Archive for December, 2008

dead end choices

Once upon a time here in America extended family was a much greater factor in our lives. I was an only child, and my cousins and I played together when we were small, but we have had a lot of resources at our disposal to choose the kind of life we wanted, and have drifted apart. We are pretty much strangers now, in terms of shared values.

For me, and all Orthodox Christians, the Church is now the center of the shared values that really matter. But children’s sports teams now practice and play on Sunday as well, and this creates a choice for some of our families.

And there are a multitude of other choices we can make that can conflict with our commitment to our Church family.

When a child with a severe disability is born, the family involved will really need, on a long-term basis, an extended family or a Church family for support. Will we be there for them?

A number of  American (and all of modern Western civilization, for that matter) cultural influences and “dead end choices” have occurred to me that cause us to fail in terms of that commitment of love which is at the heart of our Eucharistic life. These failures apply to me as well.

Perhaps you can think of more. I welcome comments. Here’s the list:

1. The first few mountains of Christmas toys that teach us that happiness consists of things

2. When our most significant “joy” in life resides in our performance in sports.

3. When TV, computer games, and the Internet begin to take the place of interaction with people

(3a. And entertainments in general become a “break” from Church)

4. When the sex and violence prevalent in the media finds a home in our soul.

5. When we choose “success” over family

6. When we put security ahead of  mission

7. When we find solace at the funeral of a loved one in the words, “He looks really good, very natural, doesn’t he?”

That last one speaks to the way our society denies death, and seeks to promote a lifestyle devoted to eternal youth and play, thus evading the call to live lives of service to our Lord Jesus Christ and His Presence in others in need,  as set forth in the Gospel of St. Matthew 25:31-46:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy[a] angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him,[b] saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

from A searchable online Bible in over 100 versions

Also . . .

St. John of Kronstadt

Dear and Pious Readers

Blessings of the Lord!

“This life is neither a joke nor a plaything, although men may turn it into either. They fritter away the time given to us to prepare for eternity, disporting themselves with empty words. They go about visiting, sitting and gossipping, playing this or that game. They get together in the theatres and amuse themselves there. Life is, for them, amusement. But woe to those who do nothing but amuse themselves.”

St. John of Kronstadt

from… (amusing ourselves to death)

Enter ye all into the joy of the Lord

I bring you a word which speaks of our identification with the Divine Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word, Who has become flesh- human- for us and our salvation. Is this not the central act of all human history, that God humbled Himself to our lowliness to save us, to enable us to unite ourselves to Him and, in a presage to glory, to become like Him in His movement downward to self-emptying, lowly service, as a lifestyle to be lived twelve months a year? The word is from His Grace Archbishop Lazar, Abbot of New Ostrog, in his Nativity Epistle, Nativity of Christ, 2008

“Ye rich and ye poor…enter ye all into the joy of the Lord.”

This year, as we approach the Feast of the Incarnation of God, we might reflect on the beloved Paschal Sermon of Saint John
Chrysostom. In it, he invites all, those at every level of society and in every spiritual condition, to “enter into the joy of the Lord.”

Let us recall that the proclamation of Christ’s birth came first to the poor, the disenfranchised and humble of this world. The shepherds in the fields often had no better place to take shelter and sleep than in the manger caves at the edge of the hill upon which Bethlehem stands. It was these lowly outcasts who came first to venerate the Christ, the creator of heaven and earth Who now took upon Himself their lowliness and humanity. Only afterward did the Magi come. Theywere among the elite and wealthy of this world, and Christ came for them also, yet their journey was longer and more arduous, for they had first to learn humility and patience in order to be able to recognise in the child in this poor manger the King of Glory.

He received the lowliness and humility of the shepherds, and took upon Himself their passions and sins. He accepted the gifts of the Magi, and also accepted upon Himself their struggle and spiritual burdens. Both the one and the other were in a condition of alienation. The Magi were gentiles, men born without the promise, outside of the Covenant. The shepherds were on the fringe, among the poorest and most dispossessed of Judean society.

