Highlights of the Parish Ministries Conference Faith in Action

By Elizabeth Lien

Held at St. Vladimir’s Seminary
Crestwood, NY
July 28-31, 2004

Coordinated by the OCA Department of Christian Witness and Service

Reading through the OCA website last spring, I came upon the web flyer for the Parish Ministries Conference, “Faith in Action.” The conference, scheduled for late July at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood, NY, promised workshops dealing with end-of-life issues and grieving, immigrant assistance, youth and schooling, parish nursing, and family enrichment, as well as serving specific need-based groups and international ministries. After attending the conference, I can say that, indeed, faith in action was demonstrated by both the presenters and the participants who shared their ministries within our Holy Church.

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Prior to the start of the conference, relics of St. Herman of Alaska were given to Fr. Thomas Moore, a member of the conference coordinating team, as he stood in the seminary parking lot. These relics had been bequeathed to the seminary by an individual whose executor had brought them and was seeking someone to leave them with. What a gift to the Church and to the conference, the relics of the man who brought the Holy Church to America.

“Discerning and Developing Talents in the Parish,” a workshop given by Fr. Steven Belonick and Fr. Vladimir Aleandro, was both the first presentation and the theme of the event. The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, Chapter 12, provided the biblical basis for this: “If [a man’s gift] is in serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is in encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously…” (Romans 12: 7-8) Inspiring talks bringing the Apostolic admonition to identify one’s talents and find a way to use them for Christ proved to be the prevailing focus of the conference.

Keynote addresses over the next two days further developed this focus for the workshops.
Fr. Sergei Glagolev, the first keynote speaker, encouraged participants to witness Christ’s love by “fanning the flame within” and carrying it out into the world as a steady witness of the Holy Spirit. Reminding us that Church ministries are ways to bring us to theosis, Fr. George Gray gave the second keynote address and provided an inspiring biblical survey of the gifts provided to the faithful for ministering to the body of Christ. We are Christ’s stewards and are asked to take charge of what the Master owns, by preparing, training, qualifying, and setting ourselves to the tasks He has for us under the mantle of His love.

Participants Brought a Broad Range of Talents

Participants at the conference, representing twelve dioceses (from three Orthodox jurisdictions), demonstrated a broad range of talents in diverse areas of concern. Many work with elderly and disabled individuals. Youth and family interests were represented. Some have areas of focus on both professional and volunteer levels. Outreach efforts to assist people leaving prisons were also highlighted. Both in workshops and displays, attendees were able to initiate stimulating discussions regarding their work and ideas for developing similar ministries in other parishes. Clearly resources within our Church abound!

A variety of formal and informal parish ministries were discussed. Many of our parishes have immigrants, and the workshop “Reaching Out to Immigrants” offered ideas for assisting them in establishing their new homes in America. Programs that are effective in parishes for both settling immigrants and helping them find their place within the parish community were discussed. Questions regarding the use of multiple languages in services versus English only were raised. We were encouraged to “assure the spaciousness of our Church” in reaching out to immigrants and were reminded that an appreciation of both the culture of origin and the struggles immigrants face in confronting their new lives was very important.

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Other ministries that were highlighted included Raphael House of San Francisco, which serves families in crisis; St. Matthew House in Columbia, Maryland, a home for the disabled; and Martha and Mary House in Escondido, California, providing shelter and guidance for unwed mothers. Representatives from International Orthodox Christian Charities, the Orthodox Christian Mission Center, Church World Service, and Project Mexico came and shared their active ministries with requests both for financial support and for parish involvement in mission activities. The OCA’s program for the adoption of Russian children was presented as well.

Caring for the Ill and Elderly/ Youth and Family Life

In each parish there are individuals struggling to meet the demands of caring for the ill and elderly. The issues faced by these individuals were discussed in workshops such as “End of Life Decisions,” “Visitation Ministries,” “Family Caregivers,” and “Seniors as a Resource.” St. Nicholas Parish in Portland, Oregon, has an “End of Life Manual” on their website for those who wish to put their affairs in order before death . Models for establishing lay visitor programs and information about supporting those who are engaged in daily care of ill family members were presented. While recognizing the increasing frailty of our older congregants, it was emphasized that we must not forget that they are often an untapped resource eager to be included in the ministries of their parishes.

For those whose focus is on youth and family life, a variety of workshops were held. “Youth and Young Adults in Outreach,” “Family ‘Fun Raisers,’” “Strengthening the Parish Family,” “Family Life; Problems and Resources,” “Supporting the Military and Their Families,” as well as “Helping Young Families in the Parish Community” were among the conference offerings. Two areas of increasing interest among Orthodox families are church schools and home schooling. Two models for Orthodox schools were presented as well as information for families schooling their children at home. It was evident that a conference devoted to the topic of educating our children was needed.

Social Challenges/ Parish Nursing

Social issues that must be addressed by the Church were discussed. “Orthodox Prison Ministries,” “Addiction and Recovery,” “Protecting the Unborn,” and “Conflict Resolution” were conference topics. Many professionals and lay persons have developed or are involved in ministries that seek to aid individuals in finding Christian solutions to their problems. Some have personally dealt with addictions or have grieved the loss of loved ones. Some have assisted others with these and other life crises, such as the psychic trauma and guilt that often follows an abortion. They are bearing witness to the life-saving strategies available within the Church. Zoe for Life was presented as an organization of Orthodox Christians that is responding to the high rate of abortion among Orthodox women, through their crisis pregnancy counseling hotline and in the work of chapters formed in congregations throughout the United States. Each ministry identified resources for parishes that are available through the internet and by telephone. Those who attended the conference have information they can now share with their parishes and should be asked to do so.

Of special note was parish nursing. This sub-specialty of professional nursing seeks to embrace health-promoting activities within faith communities. With declining health care coverage across the nation, congregations are seeking to find ways to assist parishioners in having their health needs met. There is growing interest among Orthodox nurses in developing this supportive ministry within their congregations. Parish nurses are able to conduct health screening clinics (such as blood pressure monitoring and stroke awareness), provide information on health resources within their communities, and provide counseling and support related to health and wellness issues in an Orthodox context.

Parish priests are becoming increasingly aware that nursing can offer them support in ministering to the health concerns of parishioners. Professional training is required for those seeking to become parish nurses. The possibility of offering a class for Orthodox nurses was discussed with the conference presenter, Karen Hadley, RN, MSN. She may be contacted through St. Nicholas Parish, Portland, Oregon.

Wealth of Information Found in OCA “Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries”

Many communities may not realize the wealth of information contained in the OCA “Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries.” While it may be noted that the conference was a “living resource handbook,” each congregation has available to it the hardcopy as well as an internet version of this written document. Many of the ministries and concerns addressed by the conference are outlined in this book. Everyone is urged to become familiar with it and use it as ministries are developed within their parishes. Talented individuals throughout our Church have contributed to this constantly evolving resource.

Such a conference is not held without the hard work of an organizing committee. Special thanks and kudos are due Donna Karabin, Arlene Kallaur, Kitty Vitko, and their team for their tireless efforts on behalf of the entire Church with this assembly. The seminary was a welcoming and hospitable site.

For those who were not able to attend the conference, see what you missed! Those who did attend can bring to their home parishes a wealth of information and resources. Please ask them and listen as they share what they have received. The more we share with one another, the more our Christian response will grow and bear witness to the Lord, and the closer we will come to our own salvation. This is the Gospel message: to go and serve the Lord with eager hearts and loving hands.

Elizabeth Lien is an active parishioner at Annunciation Orthodox Church in Milwaukie, OR. As a registered nurse, she is the Parish Nurse at Annunciation Parish. She currently home schools two of her children.

Twenty Somethings to Do with the Parish Family

By Lori Kochan

1) Pray and Worship Together

After Sunday Liturgy or on Feast Days, plan a get-together with the parishioners to have a brunch. Everyone should bring a covered dish to share. Rejoice in the Resurrection or the Feast.

2) Puzzle Day

Bring your favorite puzzle for all ages, a puzzle that can be done in a short period of time, up to an hour. Then serve pizza or snacks. Afterward you can donate the puzzles to your area children’s hospital or a nursing home.

3) Movie Day

Periodically pick a Sunday and have a movie for all ages to enjoy. Serve a light lunch, and have everyone bring snacks. Popcorn, too.

4) Movie Night

Choose an evening to have a movie for a specific age. (Young elementary-school children can bring their sleeping bags and pillows to lie on during the movie.) You can decorate and have snacks that fit the movie theme. For instance, with the movie “Finding Nemo,” hang streamers with fish dangling from them; give everyone a goldfish to take home; serve snacks with fish in them—Jell-o with gummy fish or Goldfish crackers.

5) “Take a Hike” Sunday

Find local parks or a state park and make plans to meet and hike on different paths each Sunday. This is a great activity for the fall season after Liturgy. Pick a different park each time to vary the hike. Post a schedule of lunch menus/hikes/meeting place/time so that parishioners may plan ahead to bring appropriate food items and clothing to church. This is the favorite activity at our church.

6) Parish Picnic

Have a picnic on your church grounds or at an area swimming/picnic facility. Provide games for all ages.

7) Family Festivals

In the fall, winter, spring, or summer, have a special day for families to get together. In the fall, for example, meet at a corn maze. Decorate pumpkins, bob for apples, have hayrides, build bonfires and make “s’mores” (toasted marshmallows and squares of chocolate “smushed” together between two graham crackers).

8) Help out at an area homeless shelter or soup kitchen

Plan ahead with the facility to know which day would be best for some of the parishioners to come and help serve lunch or dinner to the people. Ask if desserts can be donated or whether other food items are appreciated.

9) Pizza Night

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Meet at an area pizza house or other restaurant and enjoy each other’s company. 
Go Chinese. Go Mexican. Have fun!

10) Game Day

After Sunday Liturgy, have lunch together and then have everyone bring their favorite game or a deck of cards. Play the game and then switch players and play another game.

11) Hats, Gloves, and Scarves

Collect these items for donation to an area shelter. Have parishioners present them to the shelter. (This is a good project for some of the parish women who like to crochet or knit items.)

12) Christmas Caroling to Parish Shut-Ins

Pick a day around the Nativity Feast to celebrate with the parish’s shut-ins by caroling. Travel from house to house or nursing home. (This is best done with the choir director or someone with some musical ability to get the singing started.) Present each parishioner with a small gift of stationery, puzzles, candy (sugar-free), books, a craft item, and a festal icon print.

13) Blanket Day

All parishioners bring a blanket to the Liturgy to be donated to an area shelter. Take a picture of the parish to send along with the donated blankets. This will not only help keep the people in need warm, but will also warm the hearts of the parishioners to know that they helped someone in need.

14) Craft Day

Have adult parishioners prepare materials for craft items that the children and young adults can make together. These can be kept by the children or donated to a church event.

15) Parish Camping

Plan a weekend or week to go camping with your family or other parish families. This can be an annual event that includes games, canoeing, biking, hiking, swimming, campfires, worship, eating, and more. Vary the sites.

16) Parish Family Bowling Day

Meet at a local bowling alley and have a tournament with goofy prizes for most strikes or spares, lowest scores, highest scores, youngest player, oldest player, and so on.

17) Park or Museum Day

Visit an amusement park, baseball park, playground, museum. Choose a day and travel together to the park or museum. Enjoy each other’s company.

18) Visit a Monastery

Visit a nearby monastery. (Pre-arrange with the monastery.) Travel for a day or for a weekend pilgrimage.

19) Learn How to Make Prosfora

Make prosfora with your parish priest. He can explain the significance of the ingredients and how they are prepared. He can then invite the preparers to attend the Service of Preparation (Proskomedia) just before the Divine Liturgy to see how the prosfora are used.

20) Visit a Sister Parish for Vespers

Have a Parish Exchange for Vespers. Invite another parish to join you for the service, and then visit them on another weekend. The host parish can serve a light dinner or dessert following the service so that the people can get to know one another.

Lori Kochan is a member of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Mogadore, OH. She is very involved in FOCA Junior activities throughout the Ohio District and is the director of St. Vladimir’s Camp and Retreat Center, Farmingdale, OH. Lori serves in the OCA Department of Christian Witness and Service.

FOCA Adopt a Seminarian Project and Seminarian Family Christmas Appeal

By Allison Steffaro, Program Director

Four years ago, the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America (FOCA) began a national project entitled “Adopt a Seminarian.” This project was born of the need to assist seminary married students at St. Tikhon’s and St Vladimir’s Seminaries. Since its inception, the project has been able to raise over $80,000 and help more than 30 seminarians and their families.

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Many of these students give up careers, leave (or sell) their homes thousands of miles away, and uproot their children; all to follow a calling to serve the Lord in the Orthodox Church. In many situations, it is impossible for the student to work to help defray daily living expenses, and work for the spouses is minimal at best. These families get little outside support. Many are forced to go on welfare and to forego medical insurance for their children. The “Adopt a Seminarian” Project was created to ease these burdens.

How It Works

Each year, letters are sent to each FOCA District Governor, asking him/her to read an explanation of our “Adopt a Seminarian” Project at their district convention; copies of the letter are also sent to each chapter president. The Dean of Students at each seminary compiles a list of the most needy families, based on their monthly financial shortfall. The letters are sent to the FOCA Program Director. Chapters, parishes, and districts that participate are assigned a family from these lists and are asked to pledge a monthly amount that they will then send directly to these families. Once a family receives enough sponsors to meet their total monthly shortfall, they are taken off the list. Currently 17 chapters/parishes/districts participate in the program, and have pledged gifts from $50 to $300 a month. Ten seminarians are currently on the list.

Many parishes invite these families to come and visit during school breaks. This gives parishioners the chance to associate a face and a name with those they are helping, while the families get to express their love and appreciation.

A new appeal begins each September for the next academic year. Those interested in being a sponsor to a seminarian family should contact Mrs. Allison Steffaro at
(732) 698-1952.

Seminarians are also eligible for FOCA scholarships if they have been a member of the organization for one year or more.

A second FOCA Seminarian Project

A second FOCA Seminarian Project is the “Seminarian Family Christmas Appeal,” which was begun in the year 2000 by the FOCA New Jersey District. Since that time the project has grown, and participation now comes from across the country. In 2005 Christmas “wish lists” were received from 29 seminarian families with 63 children. Fourteen parishes from four different dioceses as well as five individual families responded to fulfill these wishes. The New Jersey District facilitates the compiling and distribution of the lists to the various parishes and individuals, and then coordinates the distribution of Christmas parcels to the families.

How It Works

This is often a parish project lead by the parish’s FOCA chapter. The following is an example of how this project was implemented in one parish.

An explanatory letter and form were sent to the FOCA chapter. The chapter and parish decided how many families they wished to take on and returned the form to the Project Committee. The names of the assigned families and information about them, including sex, ages and sizes of the children, as well as a letter to St. Nicholas with their wish lists, were then sent to the sponsor.

A “giving tree” (tree made of green poster paper) was placed at the entrance of the church. The ornaments on the tree were shaped pieces of paper with a child’s age, sex, size and item (e.g., girl, age 6, size 7, pajamas). In addition to the items asked by the family, additional items were added to the tree (e.g., sneakers, socks, sweatpants, shirts, household items).

