Bartholomew and the Environment: The Origins and Background of the “Green Patriarch”

It may seem remarkable and even inexplicable to many that a religious leader would be so involved, as has been His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, in addressing the world’s environmental crisis.  After all, the public policy responses to this looming problem have been dominated by the secular commercial, political, and scientific actors whose past actions have been directly responsible for setting into motion the current environmental disorder.  Nonetheless, an understanding of Orthodox Christianity’s theology and attendant worldview reveals a spiritual and intellectual intimacy between faith and environment.  Likewise, recognition of the extraordinary yet humble dedication and service to God, humanity, and all of creation that characterizes the spiritual, intellectual, and ecclesiastical life of Patriarch Bartholomew underscores why this particular Church leader has also become a world leader, a pioneering visionary in the protection of nature.    

Several studies have been published in the last decade that offer us impressive histories of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s writing and work in advancing global environmental awareness and action.  Two seminal works stand out as perhaps the most important among these sources: the 2011 volume authored by His All Holiness and edited by Rev. Fr. John Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven: Ecological Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the third and final volume in a series of collected writings by Patriarch Bartholomew; and the 2009 publication of Fr. Chryssavgis’ book, Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew, which provides us with a clear view of the life and labors of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  Both of these meticulously assembled volumes blend reflective, original writing with impressive collections of primary materials that reflect Bartholomew’s vision and work on the environment.   

As example, despite the enormity and wealth of the book’s primary sources, Fr. Chryssavgis’ Cosmic Grace is not merely a linear collection of Patriarch Bartholomew’s pronouncements on the environment.  In this publication, like On Earth as in Heaven, we can see how Bartholomew has for decades moved past mere encyclicals that urge others to take up the hard work of protecting nature to championing that responsibility himself.  Indeed, through his introduction in Cosmic Grace, Fr. Chryssavgis (a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the theological advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch on environmental issues) has written an invaluable contextualization of Bartholomew’s thoughts and actual labors as they relate to ecology.  In short, Fr. Chryssavgis successfully discusses Orthodox theology’s understanding of ecology and thus presents us with a useful primer for reading and interpreting Bartholomew’s documents and record of accomplishment on the environment.  Fr. Chryssavgis’ work is also notable for its excellent biographical sketch of Bartholomew, one that goes beyond achievements and accolades to reveal the Ecumenical Patriarch’s human face. 

Patriarch Bartholomew was born Demetrios Archontonis on February 29, 1940, to parents Christos and Merope, natives of the modest village of Aghios Theodoros (Zeytinili Koyu) on the northern Aegean island of Imbros (Gokceada).  Situated near the entry to the Dardanelles, Imbros, despite its historically homogeneous Greek population, was awarded to Turkey on strategic grounds by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.  Before the Turkish state’s ethnic cleansing of Imbros, beginning in earnest in the 1940s, the young Demetrios’ island was home to over 10,000 ethnic Greeks, who have been reduced to fewer than 300 today.  Indeed, before their obliteration in the 1960s and 1970s, Imbros’ Greek farming, fishing, and winemaking villages formed thirteen small but vibrant communities throughout the island.  Imbros’ villages and its countryside were long revered for their spiritual aesthetic and for their outpouring of men of faith and leadership, including the island’s native son, the late Archbishop Iakovos, godfather of Demetrios Archontonis. 

Demonstrating an extraordinary brilliance at a very early age, after attending elementary school in Imbros, Demetrios completed his secondary education at the Istanbul Greek community’s famous Zographeion Lyceum.  Driven by his faith, a deep and abiding love of the Orthodox Church, and a kindness that his contemporaries uniformly described as humbling, as well as perhaps the ennobling example of his godfather—Iakovos, the future Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America—Demetrios pursued his undergraduate training at the Patriarchal Theological School of Halki, the seminary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  In 1961, Demetrios graduated from Halki with honors and was ordained in August of that same year to the deaconate, receiving the ecclesiastical name Bartholomew.

After fulfilling his obligatory military service in the Turkish army as a reserve officer between 1961 and 1963, Bartholomew went to Europe to pursue postgraduate studies.  From 1963 to 1968, Bartholomew began his scholarly research with a series of prestigious appointments at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey in Switzerland, and the Pontifical Oriental Institute of the Gregorian University in Rome.  Completing his doctorate on Canon Law in Rome, Bartholomew, whose command of languages includes English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, and Turkish, taught as a lecturer at the Pontifical Oriental Institute before returning to Turkey, where in 1969 he was ordained to the priesthood.                                 