Throughout His earthly healing ministry, Christ would embrace the alienated, the sick and suffering and the sinful, while in no wise rejecting the rich and the powerful, who might respond to the call to humble themselves and come to a true understanding of the Covenant and the Law. From the blind beggar bar-Timaeus to the noblemen Joseph of Aramathea and Nikodemus, Christ would take upon Himself the sins and passions of all, bear them to the Cross and restore man’s unity with God. Even there on the Cross, He embraced the outcasts of this world, dying the death of the most wretched, in the company of two brutish bandits.

So often in our North American society, we approach the Christmas season in the spirit of a saccharine sentimentalism. Christ is portrayed as a cute, freshly washed infant in a tidy manger with well-groomed animals round about. His mother is a pretty, neatly coiffed young woman, and a handsome, strapping young father – Joseph — stands attentively nearby.

Far too often, we do not find a sense of awe and reverence at this event which shook all creation, interjected into the symmetry of the cosmos, and seized the universe, impelling it onward toward its final destiny of transfiguration and glory. Yet, the very purpose of the Nativity Fast is to prepare us spiritually to open our hearts and become truly present to this great mystery. But there is still more. The fast itself and the message of the Incarnation of God in the midst of the humble and outcast is intended to prepare us to open our hearts to the same. We think of the charity and giving of this season, but forget that the giving of gifts and the distribution of food at the mid-winter solstice and New Year predates Christianity and is common to believers and unbelievers alike.

I would like to call upon Orthodox Christians, during this season, to add a perspective to their charity and to their contemplation of the Feast. Preparing ourselves through fasting and prayer, let us with a spirit of awe and repentance, offer to those in need not only because of Christ’s warning preserved for us in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Let us offer what we can, remembering that Christ was received first of all by the poor and the dispossessed of this world. Christ’s ministry was carried out primarily among such as these. Neither with condescension nor pity nor condemnation did Christ walk in their midst and break bread in the homes of sinners and outcasts. Rather with His presence he acknowledged their humanity, restored their human dignity and invited the attention of all to the image of God in each person on all levels of society and in every nation. He invited the hearts of those who would be His followers to love their neighbour and to open with love to “the other.”

But to recognise “the other” as our neighbour, as “equal to me” in human dignity and God’s love, to see in the lowest and most downcast, a reflection of our own “self,” I must first clothe my own ego in the robe of humility. Training ourselves in self-discipline and self-control, “decentring” our world view from focus on ourselves, are necessary in order to attain to a loving understanding which makes room for “the other” in our hearts. Of what benefit is it so say that we follow Jesus Christ but pay so little heed to how He lived His earthly, Incarnate life? We are called upon as Orthodox Christians to make the principles of Christ’s life incarnate within each of us.

Brothers and sisters, let us be cautious that we do not allow our periodic charity and goodwill, our seasonal good deeds to become a substitute for a life in Christ. If we have sincere joy in the celebration of His Incarnation — the dawning of our own salvation — let us also find true joy in affirming the dignity and worth of the dispossessed and alienated in our society so that we can be followers of Christ in truth as well as in words. In this, we shall truly fulfil the will of the Father, acknowledge the Gospel of the Son, receive the comfort of the Spirit and inherit everlasting life.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him.

From the New Ostrog Monastery via the Orthodox Peace Fellowship mailing list. Click on:

ORTHODOXY IN THE 21st CENTURY: 2008 Nativity Epistle

(Icon from the blog Experimental Theology )

Yevheniy Marchenko’s webpage

On April 10 I published a post on Yevheniy Marchenko’s plight, his need for assistance in covering the costs of his disability therapy:

a personal appeal for help « Arms Open Wide

Later I discovered his personal website, with pictures of his condition.

click on

Need help!

(with pictures and response information) Consider helping him.

In the original language:

Нужна помощь!

St. Brigid Fellowship

St. Athanasius Orthodox Church in Isla Vista, California has a ministry to homeless people. It is based on an incarnational model; just as our Lord Jesus, the Word become flesh, became human to meet us where we are and redeem us body and soul, tangibly and inwardly, St. Brigid Fellowship seeks to help as they can, variously finding housing and providing tents, providing such things as blankets and warm clothing, meals, and more. Sustenance.

And in addition to this, friendship. They also make referrals to other programs and services relating to the needs of those the Lord brings their way: detox centers, for example.  And they “have gotten benefits for those with physical and mental disabilities.” Click on the following for their website:

St. Athanasius Orthodox Church

Also of interest on the website is their thoughts on Reaching Out, which can be accessed on the column on the left on their site under “Ministries.”