Parishioners chose items and filled the requests. They brought the purchases back to the church by an assigned date, unwrapped, but tagged for the appropriate child. The youth of the parish then wrapped the gifts. All the gifts were sent to SS. Peter & Paul Church in South River, New Jersey, to arrive no later than December 1st. From there, the deliveries were made to the seminaries.

The above is only one example of how an entire parish can participate. Those interested in filling a seminarian family Christmas wish list should contact the FOCA project coordinators in August or September. Wish lists are mailed out in the middle of October. If a chapter/parish is not interested in the activity, monetary donations are gladly taken and divided among the families.

Co-Chairpersons of the Seminarian Christmas Appeal are Allison Steffaro, (732) 698-1952 and Marge Kovach, (732) 815-9765.
Allison Steffaro is National Seminarian Assistance Coordinator for FOCA and an active member of her parish, SS. Peter and Paul Church, South River, N.J.

GIFT OF PRAYER: Prayer Partners: A Lenten Outreach Project

By Karen Mravetz

Every year as we approach Great Lent, we enter into a time of preparation for Christ’s resurrection, Holy Pascha. We prepare ourselves by spending more time in prayer and meditation, in fasting and repentance. Not only should we be praying for our family and ourselves, but we can pray also for other members of our parish through a project called “Gift of Prayer.” This gift involves both children and adults praying for one another for the entire Lenten season.

How to go about it

Select a designated area for collecting the names of interested participants. It would be helpful to have a poster in this area announcing the project, “A Gift of Prayer” and how it will work. There should also be baskets/boxes appropriately labeled, pens, and prayer cards (forms indicating an intention to participate). Place an announcement and/or flyer in your church bulletin.

Beginning with the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, members of the congregation can express their intention to participate by completing a prayer card and placing it in a basket/box labeled “Adults” in this designated area. Church school teachers will have students complete prayer cards and place them in a basket/box labeled “Church School Teachers and Students.” You may find it will be necessary to include choir members, clergy, and some other adults in the Church School Teachers and Students basket in order to make up an equal number of participants in each basket.

On Cheesefare Sunday and the Eve of the beginning of Great Lent, have an announcement made and/or indicate in the bulletin that the “Gift of Prayer” Project will begin. Each adult whose name is in the “Adult’s” basket should be asked to draw a name from the “Teacher’s/Student’s” Basket while the children, church school teachers, etc., whose names are in the “Teacher’s/Student’s” basket should draw a name from the “Adult’s” basket. Along with their daily prayers, then, each participant will pray for the person they picked during the Lenten season.

At the conclusion

At the Pascha Service and the joyful celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we ask that the children and adults reveal to each other the individual for whom they were praying. It is a special and happy moment for all who have participated. As some adults and children may not be able to attend the late service, another option would be to disclose yourself to your Prayer Partner on Saint Thomas Sunday, the following week. A card, a note or a prayer journal is an excellent way to reveal yourself to your Prayer Partner.

As we all know, prayer is powerful, and God answers according to His will and what is best for us. This project will help your parish grow spiritually as a church family through prayer for others as you journey through Great Lent. Encourage the adults and children to continue to keep their “chosen” person and others in their prayers. During fellowship time after Divine Liturgy, spend some time getting to know that person in a special way.

Karen Mravetz is the Church School Coordinator at Holy Trinity Church, Parma, OH.

Parish Charitable Giving

By Fr. Samuel Kedala

Holy Spirit Church in Wantage, New Jersey, Decides to Give a Tithe of All Its Fund- Raising Activity Profits to Charity

After being elevated to the status of a church by His Eminence, Archbishop Peter, of the former Diocese of New York and New Jersey, Holy Spirit Church’s Parish Council decided to return a portion of the gifts given to us by Almighty God. At its first annual meeting as a church, a motion was made to return 10 percent of all fund-raising profits to charities. Our parish community unanimously approved the motion.

The Parish Council meets once a month for its regular meeting. If there have been any fund-raisers during the previous month, the Council members are asked to decide to which charity the tithe will be sent. The Parish Council originally decided to give monies to local charities, (soup kitchens, pro-life pregnancy help centers, local centers serving people with developmental disabilities, etc.). At one meeting, however, the Parish Council received an appeal from the OCA’s SS. Cosmas and Damian Adult Home in Staten Island, New York, and decided to offer its tithe to them that month.

The parishioners of our church are informed at the Annual Parish Meeting of all of the charities that were given aid in the previous year. Parishioners are also informed through the parish bulletins (both e-bulletins and paper). Suggestions of charitable needs are taken from anyone in the parish or anyone who approaches us about a need.

The charities receiving the gifts have been extremely thankful for the help given them. They always send a note of thanksgiving for our donations. SS. Cosmas and Damian (through the efforts of board member, John Korello) even sent our church a very nicely framed account of the donation with pictures of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, receiving the gift.

There is also money available for individuals in need. They do not have to be members of our community. There is a Parish Discretionary Account, which is administered by the Rector. If more money is needed to replenish the account, donations are solicited.

Holy Spirit Church has been blessed in return in many ways. The morale of the community and of the Parish Council has been elevated. My advice to all parishes contemplating greater charitable giving is: Do not hesitate. Have faith that our loving Lord will not allow us to fall but will raise us up and increase our blessings.

Fr. Samuel Kedala is pastor of Holy Spirit Church, Wantage, NJ.

The Martha Fund at Christ the Savior Church in Southbury, CT.

By Fr. Vladimir Aleandro and Dn. John Zarras

On June 4, 2005, Christ the Savior Church in Southbury, Connecticut was consecrated. It was started twelve years before with just two families. At the time of the consecration more than one person came up to me and said: “Father, You must have done some good fund-raising and saved every penny to build this church.” My response was: “Since our first days we have asked people to tithe, giving from their heart with thanks to the Lord. We then tithe the top 10 percent of that to help those in need. I really believe because we have made that our priority, God has blessed and continues to bless us so richly. When we come before the Lord He will not ask us about our beautiful church, its icons or buildings. He will ask us as persons and as a parish community how we fed, clothed and took care of the poor and those in need.”

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When Fr. Michael Koblosh, the founder of this parish, started the Martha Fund, it was based on scriptural principles of giving. Initially the top 10 percent was put aside for those in the parish who had need. As we grew and our funds grew, this became extended to a much wider use. People often ask why it is called the “Martha” Fund. It is named for Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus. Yes, Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and chose the better part, but to do that, they still had to eat and live. We hope that by taking care of the needs of others, we are enabling them to come to the Lord’s feet and choose the better part. We believe that by ministering to others, we are also at the Lord’s feet taking care of His body and listening to Him.

There are times in a small community like ours when it is difficult to meet our expenses, but the money set aside in the Martha Fund is designated for those in need. It is no longer for our parish use. Whenever we have been tempted to cut back or dip into this fund, we trusted and were blessed. People new to our parish, both converts and those of Orthodox backgrounds, are edified by this vision of giving and ministering. They are moved to tithe on their own.

Below are an overview and guidelines for the Martha Fund. Each parish can develop their own way of setting their priorities.

Martha Fund Parish Guidelines—September 11, 2005

1. Martha Fund Overview

The Martha Fund traces its origin to the birth of the parish as a mission of The Orthodox Church in America. Its purpose is to anonymously provide financial help and assistance to those in need. Since the parish depends on the stewardship of its members for its financial needs and encourages all to strive to practice tithing (giving 10 percent of one’s income), the parish in turn sets aside 10 percent of its annual income for the Martha Fund. Giving alms, acts of charity, and helping those in need are clearly what Scripture, God’s very Word, asks us to do as followers of the Lord. Engaging in this charitable activity can best be understood in the following quoted scriptural verses taken from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: 9:6-14.

“The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. As it is written, ‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’

“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God; for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God. Under the test of this service, you will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the Gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others; while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God in you.”

The history of Christ the Savior parish gives witness and testimony to the very truth of the Christian duty of giving, and the scriptural promise that is associated with it, in making it a core belief and practice of the parish community.

2. Funding the Martha Fund

In each year’s operating budget, an amount equal to 10 percent of the total pledged individual financial commitments received by the parish shall be placed into the Martha Fund to be disbursed in accordance with the guidelines established herein. Funds that have not been expended from previous years shall remain in the Martha Fund, to which the current year’s deposits will be added. It is the intent that the Martha Fund distribute annually in a responsible manner all that it receives, keeping, when possible, a minimum balance of $5000 in order to be prepared for emergencies.

3. Disbursements from the Martha Fund

Martha Fund disbursements are to be prioritized in the following order: parish family members, Orthodox Church organizations and individuals, individuals and/or church/social welfare organizations from the greater Southbury/Woodbury community, in accordance with the guidelines given herein. In addition, the Martha Fund shall be used to assist and encourage young adults from the parish to engage in mission activities, and in special circumstances, to provide assistance to others in need while performing their missionary work. The disbursements shall be approved on an individual basis at the regularly scheduled Steward Representatives meetings.

Parish Family Guidelines:

Confidentiality: Requests for financial assistance from parish family members shall be directed to the parish priest, who shall acknowledge such requests and act upon them in complete confidentiality; i.e., only he shall know the name of the requestor and the type or amount of financial assistance required.

Types of requests eligible for assistance: Aid for financial hardships shall always be limited to the paying of bills for goods or services directly to the provider of the goods and services. Payments shall never be made directly to the individual requesting assistance. The assessment of need shall be made by the priest. Assistance can take the form of payments for medical, housing, and food costs, and utilities or such other needs that are deemed appropriate and necessary by the priest.

Financial caps for individuals: A maximum individual cap of $500 for any single payment for an individual shall apply without necessitating a need for the individual to agree to counseling with the priest. Larger amounts may be considered, conditioned upon agreement between the individual and the priest that counseling may be necessary, as decided by the priest.

Multiple requests for financial assistance during any one calendar year by any one individual shall be limited to $1,500. In exceptional cases, as deemed appropriate by the priest, the priest may bring to the attention of the Steward Representatives, at their regularly scheduled meetings, a request for their approval of expenditures exceeding the maximum annual limit. Under these circumstances, the identity of the individual in need shall not be revealed to the Steward Representatives. Discussion shall be limited to the nature of the assistance required along with the reasons the priest is in support of exceeding the normal established maximum limit.

Orthodox organizations, other Orthodox parishes, and/or individuals from other Orthodox parishes:

It is recognized that The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) on a regular annual basis makes appeals for support of various departments and ministries of the Church. Four such appeals regularly scheduled are the February Missions Appeal, the June Seminaries Appeal, the September Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards Appeal, and the November Charities Appeal. At the beginning of the calendar year, once the parish budget has been established and approved by the parish, the Steward Representatives, in their meeting, shall agree to an equal amount to be given in the ensuing year to these four appeals. Other appeals that shall arise from time to time, as necessity dictates, shall be brought to the parish Steward Representatives for determination of the amount to disburse for such appeals.

In addition to OCA appeals, it is recognized that appeals are received annually from the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) for sanctioned Orthodox ministries. Two such ministries, the Orthodox Christian Mission Center and International Orthodox Christian Charities, shall be supported in like manner and in an amount equal to the four OCA regular appeals. Other appeals from SCOBA shall be brought forth to the parish Steward Representatives in their meetings for determination of the amount to be disbursed for such appeals.

Other Orthodox parishes have occasion to seek support from Christ the Savior in the forms of solicitations for Commemorative Event Books or special one-time programs in the life of their parish. Individual requests of this nature shall be brought forth to the parish Steward Representatives for consideration. The attempt shall be made to distribute like amounts to these requests where possible, although it is recognized that each request may require special consideration.

From time to time there arise extraordinary needs of individuals or families in other Orthodox parishes that surpass the ability of the home parish to meet. Requests of this nature shall be brought to the Steward Representatives for consideration of providing support from the Martha Fund.

Parish Sunshine Fund:

As necessary, the Martha Fund shall also be used to pay for flowers/other appropriate gifts for those parishioners who are hospitalized or recuperating at home from illnesses, and for the appropriate show of condolence to the families of members who fall asleep in the Lord. Guidelines for giving for these needs shall be reviewed and established annually.

4. Accountability

The Martha Fund shall have its own checking account in which all funds shall be maintained. Signatories to the checking account shall be the parish priest and parish deacon.

The parish monthly financial report shall include a Martha Fund summary report of total monthly expenditures and deposits/transfers from the church general account and shall be reconcilable to the checking account disbursements and deposits.

The Martha Fund shall be subject to an annual audit, although names of recipients receiving personal assistance will remain confidential.

5. Revisions to These Guidelines

It is recognized that these Guidelines may be subject to revision from time to time. Revisions shall be made only after thorough discussion at a Steward Representatives meeting by two thirds of those present at the meeting. Revised Guidelines approved by the Steward Representatives shall be shared with all parish members at parish monthly meetings and/or posting on the parish bulletin board.

The Steward Representatives referred to in the Martha Fund Guidelines are those individuals who volunteer each year to oversee one of the nine areas of parish life that need to be addressed to make the parish run smoothly. Examples are education, finances, maintenance, outreach, community contacts and services, evangelization. Sometimes one person, sometimes two or three people, volunteer for a given area. Approved first by the parish priest, their names are then submitted to the parish at its annual meeting to be affirmed by the community. They serve for a one-year term, and can reapply to continue. These Steward Representatives function as a parish council does, and meet monthly.

Fr. Vladimir Aleandro is the pastor of Christ the Savior Church, Southbury, CT. Dn. John Zarras serves there as well.

Why Adopt A Seminarian?

By Fr. David Mahaffey

I suppose most people go through life with their plans generally in place. I mean, they go through school, find someone they love, begin a career, get married, raise a family and then retire, enjoy their grandchildren for a while and then take their place among the dearly departed. At least, that is how I used to think it was supposed to be. That was before I had to live my life. That was B.S. (before seminary), excuse the pun. Oh, I know, we all want to think that life is like our favorite novel and we are always given the part of our favorite character (that is why we relate to them, after all). When God gives us a different path than the one we had envisioned, we become off balance, we momentarily can’t function, until we regain our senses and then proceed, as He desires.

You see, I really thought I understood what God had in store for me. I had my life all planned out. I secured my job, married my wife, became Orthodox (in that order), began a family and became a deacon. I had dreams of seminary that came and went and thought that God would be happy with me as a deacon until I was near retirement, and then I would do what was necessary to become a priest and serve some needy, small parish. That was it, plain, simple, concise. Surely God could have no argument with that. It’s not that I didn’t want to work more intensely in His vineyard. It was just that I wasn’t ready to give up all my comforts until it was absolutely necessary. It was my deal with God, my plan for life, a pretty good one, so I thought. Somehow, though, I never really got comfortable with it. It was nothing I could explain, just a kind of gnawing that would not go away, an itch I couldn’t scratch. But if my family was well provided for, and I had most everything I wanted in life, how could I argue with success?

After twenty years or so, things started to come undone. First, the company I had thought I was going to retire from went under. Then, I changed careers, made even more money, had more prestige, more of everything: bigger house, bigger car, better perks, and yet that itch was still there. That gnawing in my stomach never stopped. I don’t know why I couldn’t figure it out then. I was just plain blind in a spiritual sense, I guess. I felt like God wasn’t honoring our contract, because no matter how good life became, it never felt quite right.