Shortly before Bartholomew’s ordination, he entered the faculty at the Theological School of Halki by appointment under Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I.  Bartholomew held his teaching position until 1971, when, in a blatant act of religious persecution, the Turkish authorities forcibly closed Halki.  During the tenure of Athenagoras’ successor, Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios I, from 1972 to 1991, Bartholomew served as director of the newly established Office of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and in 1973 he was elected Metropolitan of Philadelphia in Asia Minor. 

In his capacity as a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, Bartholomew participated throughout those years of service in the General Assemblies of the World Council of Churches, serving at different times as Vice-Chairman of the Faith and Order Commission, as well as working on its Central and Executive Committees.  This almost two-decade period was critical for the formative development of the environmental sensitivity of this influential international organization, and for affording Bartholomew a global platform and network to initiate the articulation of his ecological vision. 

In 1990, in recognition of his accomplishments, Bartholomew was elected Metropolitan of Chalcedon, the most senior position among the bishops of the Holy and Sacred Synod of Constantinople.  In October 1991, following the death of Patriarch Demetrios, Bartholomew was elected Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.  Immediately after his enthronement in November of that same year, Bartholomew inaugurated a new phase in his longstanding dedication to actualizing Orthodoxy’s understanding and commitment to environmental stewardship.  Bartholomew’s record of global environmental leadership and the Orthodox theology underpinning the Ecumenical Patriarch’s initiatives in this area will be the focus of this blog’s next essay.

Dr. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

 

What Happened to St. Peter?

What happened to St. Peter? The short answer is that we don’t know.  The long answer is more interesting. It is precisely the lack of authoritative information about St. Peter that enabled later Christians to develop competing legends about the final years of his life. In some cases, these differences are quite surprising, especially for modern readers used to associating St. Peter with the Roman Catholic Church and the Papacy. But not all of the ancient stories about St. Peter place him in Rome.

Why is there such an important discrepancy? And what, exactly, does the Orthodox Church teach about his final years? The last biographical mention of St. Peter in the New Testament occurs in the Acts of the Apostles (15). This chapter places St. Peter at a meeting of the disciples in Jerusalem. For biographers, there’s not much else to go on. Two ancient letters (1st and 2nd Peter), attributed to the Apostle, offer no information about him apart from a vague reference that sends greetings from “Babylon.”

The earliest written accounts of St. Peter’s post-biblical activity, known as “apocrypha,” date to the late second century A.D. Many of these stories are elaborate tales in which St. Peter is a heroic protagonist. Among the oldest surviving references to St. Peter in this material is a story that he traveled to Rome in order to combat the false teaching of a sorcerer named Simon. That story builds on material known from earlier writers. In Acts 8, for example, St. Peter had rebuked a man named Simon for trying to purchase the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, Simon will reappear in almost every apocryphal account of Peter’s activities as a kind of arch-nemesis.

The Martyrdom of Peter and the Acts of Peter are apocryphal texts that exemplify this kind of dramatic encounter with Simon. In both accounts, St. Peter and Simon trade supernatural blows. In some versions, Simon dies and St. Peter’s demonstration of power leads to widespread conversion. Some writers place this quasi-duel in Rome. Then, they proceed to narrate St. Peter’s martyrdom there. In one account, St. Peter is killed by a group of angry Roman landowners because the saint has convinced their wives to adopt celibacy. 

What is equally remarkable, though, is that not all of the ancient stories place St. Peter in the city of Rome. An alternate view is provided by a collection of texts known as the Pseudo-Clementines. These texts were written in Palestine by a variety of authors in the fourth century A.D. The collection contains homilies, supposedly preached by Peter; a treatise; and two letters. In all but one of the letters, the disparate writers see Jerusalem—not Rome—as the center of the Christian world. The texts themselves deal exclusively with the churches of Palestine and Syria.

For many of the same reasons that the Roman church would eventually emphasize the connections between St. Peter, Rome, and the Roman church, so too these other documents, the Pseudo-Clementines, emphasize St. Peter’s role in the foundation narratives of many Syrian and Palestinian communities. None of these apocryphal texts describe St. Peter as a bishop. Only a very few, moreover, describe him as having any relationship to the episcopal structure of Rome. 

