanged for Humility and Meekness.

    Rulership is exchanged for Servanthood.

    Demand is exchanged for Generosity.

    Anger is exchanged for Reconciliation.

    Materialism is exchanged for Sacrament.

    Anger is exchanged for Reconciliation.

    Solipsism and Soliloquy are exchanged for Prayer.

    Isolation is exchanged for Solitude (thanks, Henri Nouwen).

    Conformity is exchanged for Fellowship and Personhood.

    Acquisition is exchanged for Simplicity.

    Self-Pity is exchanged for Repentance and Meekness.

    Lust is exchanged for Friendship.

    Self-Orientation is exchanged for Worship and Taxis.

    Violence and Power are exchanged for Peace.

    Finally, and ethically speaking, evangelism is only for neighbors. It is not to be directed to anyone else. But just who is my neighbor? Ah, there's the rub. Do this, and God will give your Church (whether local or diocesan or ecumenical) all your neighbors who want to know Him, and accept His love. Don't do this, and all the PR campaigns and media slots will devolve into shadow and dry dust, shaken off the sandals.

  • The above post is part two of this one:

    ...there is a much bigger enemy that accounts for the across-the-board decline in religious belief and church attendance.

    This enemy accounts for the fact that while most Americans still believe in a God and an afterlife, these beliefs are really “opinions,” and loosely-held attitudes.

    Real beliefs actually produce real religion, like church attendance, prayer and charity. But "religious opinions" have no power to produce any real religion. 

    The mere fact that Americans “agree” with a survey statement reveals only an observation that Americans have a positive opinion on God’s existence, with the strong likelihood that they might not want to do anything at all about that opinion. 

    If religion is demoted to the level of opinion, or, more accurately, "consumer choice," then like any other choice it can always be easily replaced and switched out with something more convenient or entertaining. Maybe something more "personally fulfilling" will come along.

    This state of affairs is really contemporary stuff -- religion is not only privatized now, it is alsocommoditized. Like everything else, religion is passed through a "values clarification" mental evaluation that judges whether or not it is "doing anything good" for the individual. Is it entertaining? Is it fulfilling? Are my kids happy in the youth group? Am I attracted to the leaders and the crowd? Do I feel better about myself?

    If not, well then ... I'll just mosey on over to the big megachurch praise center with the Starbucks in the atrium and a rock concert for my kids (and me).

    Or just stay home and do a Netflix binge on "House of Cards." Then go out for a champagne brunch with much prettier people.

    Not much difference there. They are both private, consumerist and gnostic.

    The Enemy consists of two forces that may or may not be deliberately executed in concert. One is external to the Christian community -- and that is the utter consumerification of modern globalized culture. Everything must be commodifiable -- if it cannot be (like real doctrine, like sacrament, like real goodness and beauty), then it is relegated to the private sphere. And this private sphere is considered meaningless and without public value.

    The other internal force of the Enemy is the ancient degenerative form of religion sloppily called "Gnosticism." Gnosticism has always been around. It has always opposed theology with sentiment. It has always tried to escape Place and Time. It has always warred against Tradition. It has always tried to disregard the poor and the weak -- aristocrats have perennially made the best gnostics.

    But Gnosticism has never met such a friendly atmosphere as this present Totalistic Banal Culture of the universal marketplace.

    Think of it: our totalitarian banality -- where God's infinity, beauty and goodness are almost completely obfuscated -- is like a giant ocean of gasoline, and gnosticism is a single Bic.

    The whole globalized marketplace will develop an allergy to Christianity, particularly to Orthodoxy. The more theological, and sacramental, and traditional and anti-passion a church is, the more "de-valued" it will become.

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