“It” Happened

Then one day “it” happened. I can’t say it any better than that. “It” just came upon me like a rushing of the wind, a light from heavenly places, a peace that can only have one source, and that source is Almighty God. My wife and I were on our way home from a Mission Service we had attended in Ganister, Pennsylvania, during Great Lent in 1990. It was unlike most Lenten Mission Services, in that the priest, Fr. G. Andrew Matichak, had decided to have the Akathist, “Glory to God For All Things,” instead of Vespers. It really made a deep impression on my wife and me. As we drove along the country roads on our way home, she asked me, “Have you ever thought about continuing your education and becoming a priest?” That was when “it” happened. Suddenly I had the answer I was looking for. The itch was suddenly scratched, and the gnawing went away. I knew what I had to do, and so did she.

We must have seemed like two people who had lost their wits. Our children were between the ages of 3 and 10. We owned a big, beautiful ranch home in an upper-class neighborhood. Our children were in a wonderful school system, my job was providing us with a more-than-adequate income, our parents thought we had finally “made it” in life, as they say; and yet, for us, it was all wrong. It needed to change, and we knew it. We began to plan our “escape” from the world. We had no idea how we were going to pull it off, but we knew we had to try. We had to find out if I could get into seminary. (I had taken one course already from St. Tikhon’s extension program.) Would they want a man approaching forty years of age as a student? Would we be able to sell our home? (We simply could not afford a mortgage, cars, insurance and all if I was not going to be able to work.) Was this really what God wanted us to do, or were we kidding ourselves? We committed to the effort, and prayed that God’s will would be done. If the house did not sell, then that would be a sign that we were wrong. The house sold on the same weekend that I was to begin my studies at seminary. It was that close to not going through.

We had decided that my wife and four young children could move in with her parents while I went to seminary at St. Tikhon’s, if they would be willing to help us. Of course, they would do what they could, and made room in their farmhouse for my family. (At the time, I am fairly certain that my father-in-law was not happy with me, but he did it out of love anyway.)

God Provided Through His People

How can I put into words how difficult it is to be away from your wife and children, for any reason and any length of time? How can I speak about the many ways that God provided for us while I was at seminary? So many churches from our deanery (Altoona) helped us. One parish (St. John’s in Philipsburg) held a Chicken BBQ and gave us the profits, another parish (St. Michael’s in Portage) sent a carload of groceries to my in-laws’ house for us. Donations came in many forms from many places. They were so many, in fact, that I am sure if I tried to name all the donors, I would forget someone. I always felt that God spoke to the hearts of many people at that time and never let my wife or my children be in want. That’s another thing about going to seminary. For all the difficulties, I never once had that “itch” or “gnawing” feeling when it came to my family. I knew that God would take care of us, and He always did. I will never forget the kindnesses and the generosity of the God-loving people of our former Deanery; they all have a special mention during my Proskomedia before each Divine Liturgy. May they all inherit the kingdom of heaven, for they surely have earned it from my point of view.

A New Contract with God

Once I became ordained and established in a parish of God’s choosing, I made a new contract with God. I vowed to never forget the struggles of seminary and would do what I could to ease the burden of those who would go to seminary after me. Like my earlier commitment, I did not know how I would accomplish this, or in what fashion it would take shape, but I knew I had to try. I began to think of ways to complete my vow. I was only one person, I could not do much as an individual, certainly not enough to make a difference in the costs incurred by the new seminarians. I prayed and asked God to show me how I could do His will in this endeavor. Finally, it came to me one day as I observed the many people of my parish during a fund-raising function. I have been in this parish long enough to know the hearts of the people that I pray with. I know how they feel about their faith and their love of God. I know their generosity and their caring spirit. I just needed to find a way to bring together their love of God and the needs of the seminarians.

I put together 25 packets with 12 envelopes in each packet, one for each month of the year. The idea was to spread out the contributions over a twelve-month period so as not to burden anyone who was willing to help. If I could find 25 faithful parishioners who were willing to commit to donating $20 each month for a seminarian, a total commitment of $240 per year, we could finance his entire education for one year, including books. As I had hoped, enough people came forward to make this idea become a reality. Once again, I saw God speak to the hearts of His people to meet a need. Once again, from places unimaginable, from people who may not have thought about doing anything like this before, benefactors came forward and took up the task of commitment and provided for a seminarian in need.

This happened not only once, but again the next year, so that we have eased the burden on a young man who might not have been able to complete his education without hardship. We are now preparing 25 more packets to repeat this process again. We will need to select a new seminarian to help because the man we have been helping, John Parcells, graduated this year. He is a fine young man and will make a wonderful priest when God calls him to the ranks of the clergy.

Loving God Enough to Care

I have no doubt that when I make these packets available to our parishioners, they will take them and fill them as they have in the past. You see, it is not something done out of necessity, or in response to force. It is not done out of pride or to appear superior to others, but only because they love God enough to care. They love this Holy Orthodox Church enough to want the best for its future, and they love being able to help a person in need. I know this because I was once that person in need. I was once the one who prayed, “God help me.” My prayers were answered, and so I now pray a prayer of gratitude, not alone, but with the aid of the many good and faithful people whom I serve and pray with here in Old Forge, PA. It is said the God helps those who help themselves, and this is true. But it is also true that God helps those who are obedient to His will, and these He helps in ways they do not yet know are of His doing. The help comes from places unexpected and from people unrelated, except by God’s love, people who do it for no other reason than because they care. And that’s the best reason of all.

If I would have to sum up what I believe about our relationship with God, how it is supposed to work, what it entails, and how we should live, I would have to say that it can be summed up in one verse of Scripture. I have always been fond of Matthew 6:33, that part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus speaks about our cares and worries for this world. At the end of that chapter He says the following: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Those are the words I have tried to live by all my life, and I hope that anyone who is thinking about attending seminary, whether it be in South Canaan, New York, Kodiak, Boston, or at some other Orthodox school of theology, will remember these words and learn to live by them also. If they become a part of your life, they will become your life, period. May God bless all those who do His Holy will and those who support the doers of His will.

Fr. David Mahaffey is pastor of St. Michael’s Church, Old Forge, PA.

Appropriate Confrontation in a Spirit of Christian Love

By Doria Saros

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!” There is a lot of wisdom in this old adage. In truth, as Christians we should only speak in love to our fellow man, including when the time comes that there is a need to confront one another. In the following paragraphs I will share some simple tools to assist our efforts in what remains one of our greatest challenges in ministry and relationships in general.

Phase I- Self Examination

The first step in appropriate confrontation is one of self-examination. We must ask ourselves, “What have I brought, or what will I bring to this issue?”

As we read in Luke 6:41-42: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in you own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?”We must have the courage to take our own inventory before we dare attempt to address the issues of another.

We cannot effectively confront others until we can successfully confront ourselves.That being said, we have no control over another’s willingness to take his or her own inventory. We can only examine our own issues. Here is perhaps the single most vulnerable step in the ultimate success of appropriate confrontation. If both the parties involved are not sufficiently self-aware, the chances for the best outcome are markedly reduced. But this does not mean that we won’t have any success. If we feel we must still try, our efforts must remain forthright and loving, not manipulative and guilt producing. After all, if nothing else, there is a lot to be learned in providing an appropriate confrontation, even if the other party is unwilling to be a full participant.

Three Simple Questions

If we determine that confrontation is indeed appropriate, we must prayerfully ask ourselves three simple questions:

1. Is it loving? Am I willing to be loving in my approach to this confrontation? A review of 1 Corinthians 13 is in order here, especially verses 4-7, “Love is patient and kind: love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Many times when we thinkwe are loving, we fall short, especially in regard to our own sinful tendencies of being judgmental in conflict. To be judgmental is one of the fastest, and surest ways of failing in appropriate confrontation, and in a lasting relationship!

2. Is it honest and/or true? Is this issue based on hearsay or on firsthand testimony? Am I expressing myself honestly in regard to my own feelings?

3. Is it necessary? Am I offering unsolicited advice? Is it really in everyone’s best interest to confront this issue, or am I simply seeking to fulfill my own needs? On the other hand, if our brother or sister in Christ is traveling down the wrong path isn’t it our responsibility to say something? Galatians 6: 1 reminds us, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you, too, be tempted.”

Only when we can answer yes to all three of these questions should we proceed to confront the issue/person. If we cannot answer yes to all three questions, then more prayer and thoughtful self-examination are in order.

Phase II- Confronting Others

Jesus provides us with the ultimate model of appropriate confrontation in the book of Matthew 18: 15-18.

Verse 15: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” Go to the source. Don’t gossip and complain to others. Go directly to the person who has offended/hurt/sinned against you. Approach him/her lovingly with respect. “...if he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Caution: Meeting ‘alone’ in this day and age never means isolated with another, without being in full view of a witness.)

Verse 16: “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” This verse harkens back to Hebraic Law in Deuteronomy 19:15, “A single witness shall not prevail against a man for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed; only on the evidence of two witnesses, or of three witnesses, shall a charge be sustained.” If he/she cannot own the behavior or will not accept/validate your concerns, take along two or three objective witnesses, and allow them to impartially hear the concerns. The one-on-one power struggle can be quickly neutralized by one or two eye-witness accounts or the collective wisdom of several witnesses, hearing and addressing the issues. As a community of believers we all have an obligation to be accountable to one another.

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” (Matthew 18:17, part one). By the church we refer to the priest, pastor, or spiritual father/mother primarily. In some instances a parish council could serve in this role as well. In the first century, the parish as a whole was involved in addressing such disputes. However, in the much larger parishes of today, practicality lends itself to a smaller, more representative conciliar body of believers.

“And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17, part two). Sometimes the only thing left to do is to lovingly walk away, always keeping the door open to a repentant heart.

Rage and dysfunction dictate an enormous amount of irrational behavior. Here, it is appropriate in the presence of witnesses to share your agape love for your brother/sister in Christ, to identify the impasse of the circumstances in no uncertain terms, to close the door to any dysfunctional behavior, and, by God’s grace, to illuminate a path to healing.

Summary

Appropriate confrontation is one of the greatest challenges for any personal or working relationship. While it is one of the most difficult skills to master, it is also one of the most vital to preserving a relationship. Like many skills, it gets much better with practice.

With both careful and prayerful self-examination, we begin the two phases of appropriate confrontation by first confronting ourselves. After identifying that we are: being loving, being honest and have the truth, and finally that it is indeed necessary to speak, we are ready to confront the issue/person.

By following Christ’s model in the book of Matthew 18: 15-18, we are guided with each step in the confrontational process.

By appropriately confronting, with the grace of God, we will indeed, more often than not, “gain our brother.” In some rare instances we will have no choice but to, “let him be to us as a Gentile and a tax collector.” But as long as we can remember to hate the sin, and love the sinner, we leave the door open to future healing.

Doria Saros is the Youth Director of St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota and director of St. Mary’s Pan-Orthodox Summer Camp in Minnesota.

Using Technology in Service to the Church

By Protodeacon Kirill Sokolov

In this series, Protodeacon Kirill Sokolov examines the role of computer technology in the life of a parish community.

Part I. Savvy Infrastructure

When people united in fidelity to Christ and His Church form a local community—a parish—they strive to offer the first fruits of their lives to God. Both established and emerging parishes struggle to be as effective as possible with the gifts that have been entrusted to them. One “normal” element of organizational life in 2007 that is often overlooked is technology. More specifically, clergy and church workers use technology in a completely ad hoc manner. We bring our laptop—perhaps with some software that our corporation installed for business use—and go about our work with little technology planning.

This series in the Resource Handbook will seek to introduce readers to various topics that must be considered by parishes if they wish to be good stewards of parish resources, the donations of the faithful, and even of their own time. We will address topics such as effective fundraising, records keeping, outreach and promotion through the Internet, and safekeeping of privacy and data. It is hoped that the quarterly presentation of these topics will allow for thoughtful consideration and implementation by our communities.

The first topic I will address in this series is related to creating a very basic infrastructure for technology in a parish. Without reliable systems in place, any good work that takes place in more exciting areas such as fundraising or web site development can easily be lost and wasted.

Parish technology liaison

The first ingredient that every local community or institution needs for successful implementation of a technology plan is a “point-person” or a “technology liaison.” A person in this role is required even if a parish or fledgling mission is very small. One specific person must be charged with maintaining records of ownership, account usernames and privileges, inventories, and other details.

Liaison backup

In addition to the technology liaison, another person in the community must be aware of the location (digital and/or physical) of all of the materials cared for by the parish technology liaison.

Who to select

The technology liaison does not have to be extremely technology savvy. Indeed, this individual may not be the “most experienced” person in the community. It is most important that the liaison be someone who can keep the parish’s technological assets organized and up-to-date. This person should be someone who has the time and energy to keep regular watch over these assets and the technological needs of the community. The liaison can and should develop a team of talented parishioners to perform specific technology-related functions in the life of the parish. The liaison must keep regular communication channels open with the priest and parish council.

In some situations, it may make the most sense for the priest of the parish himself to supervise technology. In this case, it would be logical for an elected member of the parish council to be the backup contact. Conversely, if a volunteer in the community is responsible for technology, it may be most effective for the priest or an elected member of the parish council to be the backup.

The “backup” individual is key. I have personally been involved in too many instances in both the church and academic worlds where only one person knew the location of the key data as described above. In most cases, this person was highly reputable and a respected member of the community or organization. When this person disappeared from the scene, key procedures and data had to be recovered or recreated resulting in great monetary expense to the institution. Especially in volunteer communities such as parishes, the lost time can be crippling to operations for many months. The backup person need not be a technology expert. However, the backup person should be someone who can retain data in an organized manner. It stands to reason that the backup individual should not be a spouse or someone extremely close to the technology liaison.

Do we really need this structure?

There is an element of bureaucracy and corporate-style language involved in all of this that may make us uneasy in parish life. “Aren’t we a family?” Maybe “someone will just volunteer to take care of our web site?” I firmly believe that taking the time to set up appropriate structures will allow a parish community to be more loving, trusting, and committed to donating their time and resources in parish life. Properly designed structures and systems prevent confusion, hurt feelings, and sometimes disasters. At any given moment, you can browse the world wide web and find once-beautiful parish web sites that are basically defunct because a volunteer left the parish or the Church or simply has lost interest. The priest and parish council cannot “get in” and update the calendar of services and events.

How to begin

A new technology liaison must begin by determining what is currently at hand. If the community has its own buildings, there are some key questions that need to be asked and answered quickly:

  • Does the parish have any computers or other high technology on the property?
  • If so, is this equipment owned by the parish? Where is the paperwork?
  • Do the buildings have connections to the Internet? If so, what type? Who knows the account name and password? Who pays the bills?

If the community does not really use technology at its physical plant, questions still remain that must be answered. Indeed, some of these questions may be more difficult to answer when the parish is run out of “virtual offices”:

  • What software is used to maintain the parish records and finances? Is this done on-site or off-site?
  • Are backups being made of key data? If so, where are they kept? Is there a backup plan written down and understood?
  • Is there a parish web site? Who maintains it? Who pays the bills to the web hosting provider? Is there a unique domain name (e.g., http://www.orthodoxparish.org)? If so, who “owns” the name of the domain legally?