To be sure, there are some other second and third century sources (anti-heretical writings and letters) that do link Peter to the episcopal structure of the Roman Church.  But it is important to emphasize that there was no single authoritative teaching in the Orthodox Church about what happened to St. Peter when he drops out of the historical narrative of the Book of Acts. We should not confuse legends and apocrypha with theological belief. 

So where does this leave us?  How does the Orthodox Christian reconcile the conflicting accounts of the end of St. Peter’s life that have circulated so widely? The answer lies in our hymnography.  It is there, in the experience of communal worship, that Church offers its most authoritative means for communicating the significance of St. Peter’s life.  And it is telling that the hymns of the Church provide no biographical information about St. Peter that is not contained in the New Testament. Indeed, for all of the hymns that the Church developed over the centuries, not a single one situates St. Peter in a historic space. For Orthodox Christians, the Liturgical commemoration of St. Peter is a celebration of his faith, his leadership, and—most significantly—his repentance. 

George E Demacopoulos, Author of The Invention of Peter:  Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity (University of Pennsylvania Press). Director and Co-Founder, Orthodox Christian Studies Center, Fordham University. @GDemacopoulos

Don't Tell Me What I Can't Do - Fourth Sunday of Matthew

Time for another confession: I was a huge fan of LOST.

Even bigger confession: I liked the ending.

That’s a pretty controversial view among LOST fans. In fact, there is a significant amount of disagreement about the show and its purpose, but I hope that if there’s one thing that we can all agree upon, it’s that the most important thing ever said in its six seasons was this:

Dont tell me what I cant do.

Never has one short line expressed so much about humanity. About me.

The world tells us we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, and that there are no (and should be no) real consequences for our choices.

You cant touch that stove without getting burned.  Oh no?  Watch me!

You cant buy something you cant afford. Oh no? Ill use my credit card.

You cant look healthy and eat McDonalds every day. Oh no? How about a tummy tuck?

Many of us (most of us?) don’t want to face our limits, and we certainly don’t want to be told “no.” That’s one reason we struggle with authority, finding rebellious (and frequently disastrous) ways to shake our fists at The Man (whoever The Man may be) and say, “Dont tell me what I cant do.

We want to have our cake, eat it, and look skinny doing it.

But that’s just not how the world works. In real life, there are consequences for actions, and they often hurt. And that’s why authorities (at least good authorities) develop, to steer us away from the terrible choices that lead to crippling debt, clogged arteries, and second-degree burns. 

Yet we wrestle with authority because we dont want someone to tell us what we cant do.

This seems to be deeply rooted in humanity. Even my 4-year-old is an expert at refusing to do what those in charge ask, no matter how reasonable it may be (“sorry, we can’t drive to the store until you get in your car seat; you’re four”). It’s almost an impulse, a knee-jerk reaction when someone gives us a rule: we resist it.

Even from the beginning, Adam and Eve couldn’t manage to abide the one lousy commandment they were given. Instead, they bought the deception of the evil one because, ultimately, they didnt trust that God knew better.

When the serpent planted in their heads that perhaps God doesnt want whats best for them, they took matters into their own hands, trusting their own authority instead of Gods.

God didn’t simply want obedience; He wanted to protect Adam and Eve from the death that would follow after they separated themselves from Him. Too bad they didn’t listen.

Too bad I don’t listen.

Oh, how often I emulate their rebellion! Show me a list of God’s commands, and I’ll show you a list of things I have done or left undone.

Dont be anxious,” Christ commands (Matt. 6:25). Okay, Jesus, but have you ever heard of student loans?

Judge not, the Lord dictates (Matt. 7:1). Okay, Jesus, but have you seen that guys hairstyle?

Love your enemies, God says (Matt. 5:44). Okay, Jesus, but did you hear what she said to me?

The reality of these things is that they are commandments. “Don’t be anxious” is a direct command from God, to trust that He will act to take care of those whom He loves, and yet, all too often, I believe that God doesnt mean it. So I resist Him, and I choose to worry instead. I choose to take matters into my own hands. 

Because, if I’m honest, I dont trust Him.