Fr.Ted Bobosh on “Why we need Christmas”

I found some very meaningful insights concerning Christmas (and a disability resource) on Fr. Ted Bobosh’s blog .

The ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas: (A .  Adam and Abel; B.  Blessing, Berith, Baptism; C.  Covenant and Creation; D.  David, Demons, Death; E. Eternal, Eve, Evil; F.  Forgiveness) Click below to access:

The ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas: A « Fr. Ted’s Blog The ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas: B « Fr. Ted’s Blog See ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas: C The ABC’s of Why we need Christmas: D The ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas: E Eve and the Ever-Virgin The ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas:  F   Forgiveness

Fr. Ted’s post on “Embracing the Sojourner,” explores how we all ourselves are strangers and sojourners, and how the Apostolic Tradition calls us to welcome aliens, travelers, and strangers when such opportunities present themselves. He also refers to book entitled Brokenness and Blessing by Frances Young, a Protestant biblical scholar, who, in the book, shares what she has learned from her mentally and physically handicapped son in terms of the matter of coping with our own and other’s (even in our own family!)  “sense of being a stranger. Click here to access: Embracing the Sojourner « Fr. Ted’s Blog

I would add that a friend I visit who is in INS detention, is on the verge of being deported to Haiti where he will put in a jail without food and water. His name is George Mathelier; he’s 52 years old and has been in the U.S. for 42 years. His family’s all here. He is a mason by trade. He was caught with drugs in his car, but never convicted; he is being deported for moral turpitude anyway. Even though Haiti has been wracked by 4 devastating storms this year on top of being the western hemisphere’s poorest country, our government will not grant even temporary protected status to Haitian immigrants.

Matthew 25:31-46. … all nations before Christ’s Judgment Seat. “Did you welcome that stranger? It was Me.”

Update: George was deported to Haiti. Of 50 deportees, he was one of 18 which were freed to live with family and friends in Haiti. Pray for him; he needs to make a living and procure the medicines he needs for his diabetes.

We need to ask ourselves if the responsibility for this kind of action is limited to a few bureaucrats or extends to all who could do something about it. To be a government “of the people” carries with it responsibilities.

St. Seraphim of Sarov: “They must be cared for first”

St. Seraphim of Sarov made a friend wait all day. In the paragraph from Valentine Zander’s book “St. Seraphim of Sarov,” accessed by means of the long web address listed below, this is explained. Note- Scroll up to the beginning of the paragraph, and starting from On another day,” read the paragraph. And more, if you like.,M1

St. SeraphimSt. Seraphim was Christlike. For just as Christ, in His parable on the great supper, when the invited guests didn’t show up, directed invitations to be issued to people with disabilities and troubles first, St. Seraphim does likewise. (St. Luke 14:16-24)

Kontakion of St. Seraphim, Tone 2

“Having left the beauty of the world and what is corrupt in it, O saint, thou didst settle in Sarov Monastery.  And having lived there an angelic life, thou wast for many the way to salvation.  Wherefore Christ has glorified thee, O Father Seraphim, and has enriched thee with the gift of healing and miracles. And so we cry to thee: Rejoice, O Seraphim, our righteous Father.”

Icon from

reprinted from October 2007

Maria Rifioti: “The children with disabilities need love most of all”

Maria Rifioti

“The children with disabilities need love most of all,”

stressed Maria Rifioti from Sao Paolo, Brazil, who is  active there in helping people with disabilities.”

The quotation above was taken from the news module below, in which seven Greek ladies “of the diaspora” are honored. Click on:

for the source of the picture, and a brief profile of Maria:

From this profile we learn that Maria Rifioti wrote a book for families with children with disabilities, entitled, With Laughter and Tears. Unfortunately for English speaking readers, (as well as speakers of Russian, Arabic, Serbian, etc.) it is available only in Greek and Portuguese. You might want to contact Light and Life Publishers to add your voice to mine and get her book translated into English. Click on

Light & Life Publishing – World’s Largest Orthodox Supplier

and access “General Questions” under either Company Info or Customer Service on the right of the page.

(The picture above is from Maria’s profile on the website of The World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) listed above.


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