Some of these questions may take time to resolve but must be considered to have the same sort of urgency as issues we are more accustomed to such as “when was the last time the fire extinguishers in the Church were checked?”

Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel are basic start-up files.

The technology liaison must systematically record the results of his or her findings. Initially, I suggest that a straightforward Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel file be created to write data down as they become available. Password-protect the file (there is an option to do this when you are saving your work). Store a labeled backup copy once a month on a recordable CD in the parish safe. Keep your current working copy in one location. You can keep your working copy on increasingly inexpensive removable USB “thumb drives.” With these removable devices, you can take your document to the parish office or your home office. One of the most treacherous things you can do is keep multiple copies of the data file in multiple locations. This can lead to easier theft of data or data loss when you mistakenly use an old version of your document.

Keeping a Word or Excel file for this kind of data is a good way of getting your project underway but you must be very mindful of the security of your data. Ultimately, Microsoft Office products are not designed with security in mind. When you are organized enough to know how much data you will need to record and keep, consider a program or utility that will help you maintain this data safely. There are many products in this area. Some products to compare include:

http://passwordsafe.sourceforge.net/

http://www.moonsoftware.com/pwagent.asp

http://www.symantec.com/passwordmanager/

Summary

We want computer technology to help us get the work of our parish done more quickly and efficiently. We would love to see advanced tools help us with our projects and we are excited by the outreach potential of the Internet. These benefits of information technology in the parish can only be realized when clergy, staff, and parishioners understand what they are working with and the security of their data and resources. Each community is a small non-profit organization that must approach these issues carefully and seriously. The appointment of a parish technology liaison and a backup allow for a systematic cataloging and maintenance of technology records and information.

In future installments of this series, we will take a look at issues such as finance and fundraising software choices, web site creation, and parish records maintenance. We will continue to emphasize security and reliability and build on the foundations discussed in this article.

Protodeacon Kirill Sokolov is the Director of Systems at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (http://www.svots.edu). If you have questions or ideas for future installments in this series, please write him at techinchurch@sokolov.org. This article is Copyright © 2007 by the author.

Church School Lenten Read-a-thon

By Sonya Sidoriak Hitt

Church School Lenten Read-A-Thon Extra Resources

At our parish we are blessed to have as our priest’s wife, Lydia Westerberg, who is a professional librarian. She has helped us build up a wonderful parish library of religious and spiritual materials for all ages.

Some six years ago, Matushka Lydia brought to the Church School the idea of having a Lenten Read-a-thon. During Great Lent, students would set a goal of a specific number of minutes to read each day from religious books of their choice. To offer encouragement, each student would select an adult “book buddy” who would agree to also read, and who would check with the student periodically to inquire how the reading was coming along and share thoughts on some of the material that had been read.

The idea was enthusiastically received by the teachers, the students and their families. A successful Lenten Read-a-thon has occurred each year since.

The following are guidelines on how our Read-a-thon is conducted.

A Timeline for Conducting an Effective Reading Program

for Church School Children during Great Lent

Goal: To encourage children to learn more about their faith through reading.

To encourage children to use the church library as a source of religious reading and research.

To help children improve their reading skills.

To allow children and adults to give encouragement and support to each other in a team effort as they work toward a common goal.

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Preparation: The coordinator considers the number of participants and gathers adequate and appropriate religious books in the church library to provide materials for all, i.e. the Bible, Lives of the Saints, Old Testament readings, Parables, other suitable religious material.

Step 1 - On the Sunday before Forgiveness Sunday, an announcement is made that a special children’s meeting will be held on the following Sunday to receive the Lenten Read-a-thon materials. A Read-a-thon chart with names of the students entered is posted on the wall. The goal is 100% participation of all church school students.

Step 2 - On Forgiveness Sunday, children receive their Read-a-thon chart from the previous year. This is useful in helping them set a lenten effort goal in reading minutes for 2007. They will record this new goal on their new chart. On this day, each child will select their adult book buddy who will encourage him/her. The book buddy will also read and check that both have appropriate and enough religious reading material to get through each week. The book buddy will help the reader check out and return library books correctly.

If a student is absent on this Sunday, information will be mailed to the home.

Step 3 - The coordinator will recruit adults to be book buddies, assign some, if necessary, and make sure that the buddy understands his/her responsibility to the young reader. The adult book buddy will also keep account of his/her own reading minutes.

Step 4 - Mid-Lent The book buddy will check the child’s chart to see that the minutes are being recorded properly and regularly.

Step 5 - The Lenten Read-a-thon ends on Holy Saturday. Both reader and buddy will tally all minutes and bring their charts to church on Bright Monday.

Step 6 - Reading charts are turned in to the coordinator on Bright Monday. The minutes are recorded on the wall poster by the coordinator. The adult book buddy can add matching minutes to the reader’s minutes up to a maximum of 20 hours.

Step 7 - A participation certificate and a small gift are presented to each reader at the end of the program. Recognition is given to participating adults.

To achieve success with this program, it is important for the coordinator to be well organized. Do not underplan, as contact time with the students is usually very short.

Examples of informational material included with this article are:

  1. the Read-a-thon chart.
  2. 2) the student and book buddy Sign-Up Sheet.
  3. a letter to the book buddy detailing his/her responsibilities.
  4. a letter to the book buddy midway through Great Lent.
  5. the final Read-a-thon chart with the minutes listed.

Church School Lenten Read-A-Thon Extra Resources

Sonya Sidoriak Hitt is the Church School Coordinator at Holy Transfiguration Church, New Haven, CT. E-mail contact: uconn64@yahoo.com

Communal House Blessings

By Vicki Jones

The center of worship for a family is often the home, perhaps the holiest place there is. The home is where you gather with family to eat, to raise a family, to read the word of God. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14: 23). After Theophany, the home also becomes a center of celebration during the annual house blessings. This service is not only a time for a family to gather and renew the home as a holy site; it can also become an opportunity for the parish community to rejoice in the Lord together. Borne of necessity last year, the house blessings for the families of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Overland Park, Kansas, became real occasions of celebration in our new experience of communal house blessings.

A house blessing.

Since the time between Theophany and the beginning of Great Lent last year was extremely brief, our pastor, Fr. Timothy Sawchak, came up with a solution to demands on his limited time. Holy Trinity is a widespread parish with mostly working families who wish to have their houses blessed in the evening; therefore, practicality forced this innovation, which allows Fr. Tim to bless up to four houses in one night and still have dinner! Precedence for this innovation was in Fr. Tim’s former assignment where each year a family would invite a different family from the parish to share the house blessing and dinner. Fr. Tim suggested that four families in close geographic proximity join together. He had one central family organize the evening and the logistics, and then give him the itinerary, since it is difficult to organize this type of event one person at a time. On a designated schedule, Fr. Tim blessed the first three houses and then all four of the families gathered at the final destination. There, a large group was present for the house blessing and also for the potluck dinner immediately following.

This has proven to be a very successful opportunity for networking and meeting new families. This also provides an opportunity to sit down together at the table in homes we may never have visited before. We started relatively small last year, with about seven groupings, but because of the popularity of this program, we anticipate that this year more families will want to become part of the shared house blessings. There may be different groupings of families, or at least a different dinner host.

After the house blessing, the families feast together in an informal manner, which is a wonderful time to learn more about each other. Several new aspects of old, familiar friends in the parish family emerged. One group learned that they enjoyed similar television programs, while another discovered a shared passion for antiques. According to Carol Moore, one of the participants in this event, “To see someone’s home is to see who they really are, on their own turf.” Certainly, relationships were strengthened last year and new friendships forged.

There may be disadvantages to this type of program, but according to Fr. Tim, “I don’t see any pitfalls.” In the Midwest, one inevitable pitfall may be scheduling around bad weather. It is wise to group two to four families in one evening, and to organize by geographic areas, to alleviate Fr. Tim’s driving time. It is also important to communicate that this is not mandatory, but an opportunity for fellowship. As Fr. Tim pointed out, shared house blessings “elevate the whole notion of blessing a home.” This is a good way to build community, and as Jay Moore, a fellow parishioner, said, “One wants to share blessings.”

Vicki Jones has coordinated Holy Trinity’s All-Parish Education program, and worked with the Stewardship Committee. She is a high school English composition teacher, and a wife, mother, and grandmother.

2007 OCA Parish Ministries Conference Focuses on Ministering to Those Too Often Neglected

By Rev. David Cowan

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“Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). Who are “the least of these”? Of course, they are persons lacking adequate food, shelter, and clothing. They are the friendless, the sick, the imprisoned and confined. But are the “least of these” only to be found in the settings where we expect to find them—in hospitals and homeless shelters, jails and geriatric homes? Or are they also to be found among us, in our communities, our schools—even beside us, in our parishes? And how is the parish, the local manifestation of the Body of Christ, to fulfill the Lord’s mandate to minister to His brethren, wherever we may encounter them?

These questions were at the heart of the 2007 OCA Parish Ministries Conference, entitled “The Heart Assured: Works of Love in Deed and Truth,” held at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, on July 25-28, 2007. More than seventy clergy and lay persons attended the Conference, joined by His Beatitude, Metropolitan HERMAN, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and His Eminence, Archbishop SERAPHIM of Ottawa and Canada, who gave the opening Keynote Address. His Eminence reminded us that true works of charity are those done not out of obligation but out of self-emptying love, the same love that Christ has for each of us.

Keynotes provide food for discussion

Ensuring that such “works of love in deed and truth” are accomplished is not merely the province of the priest but of the parish as a whole. Father Andrew Morbey (St. Mary’s Cathedral, Minneapolis, MN) and Mr. John Rybicki (St. Luke Church, McLean, VA) spoke on the need to clarify and respond to the various expectations priests and parishes have of one another. Ms. Nancy Van Dyken (St. Anthony the Great Mission, Bozeman, MT) who runs a non-profit inter-denominational Christian philanthropic organization, brought her considerable creativity and experience to bear in a presentation called “Expanding Our Parish Life; Including Those Too Often Left Out.” She turned our attention to those whose needs may not be obvious but are very real—widows, divorcees, at-risk children and teens, children and adults with learning disabilities, and others.

Breakout groups met to identify needs and to “brainstorm” ministry ideas for these and other groups, such as homebound persons and their caregivers; prisoners; single persons; families with young children; and newcomers and visitors to the parish community. Various workshops addressed these topics, and others shared ideas gleaned from OCA parish communities active in outreach ministries to the hungry and homeless.

Though the Conference’s main emphasis was on ministry in and around the local parish, the event had a broader, international dimension as well. One evening session featured vivid, inspiring, up-to-the minute talks on the essential work of International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC); the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) “Real Break” program for college students; the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC); Project Mexico; and Church World Service. Clergy and lay representatives from these organizations discussed practical ways for parishes to contribute to these crucial missionary efforts, both as individual parishes and in collaboration with neighboring Orthodox parishes across jurisdictional lines.

Worship “book-ends” each day

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A great deal of instruction, interaction, and inspiration took place in the space of only two and a half long, densely packed days! But the event was not limited to lectures and dialogue. Participants not only learned together and shared meals together; they prayed together: each day was “book-ended” by worship, including Morning Prayers, evening Vespers, a 40-day memorial service for His Eminence, Archbishop KYRILL; a Friday Vespers at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, DC; and a final Divine Liturgy served at St Mary’s Church in Falls Church, VA. Both parishes provided meals and gracious hospitality. The Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America chapter of St. Mark Church in Bethesda, MD, also hosted a generous welcome reception on the first night of the event.

Beginning and ending each day with corporate prayer gave life to Archbishop Seraphim’s insistence that our “works of love,” when they flow from a heart steeped in humility and the desire to imitate Christ, can assist in not only the material sustenance of those in need but in the salvation of their souls as well. May God grant that much fruit be borne of this Conference!

The audio of the Keynote addresses is available on Ancient Faith Radio, found under “Specials”. www.ancientfaith.com

Disability and Communion

The Department of Christian Service and Humanitarian Aid, as an important part of its ministry, has recognized and raised up the special needs of people with disabilities. Articles in the Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries have treated this subject as early as 1983, one year after the Handbook came into being., with “The Accessible Church” by Fr. John Matusiak, Vol I, 1983, Parish Development. The latest, a 2006 article by Wendy Cwiklinski addresses “Church and Children with Invisible Disabilities,” Vol III, 2006, Family Life.

The focus of the 2007 OCA Parish Ministries Conference, held in Arlington, VA, was on “Ministering to Those Too Often Neglected.” The Department has also undertaken, at the request of the Central Administration, to codify parishes that are handicap accessible as part of the updating of the OCA Parish Directory.

The SCOBA Official Statement that came out in June 2009, “Disability and Communion,” affirms the importance of ministering to this need in our respective parishes, as well as in our personal lives.

Official Statement of the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Embracing People with Disabilities within the Church

To all of the faithful clergy and laity

of the Holy Orthodox Church throughout the Americas,

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

1. Understanding Disability, Embracing Persons with Disability

Persons with disabilities comprise the largest minority group in the United States, with almost 20% of the population facing disability in one form or another. Disability affects people of all backgrounds, nations and races, of both genders and any age. A disability stems from an impairment that is either congenital, or the result of disease, injury, or the developmental and aging processes.

Disability is a daily and, in many ways, a natural occurrence. We are all touched by disability in the form of illness or injury or difficulty at some point in our lives. Since we all hold the treasure of God’s life in fragile earthen vessels (see 2 Cor. 4:7), each of us is vulnerable to disability, whether by circumstance, by genes, by disease, by accident, or by age. Such disability might include chronic disease, vision or hearing impairment. However, for some people, such a physical, mental, sensory or emotional impairment substantially limits their daily activities.

Yet a person with a disability is not necessarily handicapped except through physical and attitudinal barriers created by others. Handicaps are in fact the barriers that we create for people with disabilities by excluding them socially and physically. There are many persons with disabilities even in our own parishes; nevertheless, our parishes have not reached out sufficiently to adults and children with disabilities in its ministry. Indeed, the reality of disability is often shrouded in silence or shame because the presence of disability challenges basic assumptions and stereotypes. Therefore, it would be useful for us to recall the fundamental theological principles that should guide our pastoral ministry and practical response as we realize our mission as Church to be a welcoming communion. “God shows no partiality.” (Gal. 2.6) “For the Lord does not see as we see; we see the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam. 16.7)

2. Humanity in the Image of the Trinitarian God

One of the most repeated phrases in our liturgy is the Trinitarian nature of our God: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The God we worship is characterized and defined by communion or interdependence, not exclusion or independence. In our pursuit, then of a model response to disability concerns, we affirm a God of love and hospitality, in the manner of Abraham and Sarah welcoming the three angels (Gen. 18) reflecting the unity of the Trinitarian God. In this respect, the Church, too, is called to become the image of the Trinity, a unity of persons in communion, a place where everyone is welcomed.

Humanity—created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1.26) and comprising an icon of Trinitarian communion is enriched and defined by the unique gifts and differences of every person. No one is created perfect, and all of us strive toward perfection in the crucified Jesus Christ, who alone is the perfect “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb. 1.3) and the complete image of man—fully divine and fully human. Therefore, it is only in the Body of Christ, as a corporate image, that each person becomes an equal and indispensable member. Every member, those with as well as those without disabilities, bring specific and special talents to the Church. At the same time, we need one another in order for our gifts to be revealed.