That brings us to this Sunday’s Gospel reading, in which the servant of a centurion is dying. The centurion, a Gentile, comes to Christ to request healing on behalf of his servant, and when Christ says He will come to the man’s home, the centurion protests:

Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, Go, and he goes, and to another, Come, and he comes, and to my slave, Do this, and he does it. (Matt. 8:8-9)

For the centurion, a man who exists in a world where authority has clout, Christs mere word is sufficient to heal his servant. He recognizes Christ for who He is, and he trusts that Christ’s authority is supreme.

Christ marvels at this trust, saying “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Matt. 8:10). After all, the centurion was willing to bet his servants life on Christ.

But are we willing to bet our own? Or do we think we know better? When Christ tells us to take up the cross and to follow Him, do we take Him at His word?

The world would have us pursue our own pleasure and refuse to take direction from anyone besides ourselves, offering us the freedom of disobedience (#YOLO). Yet this is a false freedom, one that leads to the bondage of sin and addiction and, ultimately, death. 

We forget that, when God tells us no, it’s not for His sake; it’s for our sake.  

We forget that, when we turn away from Christ, we are betting our lives on it.  Because Christ’s commandments are unto life, though the enemy often deceives us into resisting them. We resist Christ because we are afraid that maybe He doesn’t have our best interest in mind.

But this is where we are called to emulate the faith of the centurion and to trust that when Christ commands us (whether it’s about tithing, fasting, or abstinence) He gives us marching orders that are unto life.

God’s “no” is meant to steer us away from death and into the eternal “yes” of His Kingdom.

And why would we want to resist that?

Photo Credits:

Strong-Willed Kid: crimfants via Compfight cc

National Debt: Wikimedia Commons

Saluting Kid: marcus_jb1973 via Compfight cc

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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For more:

For more on doubting God, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

And just for fun:

Appropriation Without Attribution: The Problem of the Western Narrative, and the Pope’s Encyclical on the Environment

The late British scholar Romilly James Heald Jenkins, one of the West’s leading postwar Medieval historians, who occupied the prestigious Chair as Koraes Professor of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature at King’s College in London and was Professor of Byzantine History and Language at Dumbarton Oaks, famously observed that Western views and attitudes towards Byzantium and the Orthodox world were “dictated first by ignorance and second by prejudice,” while also noting that “the West’s long-enduring hatred of Byzantium is plainly discernible.”  One of the legacies of that historic Western enmity towards Byzantium has been the construction of a distinctly Western narrative that has largely expunged Byzantium and Orthodoxy from the history of Europe. 

Teaching Byzantine history and civilization to American university students, as I have for more than two decades, poses certain unique challenges.  Most Americans, including most Greek Americans, have little or no accurate and meaningful knowledge of Byzantium and the Medieval Orthodox world.  Furthermore, they come to Byzantine history with a Western-centric (meaning Western European/originally Western Christian) narrative with which they have been thoroughly inculcated by both their formal educations and by Western cultural experience that complicates their study of Byzantium.  These influences produce students who, through no fault of their own, are not only unaware of Byzantium’s seminal place in history, but are handicapped by centuries-old Western narratives that are rooted in an historic hostility towards Byzantium, one that is uncritically, unwittingly parroted by even the most well intentioned, but uninformed, teachers and professors. 

Again, one of the byproducts of this hostility—originating in the Medieval West’s sense of cultural inferiority and lack of political legitimacy vis-à-vis Byzantium, and compounded by the historical ignorance and religious prejudices of the Western Enlightenment—has been the construction of a Western grand narrative that is not entirely accurate.  This Western narrative is premised upon a distorted and fatuous history of the West itself at the expense of, and juxtaposed against, the “East” (with the East, meaning, depending on the shifting needs of the West, any part of the world not rooted in a Western Christian past), beginning with the West’s rivalry and aggression against Byzantium and Eastern Christianity.  This discourse—both religious and secular in its expression—explicitly and implicitly elevates the West in all its forms (its churches, states, societies, institutions, practices, cultures, and ideas) as superior, always first, original, more innovative, and more important than the imagined East in all its forms (Orthodox, Muslim, Asian, Russian, Middle Eastern, “Oriental,” etc.).     