Thus, in the Church, we learn to honor and to complement one another. However, such completion or perfection (theosis) is always a constant striving, never fully accomplished in this life. For, “just as the body is one and has many members… so it is with Christ.” (1 Cor. 12.12) Indeed, “the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable.” (1 Cor. 12.22) There are two points that we should notice in St. Paul’s words: first, that certain parts may “seem” weaker, but in fact are not actually weaker; second, that weakness is not the characteristic of an individual but of the entire Church. This means that, when people with disabilities are in any way excluded from our parish life, then the entire body is incomplete. “We all bear one another’s burdens in order to fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6.2) When St. Paul speaks of the weak, he is continuing a long biblical tradition that God chooses the vulnerable for the sake of bringing wholeness and healing to the entire community.

We often forget that the application of the word “membership” to persons is of profoundly Christian origin, and it is only in the Church that it assumes full and authentic meaning. St. Paul implies that members of the Church resemble organs of a body, essentially different from and yet essentially complementary to one another. Membership differs from mere inclusion in the collective or political sense. We are not a full community without one another. If we exclude or overlook one member, then we do not simply reduce the community; in fact, we inflict injury on the very structure of the Church.

3. Christ as Healer and Savior

Ultimately, the way that we embrace people with disabilities reflects the way that we perceive the incarnate and crucified Word of God. As Christians, the God we worship is characterized and defined by assuming flesh and lying utterly powerless on the Cross. Christ came to “reconcile and tear down the middle wall of separation.” (Eph. 2.14) As disciples of Christ, we are called to consider society’s walls, as well as the walls which we set up and which separate us from our neighbor. For these all too human walls contradict the ministry of Christ, which is a ministry of reconciliation and healing. It is unfortunate that, in our day, people with disabilities still encounter such walls, whether through physical barriers or through prejudicial attitudes; indeed, it is unconscionable that our parishes often tolerate or perhaps even contribute to such exclusionary conditions.

The healing miracles of Jesus, which are recounted in the Gospels, are primarily concerned with the reconciliation of persons to their communities, rather than merely the cure of physiological conditions. Jesus did not distinguish between physical healing, social restoration and the forgiveness of sins. For example, the man with leprosy is offered the opportunity to return to his community (see Mark 1.40-45), while the paralytic is forgiven his sins (see Mark 2.1-12). Forgiveness of sins implies removing the stigma imposed by the prevailing culture, where disability was associated with sin. Thus, disability is principally a social issue, while healing is the removal of social barriers.

We often reduce the significance and scope of forgiveness to guilt and redemption. Yet, the Greek word for forgiveness (synchoresis) implies much more than this, pointing to a sense of sharing and fitting together within community. Furthermore, all of us require such forgiveness and reconciliation within the community. Perhaps this broader interpretation of forgiveness will help us disassociate disability from sin, guilt and physical healing. What is called for is a sense of solidarity with all members of the Church, rather than an expectation of similarity with worldly images and stereotypes, whereby people emphasize either cure or acceptance of a condition.

4. Pastoral Ministry: Practical Implications

The Church’s role is to embrace the reality of humanity in all of its depth and breadth, including the reality of people with disabilities who are often excluded, rejected, or abandoned. For, “truly, anything that we do for one of my brothers and sisters, however, insignificant, we do it for Him.” (Mt. 25.40) The integration of persons with disabilities within the Church gives testimony to God’s love as expressed by His disciples and is a model for society where disabled people suffer from humiliation and marginalization.

Beyond the experience of marginalization, most disabled people are also economically disenfranchised, experiencing some form of deprivation in living and employment conditions. Moreover, their care-givers make considerable sacrifices, often unnoticed, experiencing manifold demands on their time and resources. In addition, disability can cause social discrimination, whereby people with disabilities experience loneliness and isolation. Bearing one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6.2) implies, first, noticing the suffering of others and then discerning ways of responding appropriately. Supporting people with disabilities involves removing emotional barriers, refusing to consider disability in a patronizing manner either as a test from God or the target of our pity. When our Lord was asked about the man born with blindness, He responded that “neither he nor his family sinned ...” (John 9.3) Each of us is born into the world, with the gifts as well as with the weaknesses that we have, “in order that God’s works might be revealed in us.”

Therefore, welcoming every baptized Orthodox Christian to full parish membership makes the community whole and enriches all of us as God desires. Indeed, embracing persons with disabilities is a proclamation of the Gospel message. For, we are all called to “welcome one another, even as Christ has welcomed us.” (Rom. 15.7) All of us, with and without disability, are invited by God to a full life of faith and ministry, including worship, leadership, education, and service.

The most evident expression of the community is the common worship of the congregation. Orthodox worship is rich in color, sound, smell and movement, appealing to all senses and all persons. Therefore, we should examine especially carefully, then, whether we consider ways in which people with disabilities are encouraged to participate in our services, in our choirs, or in the many non-verbal elements of our worship. More fundamentally, we should examine whether the entrances to our buildings and the pathway to receiving Holy Communion are accessible to all members of the Church. Moreover, we should examine whether our liturgical and pastoral services are welcoming to those among us with challenges in movement, hearing, sight, or speech.

Furthermore, to feel truly welcome in our parishes, persons with disabilities must not be excluded from leadership roles. We should explore ways of involving people with disabilities in administration by inviting them to serve on committees, by offering assistance in transportation, or perhaps even by changing the venue of a particular meeting. We should consider every appropriate opportunity and dignified manner with which to include every member of the community in liturgical occasions and catechetical classes.

No one should be excluded from the manifold aspects of the church’s education (whether children, adults, or the elderly) or the community’s pastoral ministry (such as visitations and fellowship). There should also be provision in our seminaries for training and informing future clergy regarding aspects of inclusion for people with disabilities. Responding to issues of disability reflects the willingness to respond to the vulnerability of life itself. An inclusive paradigm of ministry is a crucial step in dispelling misconceptions and assumptions regarding disability, while rendering all areas of parish life accessible and possible to persons with disabilities.

5. Beyond Inclusion to Communion

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990, was the first comprehensive civil rights legislation to protect people with disabilities. Yet, beyond legal obligation and civil conduct, responding to and including people with disabilities are not options for us as Orthodox Christians. This includes, for example, providing curb cuts, adequate ramps, sufficient handicapped parking, wide doors and aisles to accommodate wheelchairs. It is our personal and collective obligation to strive for the transfiguration of all people and all things in the heavenly vision of unity.

Humbly learning the proper language and appropriate behavior is part and parcel of our vocation as children of the living God and disciples of the risen Lord. It involves identifying and increasing the visibility of people with disabilities—those using canes, walkers, wheelchairs or service dogs. The key in relating to people with disabilities is always communion and openness, not mere compassion or pity. The only rules are sincere love and genuine respect. We are called to look at the person and to remember that the disability is only a part of the whole person. Thus, the first and most valuable gift that any community can offer a person with disability is recognition, rather than rejection. Our mission is, in humble cooperation with the Holy Spirit, to render the Church as a whole body, a human reflection of Trinitarian communion, an earthly image of the heavenly kingdom.

Let it be so among us.

Questions for Discussion:

1) What has been your reaction to meeting a person, a child with special needs? What, if anything, has helped you to feel more comfortable with him/her?

2) What are the special needs of some of the parishioners in your parish?

3) In what ways has your parish been able to reach out to those with special needs to make them feel as comfortable in the parish as any other parishioner? What more can you do?

4) What has been the value to you, to the parish of recognizing and helping parishioners with special needs among you?

Introducing Children to Hymnography through Iconography

By David Lucs

The liturgical life of our Orthodox Christian Faith is meant to be full of life, engaging, and reflecting Christ’s commission to his apostles to “Go and baptize all nations….” This is not a passive command, but an active one, which we are called to accept as our own. To aid us in our efforts, the church provides us with the liturgical arts: icons, which adorn the walls of our churches, providing visual instruction about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and the hymns which we sing, expounding on the same events as portrayed in the icons.

As windows into the Kingdom, iconography and hymnography reveal the glory and majesty of God. Whether used independently of each other or together, icons and hymns enable our relationship with God to deepen, making the feasts and saints present for us today. The saving message of Christ as found in the life of the church is for all of us to accept and adopt as our own. For Orthodox Christian parents, who also have the responsibility of raising their children in the Faith, they must establish a firm foundation for their children to develop their own relationship with God the Father.

Our kids are constantly bombarded by visual and auditory messages in society – many which contradict the teachings of the church – and children need a firm foundation rooted in the love of God, to understand right from wrong, and discern what will benefit their relationship with Christ and His holy church. It is critical that the hymns and icons of the church have a place in the lives of children, as a guide for their growth and development.

A Series of Workshops

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To help children understand the importance and usefulness of the liturgical arts – and singing in particular – a series of workshops has been established by the Diocesan Liturgical Music Commission for the Diocese of New York & New Jersey with the blessing of His Grace, Bishop Michael. These workshops provide an opportunity for children to discover the basics of music theory, examples of liturgical music, and inspire kids of all ages to take a more active role in the life of the church through liturgical music, glorifying God.

The day-long workshops are structured to be fun for the children, stressing the importance and beauty of singing while in church and at home. A selection of hymns shared with the kids and their parents make it possible to bring the liturgical arts into their homes. We may have icons in our homes, but do we also sing the hymns of the church year at home? Parents can encourage kids by having their families say morning and evening prayers together, or by singing the Lord’s Prayer or the festal apolytikion (or troparion) before meals. Even if it’s not the most harmonious experience, it can be an expression of a family’s love for and relationship with God.

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The importance of making these moments enjoyable as well as educational for the children cannot be overemphasized. The “fun” which is possible when sharing the happiness of Christianity makes me think of the evening hymn “Gladsome Light” – or as translated by others –“O joyous Light!” Christ is the Light of the world, and we want the children to experience the joy of encountering Christ through liturgical music, so they will continue to develop and raise their voices to God throughout their lives.

Format of Workshop

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The diocesan workshops are done prayerfully and for the glory of God, in hopes of increasing the number of singers, readers, directors, poets, composers and educators to lead the next generation of faithful in singing praises to God. Participation in the workshops is open to kids from ages five to fifteen, regardless of their musical background or ability. The format of the workshop is designed to allow those with no previous musical training to learn about music in a welcoming and engaging environment, not only from the instructor, but also from their peers. Since the children may be coming from different parishes within a particular deanery or across the diocese, the workshops also provide an opportunity to get to know one another, and possibly establish friendships with other Orthodox kids which hopefully will extend beyond the day’s events.

Much like the family portraits or photos on the walls of their homes, the presence of icons reminds the children of always being surrounded by the saints, our guardian angels, and the Theotokos. For this reason, the workshops are held in the church, usually in front of the iconostasis, to create a setting where the children are surrounded by Christ and His saints. The icons also play prominently in the topics presented during the workshop, providing real examples of making Christ present in our lives and introducing the liturgical arts to the children.

Invariably, kids have already learned any number of songs – from nursery rhymes at home or in day care programs, to songs they hear on the radio, or those taught in school. The goal is to help the children realize music is all around them, and the church hymns can also be theirs to sing.

Troparia are liturgical “theme songs” which serve as great starting points to introduce children to church music, because they encapsulate core theological topics, lend themselves musically for the kids to learn, and are relatively short and memorable. Depending on the time of the year, the workshop will use the festal troparia (apolytikia), kontakia, and hymns for upcoming feasts. These hymns represent the most important feasts and celebrations of the church, and time is set aside during the workshop to ensure the meaning and message of each hymn is outlined and explained. To accomplish this, the workshop makes use of the festal icons adorning the walls of the church.

Beginning with a Scavenger Hunt

Keeping the atmosphere of the workshop informal and engaging, a scavenger hunt begins, where everyone is sent to find the icon which best represent the text of the hymn which is read by one of the children. The purpose of this activity is twofold – it allows the children to look more closely at the icons which adorn the walls of the church, and to enable them to become more comfortable in God’s house. Like the hymns we sing, the icons which surround us are not static or passive, but meant to be engaging and bring us closer to God.

The results of the search may vary and certainly can be interesting. Some kids immediately find the correct icon, while others suggest icons which may have similar themes or elements (a mandorla around Christ, the correct figures, it looks familiar, etc.). Each child is asked to compare the icon they’ve selected with the text of the hymn, to see if they can determine the right answer on their own. Do the icon and hymn match? Or are they related? Invariably, those with the wrong guess will continue their search, while those who found the correct feast, will be able to confirm how it is the right icon.

When the majority of the children find the correct icon, we gather around it and discuss what they see in the image, what is being portrayed, and how this relates to us as Orthodox Christians. We then collectively refer back to the text of the hymn and read it, comparing it to the icon before us, to see if they match and how they relate to each other. Some of the icons and hymns match words with images – like the icon of our Lord’s Nativity and its festal kontakion. In this way, the kids discover that these words and images have meaning for us – in other words, there’s a reason why we celebrate these feasts, and how Christ becomes real in our life – and how His actions enable us to obtain salvation.

Throughout the workshop, the kids are encouraged to get involved, either by answering questions, helping others to sing, or volunteering to read the texts. This provides them with an opportunity to share what they know, and to become comfortable with speaking in church. In this way, they experience reading in church – which can strengthen confidence and identify potential readers for services.

Copies of Festal Hymns Sent Home with Children

Children who attend the workshop receive copies of the hymns to potentially sing in their homes, making the feasts more present in their lives. What frequently is misunderstood to be done “only in church” can be extended beyond the doors of the church and be used in the homes of believers, making the feasts of the church real in our daily lives. For example, these hymns may be sung before meals or going to bed, or with morning prayers.

Since the texts are rather short, they are easy to learn, and the melodies can be memorable. It’s also possible the children can adopt the hymns as their own, singing them for years to come. I personally realized this about two years ago when our younger daughter was three. She “discovered” how much she loved the Paschal troparion during Paschal vespers that year. Every day after, she could be heard singing it while playing, before meals, in the car, everywhere we went. After coming home from vigil for Ascension, we had the difficult responsibility of explaining to her that “we won’t be singing ‘Christ is risen’ anymore.” Well! You would have thought we said her favorite toy was lost or her fish had died. Tears and screams filled the house. After she finally calmed down, she firmly declared, ‘”But Papa, ‘Christ is risen!’”

Even at three years old, she understood what she was singing. Each year since, she begins asking in the middle of Great Lent when we can start singing her favorite song again: “Christ is risen!” She, and our older daughter, now looks forward to singing all of the different settings of the Paschal troparion they know and love to sing. They have adopted these hymns as their own, because they sing them before meals and bedtime, and enjoy singing them as often as they can during the Paschal season.

This situation helped me understand the importance of making these hymns “our own,” so the kids at the workshops are encouraged to have that same desire and excitement. We look at the Resurrection icon – both before and after singing the Paschal troparion – to see what can be discovered in the image and what is depicted. It’s amazing to see how perceptions changes when the kids look at the icon. They see the deeper meaning, and relationship between the hymn and what is being depicted in lines and colors. They identify Christ in the icon, and how he is literally raising Adam and Eve from the tombs. Since most kids won’t be able to name each of the Old Testament figures in the icon, this becomes a talking point to explain how the prophets foretold the coming of a Messiah who would save His people. It also provides an opportunity to explain how Christ’s resurrection is also a victory for us, and makes our own salvation possible.

An Overview of Music Theory

The workshop also presents a basic overview of music theory and western notation. Using an oversized poster board,  the kids make music, constructing the first two measures of the hymn, and begin to see the relationship between each of the elements: “this A relates to that B-flat, and it’s a quarter note, so we sing it like this, because….” Like the lines and colors used to create an icon, the musical notation becomes the method by which the message of the liturgical texts is proclaimed.  Form follows function and guides our efforts to immerse the children in music.

The practical exercise of putting the notes on the board and assigning the notes to words is a tangible learning moment to explain how those who sing take the notes and text and put them together.  The music becomes the language which we use to proclaim our beliefs and glorify God, just as the board, brushes, and paint are used to create the icons which visually represent what we believe.

It’s very important to be honest with kids since they pay attention to what we say and what we promise we’ll do. And they learn better in an honest and loving environment. The support given by His Grace, Bishop Michael of New York and New Jersey, is visible by his attending at least a portion of each workshop thus far held within his diocese.  He offers words of encouragement to the kids, and his commitment to educating our youth is very apparent.  It is inspiring to see the reaction of the kids when His Grace talks with each of them one-on-one, and they reciprocate and want to sing for him, to show what they have learned.

The venerable archpriest and composer, Father Sergei Glagolev (born 1927, Gary, Indiana) said, “If you want to know what the church teaches, come to church and listen to what we sing!” The stichera, troparia, and irmoi which we sing or hear in church confirm this idea, as they recount the events of Christ’s earthly ministry and teachings. The lives of the Theotokos and the saints are also found in the sacred hymns and provide examples and inspiration for us to abide by the teachings of the church.

Divine Services to be Seen as Active and Not Passive Experiences

I believe it is critical for the education of children is to see the divine services as active and not passive experiences, and the hymns and icons help make that a reality. This is also critical for parents to understand, as the liturgical services of the church are there as a means to help each of us draw closer to God. By singing the responses in church, or singing/reciting the texts at home, the feasts become a part of each of our lives and our shared experience in the church.

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We live in a world which stresses the importance of communication, with new technology enabling us to stay connected with each other. If we as Orthodox Christians want to raise our children in the Faith, then we need to also make use of the timeless resource of the church – icons and hymns, prayer and fasting – to aid our efforts to strengthen the connection our kids have with the church. The icons we venerate in church and at home allow God to be a part of our families, and the hymns we sing express our love for Christ and His holy church.

We need to pray to God, asking Him to send the Holy Spirit to guide our labors, especially in the lives of our children. And, if we have faith in God, He may bless our collective efforts, inspire others to join us, and possibly establish a new period of “glory days” for our parish choirs for the glory of His Name.

David Lucs, a member of Holy Protection Cathedral, New York, NY is an Orthodox choir director and composer, who has led Childrens’ Music Workshops in OCA parishes over the past two years. He also presented a paper about the workshops at the fifth music conference hosted by the International Society for Orthodox Church Music in June 2013, in Joensuu, Finland. David (dlucs@verizon.net) is available for future workshops and parishes are invited to contact him to schedule workshops in their communities.

Personal Examination for Clergy and Church Workers

By Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko

Fr. Hopko had this teaching distributed as spiritual preparation in advance of the 2013 OCA Parish Ministries Conference, “Equipping the Saints for Worship, Learning and Service”, Marymount University, Arlington, VA July 10-13, 2013.

1.  Do I pray regularly every day?  How do I do it?  Do I need to make changes?  If I do not pray regularly, what should I do?  Do I have someone with whom I share my prayer life, and my spiritual life generally?  Am I ready to take counsel and direction in this area, and in all areas of my spiritual life?

The saints tell us that prayer is the foundation of everything and the proof of everything.  If we are not faithful in our prayer, we will not be faithful or fruitful in anything.  The saints also tell us that a person who has himself as a spiritual guide has chosen a fool, no matter how smart or learned he or she may be.  They also tell us that the cause of every person’s failings and sins is to be “self-directed” and to live in spiritual isolation.

2.  Do I read Scripture regularly, a little every day?  If not, am I prepared to make a modest rule to discipline myself to do so?  What will that rule be?

The saints tell us that reading the Bible, especially the NT writings and the Psalms, is our spiritual food.  If we do not partake of this food we become sick and weak, and we spiritually die.  Indeed, we commit spiritual suicide.

3.  Do I fast regularly?  Do I overeat and/or overdrink?  Am I addicted to food?  Drink? Tobacco?  Medications?  Drugs?  “Church things”?  Internet Surfing?  Computer Activities?  Should I review my behavior with a “laundry list” of questions, and consult professionals about possible compulsions and addictions?  Do I take care of my health?  Do I exercise regularly?  Do I get regular checkups?  Do I do what I know I should do?  If not, why not?

The saints tell us that if our stomach is filled with food and drink (not to speak of drugs and alcohol), and if we are addicted or enslaved to anything at all, we are sure to have hard hearts, stiff necks, babbling mouths, itching ears, roving eyes, whirling thoughts and irrational minds.  We will be incapable of fulfilling our relationships and performing our duties properly.  We will surely be unable to do our church work effectively.

4.  Do I confess my sins regularly?  Do I have a confessor?  Do I confess completely and fully, without “editorializing” or “rationalizing” my irrational and sinful behaviors?  Is there a person, or perhaps two or three people, who know everything about me (my thoughts, words, deeds, desires, dreams, fantasies, obsessions, family history, relation to my parents, spouse, children, etc.) to whom I consider myself wholly accountable as a human being and a Christian?

The saints teach us that there is nothing that brings humility, the “mother of all virtues” more powerfully and directly than candid confession of sins to a spiritual father/mother/friend, and “opening one’s thoughts” to a trusted person.  And there is nothing that the demons love more than for us to refuse to acknowledge our thoughts and actions to another person, and to seclude ourselves in spiritual isolation.

5.  Do I participate regularly in liturgical worship and Holy Communion?  Do I prepare properly for partaking of Holy Communion?  Do I read at least some prayers before receiving Holy Communion?  Is there anything that needs attention in this part of my Christian life?

The saints teach us that regular, heartfelt and responsible participation in the Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion is an essential element of Christian life.  Without it, we have betrayed our Baptism and Chrismation and denied our Lord.

6.  Do I practice silence before God’s face and in His presence everyday, at least for 10 or 15 minutes?  How do I assess the essential element of “silence” in my human and Christian life?  Do I need to do anything about learning to be interiorly and externally silent?

The saints teach us that we cannot be human, let alone Christian, unless we purposefully practice silence.  They say that our daily silence should be at least a half hour (saying this before TV, Radio, Computers, Ipods, CDs, etc. even existed!).  They say that if we are especially busy and engaged in especially responsible church work, our “silent times” should be longer since “they who cannot be silent must never speak because they will have nothing to say.”

7.  Do I do “acts of mercy” for others, beginning with the members of my own family?  Do I sacrifice money to the needy and time to philanthropic activities, without drawing attention to myself?  Do I spend time with others who may benefit from my presence?  Do I practice what I preach in this regard?  What should I do about this essential element in my Christian life?

The saints tell us that we feed the hungry and serve the needy now, or we serve the demons and feed the fires of hell forever.  They say that active love for God in love for others is everything, even more than prophecies, casting out demons and performing miracles (and doing church work) in Christ’s name, all of which may be done by “evil-doers” whom the Lord does “not know.”  (Matthew 7:21-23)

8.  Do I have sexual issues?  Fornication?  Adultery?  Masturbation?  Homosexual acts?  Am I caught by Internet porn or other types of pornography?  Do I need to participate in a Sexual Addiction recovery group, and/or get counseling for certain deviant and unchaste sexual behaviors? 

The saints teach us that if we are enslaved even in the smallest way to the lusts of the flesh, our hearts become darkened, our minds cannot operate properly, our entire life goes out of control, and we become crazy.  We cannot be engaged fruitfully in church work if we are regularly “acting out sexually” in a perverse and impure manner.

9.  Do I gossip, quarrel, shame or embarrass others?  Do I lie or deceive?  Do I show off in conversations?  Do I insist on making my point in discussions?  Is what I say always true, kind and necessary?  Do I listen when others speak?  Do I give them the benefit of the doubt?  Do I build on their good points?  What do I need to change and correct in regards to my speaking and listening?

Christ himself teaches us that we will answer for every vain and careless word that we say; not just every untrue, judgmental, mean, cruel, shaming and embarrassing word, but every empty, unnecessary, barren and unfruitful word.  For by our words we will be justified and by our words we will be condemned.  (Matthew 12:33-36)  He also teaches us to learn from Him to be meek and lowly in heart.  (Matthew 11:25-30)

10.  Do I do my church work seriously and responsibly?  Do I do the difficult and boring things first?  Do I do what I must, and not merely what I like?  Do I engage conflicts and painful issues directly, patiently, courageously, humbly and meekly?  Do I prepare myself carefully and diligently for my duties, meetings, assignments, obligations?  Do I read the materials, do the exercises and perform the duties that I’m asked, appointed and obliged to do for my work?  Do I report fully and properly to those who assigned me, whom I represent and to whom I am responsible and accountable?  What do I need to change, correct and improve in my church leadership work?

The saints often quote the words of the Prophet Jeremiah:  “Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord negligently.”  (Hebrew Jeremiah 48:10, Greek LXX 31:1)

***

May the Lord bless and guide our work together,
to His glory and the good of all people.

Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko (1939-2015) was an Orthodox priest and theologian of the Orthodox Church in America, Dean Emeritus of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, noted author and speaker. In retirement, he developed a podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio, “Speaking the Truth in Love”.

Beyond Alcoholism: Other Addictions

By Albert S. Rossi, PhD

In our society, among our own family members and friends, including in the Orthodox Church, addiction to alcohol has been prevalent for decades.  Today, its severity has diminished and is being replaced by other, more insidious addictions.  Among the new crop plaguing us include an addiction to stress, Internet pornography, and overeating.  Perhaps an addiction to stress is not new but certainly a severe temptation in our multitasking culture.

Beyond these addictions, there are a host of other addictions.  These include gambling, credit card debt, shopping, religion, viewing extreme sports, addicted to another person called codependency, excessive Internet surfing and time spent on electronic devices.  Drugs are a totally different topic.

Addiction Defined

What is addiction?  We might say that an addiction is a physiological/psychological need to continue to use a substance, behavior, or activity after it is no longer useful or healthy to continue.  So, an addiction is destructive.

Addiction takes us, briefly or not, out of reality.  Addiction provides a temporary respite from life’s challenges and the emotional pain of life.  All addictions change brain chemistry, increasing the activity in the pleasure centers of the brain.  So, addictions increase a flood of pleasure-producing neurotransmitters, some addictions more than others.

There is difference between an addiction to escape reality and legitimate leisure to leave the usual reality scene for a while.  By their fruits you will know them. Addictions are not life sustaining.  By contrast, after a family vacation in the mountains with time to sleep in, read a book and spend time with each other, the person returns nourished.  After an addictive binge, food or sex or whatever, the person feels dark and glutted.

Addictions render a person alone and powerless to stop the behaviors.  Lenten resolutions, New Year’s resolutions don’t work.  In general, as recommended by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, the various 12 Step programs hold a promising solution to most addictions.  As yet, there are no 12 Step programs, as far as I know, dedicated to overcoming stress addiction.

Mental Blocks to Recognizing Addiction

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The primary block to owning one’s addictive behavior is denial, or diminishment of the consequences of the behaviors.  Denial is a defense mechanism in which the person sincerely believes that he or she is not addicted.  Denial is blindness to our blindness.  We simply cannot see our own dysfunctional ways.

I am a recovering alcoholic who has attended Alcoholics Anonymous for more than twenty years.  For years before going to AA I was in denial about my alcoholism.  One evening at a party for the faculty of the psychology department at Pace University where I taught, I intended to have three glasses of wine.  As the evening wore on I didn’t count how many glasses I had.  When I was preparing to leave, Richard, the department chair, helped put on my coat.  He said, “Al, you are a good professor and we want to keep you in the department.  Please drive home carefully.”  I graciously thanked him.  As soon as I got outside I became furious.  He saw through me.  Although I didn’t think I had too much to drink, he did and he said so, careful of his words.  I was in deep denial.  Richard’s comment was the beginning of the end of my denial.

How do we cut into our denial?  First, we pray for the courage to see ourselves clearly.  Second, we admit that we might be addicted to something or other.  Third, we are open to the comments of others about our behaviors.  Of course, not all feedback is valid.

Stress as an Addiction

Is it possible to be addicted to stress?  Of course.  Our culture idolizes the extroverted, multi-tasking, Type A personalities, the persons who are characterized by competitiveness, urgency and hostility.  Therefore, many of us are tempted to have a mindset that inclines towards a Type A personality, an addiction to stress.

I received a couple of emails about stress addiction from priests that I would like to share.  One priest said that he discovered he was addicted to stress by looking at his Monday mornings after preaching the day before.  He said that he found it hard to relax, partly because of the 24/7 demands of pastoring, but also because the adrenal letdown made him anxious, tired, lethargic.  He discovered that he only felt better when he finally ramped up the stress for the upcoming Sunday and started the cycle again, sometimes as early as Monday afternoon.  Even on his vacations, he still had to work to keep the adrenaline flowing.  He wrote, “I was addicted to stress.”

A second priest on the email exchange said “Wow. Have you ever read something that describes you, but you don’t even realize it (denial) was you until you read it? That hit me square between the eyes! I do the same thing - even on some Mondays. Addicted to stress… I need to digest that a bit. Very interesting quote. Thanks for sharing!”

A third priest on the emails said, “Fascinating idea - becoming ‘addicted to stress’. I have often thought to myself that people I know are ‘addicted to drama’. I guess we can become addicted to anything - to take a natural passion and make it into something distorted and ultimately harmful.”

Lay persons are equally susceptible to stress addiction.  A woman whom I counsel sent me a text message that said she had changed in the last couple of years.  She was addicted to stress, which is another way of saying addicted to escape.  Her text was almost visual.  She said, “I am sitting in my same car in the same parking slot.  When I sent the initial text I was feeling ‘hurt and astray.’  You said that if I continue to do the right things, namely pray, be transparent about my feelings and continue counseling that joy would begin to come.  It came.  I am grateful that the stress addiction is lessening.”

Legitimate Work and Stress Addiction

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What is the difference between legitimately becoming energized for work and being addicted to stress?  The answer is simple.  The answer is the amount of anxiety associated with the process.  Is there anxiety or not?  Is there peace or is there not?

Focused work in the Lord is accompanied by peace, whether we feel energized or not.  Part of the addiction to stress is the addiction to mental drama, the need for novelty and dissatisfaction with the ordinariness, or the tension, of the present moment.

All addictions produce a dopamine squirt in the brain that needs to be fed over and over, along with increased adrenaline.  In addictions, the absence of the dopamine squirt results in mild, or not so mild, withdrawal symptoms.

The person addicted to stress will create projects, usually good projects, just to feel somewhat overwhelmed, to then get the dopamine infused, and feel anxious about having so much work to do.  In the meantime, some of the work was self-created to generate stress.

Currently, addiction to stress is sometimes referred to as the “tethered-self,” the self that compulsively checks the Smartphone, Facebook, emails and texts, tethered to newness, novelty, and the search for some form of drama.

Internet Pornography Addiction*

Internet pornography is the fastest growing addiction today, by far.  It is a wildfire out of control.  

For those persons who are being burned by the fire of Internet pornography addiction there is hope.  That is the point of this little article.  

For starters, we need to talk about the issues and deal with them forthrightly.  Father John Breck in The Sacred Gift of Life makes a striking point.  He says, “Our threshold of tolerance toward sexual explicitness and exploitation has been lowered dramatically … & …the spiritual and psychological toll exacted by this situation is incalculable.”  In effect, we are numb about what is really going on and rather baffled about what to do about it.

Size of the Problem

Internet pornography makes more money than the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and National Basketball Association combined, a $10 billion industry.  Big business protects itself and aggressively markets its wares.

A vast number of people use Internet pornography and a vast number of people are ashamed of it.  Grand paradox.  For youth, 87% of males and 31% of females say they regularly use Internet pornography.  The operative word is “regularly.”  Our youth seem to be getting their sex education from Internet pornography.

For pastors of all denominations, 37% admit to having a problem with Internet pornography.  Hotels report that for religious conventions, Internet pornography on the TV increases significantly.

Internet pornography is a drug.  The brain responds the same to pornography as it does to cocaine, flooding the brain with dopamine and testosterone.  

Some public and not public figures seem to think that “sexting,” the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs primarily between mobile phones, can’t become public knowledge.  Not necessarily true.

Saint Maximos the Confessor says that lust and anger are similar passions.  Is it any wonder that there are so many angry people, especially youth?  Road-rage, aggravated lawsuits and lustful behavior are not necessarily separate issues.

False Objections about the Internet Pornography

There are at least two objections we must confront.  The first objection is that it doesn’t hurt anyone.  “I do it alone.”  This objection claims that viewing Internet pornography is a “victimless crime,” so to speak.  However, many porn stars die before the age of 50, many before 35, from unnatural causes, that is, drugs or suicide.  Every “hit” to a pornography site is counted and contributes to the death of the young persons on the screen.  Not harmless at all.

The other objection is that “It’s not that bad.”  This is a variant of “everybody is doing it” or “boys will be boys.”  Our retort is the words of Jesus.  He said, “If a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Of course, this includes all lustful looking.  In Jesus’ time adultery was punishable by being stoned to death.  So, Internet pornography is deadly.  Once in a while, for example every three months, is not acceptable.

Addiction is a difficult term to define.  For our purposes, an addict is anyone who has a pattern of behaviors that he/she wants to stop but doesn’t.  Given the brain changes for Internet pornography, one definition of addiction would be watching Internet pornography every three months.  Neural pathways become chemically changed quickly.  Spiritually, adultery every three months is unconscionable. 

If a person were addicted to alcohol, the counselor or priest would probably try to lead the person to Alcoholics Anonymous, AA.  A person who is addicted to Internet pornography probably needs to be led to Sexaholics Anonymous, SA.  There are many false stereotypes for SA, particularly that members of SA have a history of acting out with other people.  The truth is that many SA members have Internet pornography as their “only” sexual behavior, a behavior they detest but can’t stop.

Some persons can’t, or won’t, go to SA.  What then?  The great enemy of recovery is isolation.  Virtually every addict has a secret life.  So, with Internet pornography, the person needs a system of accountability, a way to get out of the secret life and into a life of honesty and transparency.  The person needs to be regularly open with another human being, both inside and outside confession.  This is a delicate issue.  The persons chosen to be accountability partners need to be trustworthy, usually older, of the same sex, and willing to actively listen without judgment or advice giving.  The person who looks at Internet pornography regularly needs to experience being transparent with other humans without being made to feel shame.

It is no secret that I facilitate a weekly Sexahholics Anonymous phone meeting for Orthodox clergy who are addicted to Internet pornography.  Virtually all the priests are married with no marital problems to speak of.  The phone meeting has been in existence for a few years.  The priests on the phone meeting are hugely grateful to speak with fellow clergy with the same menacing problem.  They humbly break their isolation and share candidly about their thoughts and struggles.

Implications for Pastors

One implication now becomes loud and clear.  “Revolving door” confession does not help the problem.  Revolving door confession aids and abets the problem.  That approach simply doesn’t work.  We wouldn’t treat a cocaine addict that way.  We wouldn’t say, “Fall down, get up, and keep talking to me.”  Rather, we would want the person to take strong action to stop the addiction, perhaps a 12 Step program.  And, we still want the cocaine addict to have communication with his Father Confessor.

The great enemy is isolation, especially emotional isolation.  This isolation creates inner stress, which creates a need for relief, often a return to the soothing but temporary relief of more pornography.  A downward helix begins.  Isolation brings darkness which brings more acting out which brings more isolation which brings greater darkness.  The solution to isolation is transparency, surrender to Christ and another human, inside and outside of confession.  Confession is a sacrament to cleanse the person and bring new union with Christ.  But, confession can also be used as an easy escape to temporarily relieve guilt and shame, without true repentance and authentic change of behavior.

What Can We Do?

Diagnosis can be easy.  Remedy is much harder.  Internet pornography is readily available on laptops, hand-held game machines, Smartphones, etc.  

There are a few things we can do for starters. 

  • The first is to discuss the issues and become aware of our lassitude toward sexual innuendos, stories, jokes and banter.  We can educate ourselves about the seriousness of lustful thoughts and behaviors.  Men need to be more aware of how such behaviors begin to make them “love cripples.”  Women need to be less tolerant of others who view Internet pornography.  Rather than a benign attitude of acceptance, women need to communicate disgust and revulsion.
  • Parents need to discuss this with their children and have appropriate filters on computers.  There are a variety of programs available.  Some programs also provide filters for phones.  One recommendable program is www.covenanteyes.com.
  • Adults generally, and men particularly, need to consider joining one of the accountability programs to disclose their computer behavior to a trusted accountability partner.  As said above, one program, highly recommended, is www.covenanteyes.com.  The person joins, provides the email address of a trusted friend, and the trusted friend gets a weekly summary of all the Internet activity of the person.  The summary is neatly arranged in categories, beginning with questionable material.  The trusted friend can then email the person and simply ask, “Is there something we can talk about?”  There is a cost for Covenant Eyes.

12 Step Programs

  • All of us, particularly confessors and persons in spiritually responsible positions, need to become more familiar with Sexaholics Anonymous, SA.  Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, AA, which has some open meetings that non-alcoholics can attend, SA has no open meetings.  SA meetings are only for sex addicts or those who think they might be.  Again, many members have never acted out with another human being.  Their “only” acting out is with Internet pornography.  Confessors and persons in spiritually responsible positions need to have phone numbers of local SA meetings and a working knowledge of the organization so that they can appropriately recommend SA if that is the path that is needed.  The local phone numbers are readily available at www.sa.org.  The phone number for the central office of SA is 615-370-6062.  Also, confessors and persons in spiritually responsible positions can contact those who already know about the program and discuss the implications of referrals. There are many recovery groups for sex addiction including SRA, SAA, and others.  SA is the only group that is consonant with Orthodoxy.  SA does not permit any sexual activity outside a monogamous, heterosexual marriage.  All the other groups allow the member to define his or her own definition, usually allowing masturbation and same-sex activity in a committed relationship.  Therefore, pastor-types can recommend SA but not SAA or SRA or any other similar sex addiction recovery program.
  • I would recommend the book, The Drug of the New Millennium: The Brain Science behind Internet Pornography by Mark B Kastleman. The fire of Internet pornography is not a greater threat than the saving fire of Jesus Christ.  We have tools to cooperate with the Lord’s powerful grace and to combat the horrors of Internet pornography.  We can be pure and we can empower others to purity through our prayer and our healing presence.

Overeating as an Addiction

Obesity means having too much body fat. It is different from being overweight, which means weighing too much. The weight of a person who is overweight may come from muscle, bone, fat, and/or body water. Both terms mean that a person’s weight is greater than what’s considered healthy for his or her height.

At the outset it must be said that some people are obese because of hormonal and biological factors.  OK.  But, it seems that most obese persons are simply addicted to overeating in excess.

The World Health Organization (WHO) predicted that the condition of being overweight or obese might soon replace older public health concerns such as under-nutrition and infectious diseases as the most significant variable in poor health.

Obesity increases a person’s risk of diseases and health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.  Today about 1 in 3 kids are overweight or obese. And studies show that overweight kids are likely to become overweight and obese adults.  The denial of parents, often viewed as rationalization, can fuel child obesity.  Parents sometimes say about an obese child, “My child is about the right weight,” or “All I want is a healthy child,” all-the-while feeding the child junk food.  

Recent research suggests that the two places to begin with obese children are curbing sugary beverages and monitoring children’s viewing of TV advertising.  The research suggests that marketers try to make it normal to eat all the time.  Interestingly, the rate of obesity in children has stabilized, but primarily for children from ages 2 to 5.  Obesity is still increasing for older children.  Obesity in children is considered a national epidemic.  Obviously, limiting sugary drinks and television ads would be a fine beginning for adults as well.

More than 1 in 3 adults are considered to be obese.  Adults often rely on denial to sustain the obesity.  Some adults say, “My health issues could be worse,” or “I know I am obese but that’s the way I am.  It is what it is,” all-the-while eating a second and third dessert.

Most obese persons would admit that they tried multiple diets with little or no lasting success.  Back to basics, overeating is a physical, emotional and spiritual problem.  The primary solution for addictions, according to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, is some 12 Step program, in the case of obesity, Overeaters Anonymous, OA.  

It might be helpful for an obese person to read the book, Steps of Transformationby Archimandrite Meletios Webber. Although primarily written about alcoholism, it is easy to substitute the word “overeating” for alcohol.

Obese persons know that dieting, self-directed efforts simply don’t work.  Overeaters, and all addicts, are powerless over the addiction.  Grand paradox.  The bible says, “when I am weak then I am strong” (2Cor12:10).  The 12 Step programs say that when I admit my powerlessness, then I am in position to truly turn my life and my will over to God as I understand Him.  And in my powerlessness is my strength.

I have a 23 year chip in my pocket for sobriety from alcohol.  I still go to two meetings a week.  Why?  AA is not primarily about not drinking.  AA is primarily about overcoming the character defects that prompted the drinking, namely fear, pride and resentment.  All the 12 Step programs are about allowing God to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.  Does OA work?  In a word, yes, for those who want to work the program.  I personally know many persons who have lasting weight loss through OA.

Conclusion

The solution for any addiction is the pursuit of Christ through stillness, the diminishment of denial as explained above, and complete transparency with at least one other human, inside and outside confession.  The complete transparency can be spread over a few trusted humans.  And, as has been highlighted, perhaps joining one of the 12 Step programs.

Christ is everything and we find Him in reality, not in escaping reality as it is.

* * *

* The material on Internet pornography is adapted from an article that I wrote for PRAXIS, the education journal of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.  
* Some material on the other topics came from various Internet sources.

Dr. Albert Rossi is a clinical psychologist who teaches classes in Pastoral Theology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary.  He has a bi-weekly podcast called Becoming a Healing Presence on Ancient Faith RadioAncient Faith Publications recently published his book, Becoming a Healing Presence.

Children with Special Needs and the Orthodox Christian Family

By Father Steven P. Tsichlis

[Updated, Department of Christian Service, 2015]

As he went along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?” Jesus answered: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
~ John 9:1-3

Children with special needs—children like the man born blind in this story; children suffering from Cooley’s Anemia; Down’s Syndrome children; children with Cerebral Palsy or other central nervous system deficiencies; children with Muscular Dystrophy; children who are ravaged by any one of virtually hundreds of birth defects and diseases: children with special needs are a challenge for us to take part in the “works of God” that are displayed in each one.

We must learn the discipline of silence until a compassionate Christian response is possible in our part.

There is perhaps no event more devastating to a family than a child born with a birth defect. There is no more severe test of a family’s resiliency than the discovery that a child is slowly dying of an incurable disease. Each child and every family is unique, bringing his own life story into the tragedy which each must confront. What is offered here are some broad outlines, a few insights taken from experience and an expression of concern for these children and their families.

The initial response of parents and the broader community to a child with birth defects is guilt and embarrassment. Unthinkingly, we ask the question which the disciples asked of Jesus: who sinned—this man or his parents? We immediately seek to place the blame somewhere. We feel that this is too terrible a tragedy for someone not to be responsible. But to this question and to all questions like it, must be given Jesus’ answer—no one sinned, neither the child nor its parents. No one is “responsible.” No mortal can or should take the blame for a child suffering from one of many possible defects.

Most of us have, at one time or another, been exposed to someone who suffers from some physical or mental disorder: someone confined to a wheelchair, a child who is intellectually disabled, or a person who is deaf or mute. Our initial reaction to this situation is usually a mixture of embarrassment, pity and anxiety—feelings that clash with one another and bind us up, feelings which are nearly always expressed in an inability to reach out to that person and his family. Instead, we indulge in stereotyped remarks and even make unkind, patronizing comments. The fact that these comments arise out of anxieties generated within ourselves is no consolation to their vulnerable recipient. One of the most difficult things for anyone is to deal with conflicting feelings in oneself. We must learn the discipline of silence until a compassionate, Christian response is possible on our part.

How Families Deal with the Stresses of Special Needs

The ways in which parents of children with special needs deal with the tremendous stresses placed upon them vary, depending upon their maturity, the depth of their commitment to their marriage, the presence of other children in the family and their needs, their financial situation and finally, and perhaps more importantly from the perspective of the Church, the social support which can be called upon from the extended family and the community at large.

Children with special needs place a permanent stamp on their families. The emotional and physical demands that are inevitable in raising such children often lead to fatigue and a sense of inadequacy as a parent. A crisis of parenthood occurs. This crisis can be dealt with in two ways—either positively or negatively—depending upon the parents themselves and the quality of support they receive from family, friends and the Church:

  1. Families who have successfully dealt with these problems often express their belief in the value of the experience in setting the family’s priorities in order. The superficial social life that so many of us indulge in out of habit and the materialistic values endemic to our culture are quickly put in their proper perspective. There is no doubt that a discerning parish priest and the Church community can play a large role in aiding the development of this essentially Christian awareness. The family that weathers these storms can, in fact, be stronger than before.
  2. The opposite is also possible: the trauma of day-to-day care of a child with special needs can accentuate previously present family problems. The parents’ rejection and/or resentment of the child can become over-whelming, literally tearing the family apart. Parents can become bitter and blame one another for not shouldering enough of the burden. One parent can focus all of his attention on the child, forgetting the needs of the spouse and other children. The additional financial burden, if it is not allayed by community resources, can be a disruptive factor. The entire family structure may collapse, leading to divorce, abandonment of the child with special needs and severe emotional damage to the other children.

People even brought little children to him, for him to touch them; but when the disciples saw this, they turned them away. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
~ Luke 18:15-16

The positive role that the Church can play was made clear to me years ago. While applying for a job at a state mental hospital in New England, I was interviewed by a young social worker of Greek Orthodox background who suffered from a central nervous system motor disability. Moving around the room in a motorized wheelchair, her speech slurred but understandable, she spoke movingly of her childhood in a Greek Orthodox community. One of the things that I retained from our conversation was the fact that despite her obvious difficulty, the people in her parish never treated her as someone “different;” there were never any implications that she was “inferior” or “didn’t belong” with the rest of the children in the parish. Instead, she told me both she and her family were provided for through a support system of caring and compassionate people. She is living proof that we, as a community, in the name of Christ Jesus, can make a difference.

Fr. Steven P. Tsichlis is Pastor of St Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, Irvine, CA. He also serves as vicar to Metropolitan Anthony for the southern CA regions of the Diocese, is on the Advisory Board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and a Board Member for Project Mexico and St. Innocent Orphanage, Tijuana, Mexico. Article reprinted with permission.

The Spiritual Lives of Soldiers - After the Fighting is Over

By Archpriest Jerome Cwiklinski, OCA Navy Chaplain

After the Armistice in 1918, a British officer remarked, “now that this war is over, we can go back to real soldiering.”  There is much truth in that statement, though perhaps not the way he intended. The war continues for its veterans even after the shooting stops – in fact, at that point their war is just beginning.

Fr Stephen Duesenberry with the Chaplain from the Georgian battalion that serves alongside US Marines in Afghanistan

Fr Stephen Duesenberry with the Chaplain from the Georgian battalion that serves alongside US Marines in Afghanistan

One of the greatest challenges for any warrior is the return to routine.  Discipline and attention to detail is seldom questioned in a war zone because survival depends on it.  Back in garrison, however, discipline may seem nonsensical, appearing to emphasize minutiae merely for the sake of compliance, and placing importance on activities that are far from life or death situations.  On the other hand, veterans who remain in military service, even in peacetime, continue to benefit from their accountability to the institution and the structure it provides, whether they like it or not. 

There is another population of veterans who, after a wartime experience, retire or are discharged.  Reservists and National Guard who demobilize and return to their civilian occupations also fall within this category.  Our priests and parishes can help these individuals, but they must first know something about the stress that comes from the high tempo of operations, especially since 9-11.

After-Effects of War

Following a wartime deployment, a warrior may experience the after-effects of physical, emotional, and spiritual “wear and tear,” especially if they deployed multiple times and saw action.  They will have undoubtedly experienced the loss of someone close, whether a buddy who died alongside them, or someone they knew who got killed. Perhaps a loved one died back at home.  Even in wars fought for righteous causes, there can be moral strife and inner conflict.  An individual may be critical of a leader’s decision that, in their estimation, got people killed, or of superiors who behaved unethically.  Perhaps they judge themselves for not measuring-up to their own expectations their first time in battle. 

Everything can be a reminder – a passing garbage truck may stimulate an olfactory memory of the smell of death, or certain perfumes of the scent used to mask it.  Someone whose convoy was hit by an IED may be unable to drive over the cables used to count traffic or recoil at the sound of 4th of July fireworks.  Even without such triggers, placid surroundings can be met with resentment of those who never went to war.

The threat from the enemy may have ceased, physical wounds healed, but the mental and spiritual scars of battle continue to fester and place veterans at risk of sickness, injury and even death.  Without the camaraderie of those who shared their dangers and hardships, they might underestimate the ability of others to empathize or even care.  Some may crave an adrenaline rush and find it through careless, potentially self-destructive behaviors, such as binge-drinking, substance abuse, driving under the influence, speeding, defiance of authority, and denial of love to their families and to themselves.

The headlines may declare the war to have ended, the troops may come home, but the devil has not signed any capitulation and continues to attack, and in some cases defeat, our warriors.  Some veterans create their own hostilities, committing acts of domestic violence including murder and suicide while others succumb to divorce, joblessness and homelessness. 

Various reactive measures, including interventions, may be effective in these situations, but a more proactive, pastoral approach is warranted to prevent their occurrence. 

The military takes care to thoroughly equip and train its personnel before sending them in harm’s way.  Since 9-11, the phenomena of Combat and Operational Stress (COS) and Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) have been matched with “stress-inoculation” and other programs designed to build resiliency long before their exposure to trauma.  This includes realistic combat simulations but also the inculcation of values and skills that help them to identify dysfunction early and make them want to seek help for it.  That many combat veterans, including the seriously wounded, are able to cope and lead productive lives, with their relationships intact, is proof positive that such a solid foundation can stave-off self-destruction.

Caring for Our Returning Veterans

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As Americans we care for the general welfare of all of our Armed Forces though, naturally, as Orthodox Christians we are most concerned with the lives of Orthodox service members, especially those we know. Perhaps we remember when they were baptized as “a newly enlisted warrior of Christ” – when the foundation was laid upon which to build a spiritual bulwark, never imagining that they would engage in real warfare. 

It stands to reason that parish priests must remain in contact with their spiritual sons and daughters who leave the parish to serve in the Armed Forces.  It may be possible to work in tandem with a chaplain, but once those veterans return home they are solely reliant on their parish community, and it is indeed a good sign when they come to church.

Priests may react to the issues veterans confide with a mixture of discomfort, horror, and even awe.  Counseling them or hearing their confession is a process not to be short-circuited by abruptly absolving them when it takes too long to hear their story.  They may tell it again and again.  The veteran needs permission to grieve, and to perceive it not as weakness but as a sign of being real.  Judgments of others may need to be reframed in a different context; “You say your lieutenant got people killed, but wasn’t it the enemy?”  Priests must have the courage to speak the truth to those with the unique experiences of combat even if the priest is not a veteran himself.  If need be, he may have to rebuke a hero – which takes special courage to do – for they too, fall victim to vainglory and entitlement that breeds contempt for rules.

The wellness continuum means to encourage those who are well, help those who are stressed, refer those who are injured, but take the sick to the physician they need.  Priests need to know their own limitations in dealing with matters more properly within the competence of the medical or mental health profession.  Priests must not underestimate their unique spiritual contribution to the healing process even when those other professionals are consulted.

More and more, medical professionals admit that a healthy spirituality and participation in religious activities directly correlate with a patient’s recovery.  This is their general observation of all religious faiths.  As Orthodox Christians we surely believe how much more effective we are as the very Body of Christ, the source of wholeness, whereby sins are remitted and the world itself is overcome.

With a Return to Parish Life

When it comes to successful reintegration of a returning veteran, the entire parish, not just the priest, is involved.  Parish life can provide some of what those members had in military service that kept their lives in order:  camaraderie, structure, accountability, and a mission or purpose.  The sacred offices and liturgical seasons, especially the Lenten periods, can impart structure.  The sacrament of confession provides accountability and guidance.  And our faith – in which Christ’s victory over death redeems fallen humanity – provides the purpose and goal of life, a return to the companionship and love of God.

“Carry on, my wayward son – there’ll be peace when you are done…” were the lyrics of a Kansas song used in the closing credits of the 1977 semi-comedy Heroes in which Henry Winkler portrays a dysfunctional Vietnam vet who regains control of his life.  The Beatitudes also reassure the afflicted throughout all ages, including war-weary veterans, that better things await those who now suffer.  Our Savior’s own words correlate with the symptoms of combat stress – wear and tear, loss, and inner conflict – but instill hope in response to each:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled…
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven!


Part III of a three-part series on “The Spiritual Lives of Soldiers.”  Reprinted with permission from Jacob’s Well, (Winter 2012), OCA Diocese of NY-NJ

Fr. Jerome Cwiklinski is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America and a retired Navy Chaplain. He currently serves in the Diocese of the West and provides Orthodox services at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twenty-nine Palms, California. He is a 1986 graduate of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary.

Parish Emergency Preparedness Planning

By Elizabeth Lien

There is a saying in Oregon, “If you don’t want it to rain carry an umbrella.” Emergency Preparedness planning is similar to making a huge umbrella composed of many panes that in their entirety form a protective device for those beneath it. Readiness planning involves individuals, neighborhoods, and communities both at local, state and national levels. In most areas of the country, faith communities form the heart of emergency response efforts, being centers where people naturally turn in a crisis.

Church of the Annunciation and the H1N1 “Pandemic”

Prompted by public health advisories regarding the possible H1N1influenza epidemic of 2009, an Emergency Preparedness Team (EPT) was established at the Church of the Annunciation in Milwaukie, Oregon. Composed of parishioners with expertise in health care, transportation, and social services plus members of our clergy and parish council, the team met to formulate a parish response plan that would allow us to meet the needs of members who became ill as well as continue the work of the parish.

The plan that emerged created a framework for later emergency preparedness planning. Efforts initially addressed concerns regarding the health issues associated with the flu. We focused on a plan to assist those who live by themselves. We also recognized the need to educate parishioners about the spread of infection among groups of people. All of the information that was needed to formulate our plan was available on governmental websites, notably the Center for Disease Control and our state public health department.

Under the guidance of the Very Rev. Fr. Matthew Tate, our clergy decided on a plan to provide spiritual care to ill individuals in their homes. Team members made “hydration kits” to distribute to ill parishioners. The parish gathered for a power point presentation during which they were presented with information on the virus, infection prevention, and our parish response plan. A group of children presented the essential message of infection prevention through song, “You Gotta Wash Your Hands!” (sung to the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”). Thankfully, it didn’t rain; no one became seriously ill during the flu season and our hydration kits are collecting dust in the parish office.

Emergency Preparedness Planning

Subsequent planning has involved gathering information regarding possible roles our parish might play in the event of an emergency or catastrophic event in our community. Both the American Red Cross (ARC) and Clackamas County’s Department of Emergency Management (DEM) have offered assistance in the planning process.

An ARC coordinator evaluated our facility and discussed the way we might support and assist them in their efforts when disasters occur. They are eager to establish a shelter agreement with us so that in the event of a local emergency, they can use our facility to meet the needs of the community. Their well developed plan includes liability coverage and facility clean-up. Also, they work collaboratively with other agencies, including first responders and social service groups, so there is an established network that supports the community through their organization.

The DEM focuses more on neighborhood readiness and has a program called, “Map Your Neighborhood”, in which people are encouraged to map their environment and complete steps in a planning process that focuses on neighbors helping neighbors in the event of a community crisis. Our church would function as a “neighbor” in the event of an emergency event affecting the community at large. A common theme among both organizations is that of letting the professionals manage the crisis. Both organizations have websites with extensive information on individual and community preparedness.

Other Programs Throughout the US

Other programs available throughout the United States include Citizen Corps which provides homeland security and emergency preparedness training to individuals and Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) which provides service and communication to communities affected by disasters. Some communities offer training for individuals who want to become members of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT). Most local and state websites will offer links to these organizations on their main websites.

International Orthodox Christian Charities is starting a program called OAT (Orthodox Action Team Project 2010), with the intent of creating an emergency response network of Orthodox Christians who can help in regional disasters. This organization shows promise in providing a well trained team for assisting parishes in the event of a disaster. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is an example of a faith community that has embraced emergency preparedness. They often have members willing to provide training to other groups seeking to replicate their program.

Part of our EPT discussion has involved having the ability to spontaneously meet the needs of others. Recognizing that this is dependent upon having a well organized response, it is also clear that too much bureaucracy can impede efforts to help people. Parishioners familiar with International Orthodox Christian Charities’ efforts during Hurricane Katrina were impressed by their ability to meet the needs of people on the spot because they were unencumbered by restrictions that were governing the work of other organizations. Clearly, an ability to respond in the Spiritis a high priority.

What does a prepared parish look like?

No matter the depth of organization, every parish needs to have an emergency response plan and a person or committee charged with carrying it out. Whether it be a fire or health crisis, strategies to meet the needs of parishioners and keep people calm and safe are required. Ushers are helpful in addressing the needs for safely responding to a medical emergency or evacuating the church in the event of a fire. People with disabilities may need assistance in evacuating the church. Having a parish nurse or health team who can assist in health crises is also of great benefit. If your church does not have a defibrillator, you might want to purchase one. Our local fire department had a program that provided partial reimbursement to us when we purchased ours.

Depending upon the amount of space a church has, an area for collecting donations of food, clothing and bedding would be useful. These items may be distributed to people forced to leave their homes because of a disaster. Special consideration is required to assist the elderly, people with chronic health conditions and disabilities, children, and pets. No matter the degree of planning, all volunteers need to be trained to assist in an emergency. Communication is a critical feature for maintaining calm and order during a crisis. Our parish has a well established email system for sending out important announcements to the parish.

Basic Parish Readiness includes:

  • First Aid and Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation trained membership (The ARC offers classes in First Aid, CPR. Their pamphlet, Be Aware & Prepare is available throughout the United States and can guide anyone in preparing for emergencies.)
  • Assisting the elderly, persons with chronic illness or disabilities and those who live alone to have an emergency kit (including medications)
  • Usher program (assist with evacuation, helping the disabled)
  • Hold periodic fire drills to practice safely evacuating the elderly, children and those with disabilities
  • Communication tree/system

Parish Community Readiness might include:

  • Form an EPT and become trained (The ARC offers classes in disaster preparedness. They train volunteers to run shelters and assist other communities when disasters occur. Their pamphlet, Be Aware & Prepare is available throughout the United States and can guide anyone in preparing for emergencies.)
  • Develop a disaster plan that includes protecting the church as well as using the church as a shelter if necessary by its members/neighbors.
  • Form a health team composed of members with medical training. If you don’t have a parish nurse, you might want to consider sending a parishioner who is a registered nurse to a training program.
  • Develop a plan for addressing health and environmental disasters.
  • Become a recognized partner in disaster aid with local organizations like the ARC.

Advanced Preparedness might include:

  • Establishing a community donation site for food, clothing and bedding.
  • Becoming an official ARC shelter site (requires a formal agreement with the ARC and some member training.)
  • Hosting regular community training events that include first aid, CPR, and individual/family disaster preparedness. This is a great Eagle Scout project.
  • Supporting parishioners who train to respond to disasters anywhere in the country/world. This may include holding fundraisers for their support or designating parish funds for their training.
  • Creation of a communication system that includes HAM radio operators.
  • Share disaster readiness information with other Orthodox churches/faith communities in the same locale (strengthen relationships and build awareness of resources to Orthodox church members unable to reach their home parishes during a disaster.)

Regardless of the amount of energy a parish has to put towards emergency preparedness, it is essential that parish councils have an idea of how their church might respond should a disaster occur. Clergy will be called upon to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of a community in crisis. Working with local organizations that promote disaster preparedness, any church can ready itself to meet the needs of its community in the event of a catastrophic event. Times of crisis present opportunities to witness to the Gospel we hold dear and bring others into the comfort and safety of the Church.

Questions for Discussion:

Would our parish benefit from an Emergency Preparedness Team or Committee?

What disasters might our parishioners or neighbors encounter?

How might our parish be of help? What kind of leadership would we need? Would some training be required?

How might we work with other Orthodox or neighborhood parishes?

Elizabeth Lien, RN, MSN is the mother of three children. Her passion is caring for infants and their families in the maternity setting where she has been practicing for over thirty years. In addition to working as both a staff nurse and educator, she is the parish nurse for the Church of the Annunciation in Milwaukee, OR where her husband, the Very Rev. Kevin Lien is the Associate Priest.