Because of the false history produced by the Western narrative—the bedrock of a modern education—one of the first challenges confronting those who teach Byzantine history is how to help students deconstruct and break through the distorted discourse that is a basic part of their educations and cultural baggage.  The goal of such teaching is not to substitute an Eastern-centric narrative that belittles the West for the Western-centric narrative that belittles the East.  Instead, the goal is to recognize and tackle bias, prejudice, and falsehoods in order to form a more accurate and rigorous understanding of both Byzantium and the West.  Likewise, by deconstructing the West’s prevarications and myths about itself and Byzantium, students can more effectively evaluate how those myths and erroneous histories resonate across time and continue to influence and distort our perception of the world in the present. 

The cherished, unquestioned canards that permeate the Western narrative and that have been repeated over many centuries through Western Christianity, culture, and “learning” are simply too extensive to review here, they are legion.  Nonetheless, to offer correctives to just a few widely accepted fabrications that are important to the Western narrative against Byzantium and Orthodoxy, one might consider the following: the Roman Empire did not fall nor end in the fifth century; the Roman Empire was not restored by Charlemagne in the ninth century; Greek and Roman civilization, classical knowledge, and literacy did not disappear during the Middle Ages; medicine, philosophy, and Greek literature were not preserved only by the Arab Muslims to be ultimately transferred to the West by Moorish Spain; the Bishop of Rome (later pope) had no authority over the Christian Church beyond the territorial jurisdiction of his ecclesiastical See in the Western part of the Roman Empire; the Early Church was not organized under any one, centralized hierarchical authority; and the Orthodox Church was not a schismatic offshoot of Roman Catholicism.

In addition to altering the historical record, part of the logic of the Western grand narrative has been to appropriate advancements from the East without attribution.  The most recent example of this phenomenon is Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment, climate change, and human society.  Indeed, the already neatly packaged media consensus on the Pope’s formal pronouncements on the environment demonstrates the enduring power of the Western narrative to shape public discourse and perception.  Likewise, it also provides us with a remarkable example of how this narrative, even no longer with active intention, continues to diminish Eastern Christianity’s contributions and role in the world.

Pope Francis’ much-anticipated June 18 encyclical, Laudato Si (“Praise Be to You”), calls for immediate unified global action to confront the environmental degradation of the planet produced by rapacious profiteering, apathy, and a blind faith in reckless technology.  The Pope’s encyclical drew from multiple sources, including prominently the writing and work of his friend and brother-in-Christ, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His All Holiness Bartholomew I.  This is not surprising given the fact that during the 1990s Bartholomew became the first major international religious leader to systematically link theology to environmental problems and policy on a global level, an issue that he has continued to tirelessly advance and for which he has been recognized as a world leader for the last quarter century.  Indeed, Bartholomew’s pioneering initiatives on the protection of the natural environment—marked by international, interfaith, and interdisciplinary symposia and summits—began years before faith-based environmental movements in the West became political and fashionable.    

Despite Francis’ laudable and appropriate acknowledgment of the original and seminal role played by Bartholomew in promoting a Christian understanding of, and approach to, the environmental crisis of the present, the media generally ignored this attribution in Laudato Si and in the background reporting on Christianity and the environment.  Instead, the media has been quick to develop a distorted narrative that puts Francis in the role as the first major international religious leader to link theology to environmental issues.  In short, the inexorable force of the Western narrative has already produced a distorted story about religion, innovation, leadership, and originality that sidelines Orthodoxy and that presents Orthodoxy’s theology, language, ideas, and actions as Roman Catholic, as Western—a case of appropriation without attribution.

The subject of Francis’ encyclical may have marked a first for the Roman Catholic Church but it is not a first for and within Christianity.  Furthermore, although the Pope’s lengthy encyclical may contain some new assertive calls for action in the spheres of politics, government, and economics, the theological underpinnings from which the encyclical proceeds are derivative of Orthodox theology, in general, and the work and writing of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in particular.  Indeed, the encyclical’s central theme and repeated invocation of human stewardship and balance with nature represents a Roman Catholic volte-face, a complete rupture from the historic Roman Catholic materialist theology premised upon divine-right domination over the environment in favor of Orthodox thinking about the triune relationship between God, humanity, and nature.  Finally, inasmuch as the Vatican claims that Francis’ encyclical is intended as an ecumenical document to promote discussion and action within and across all faith traditions, it is equally important to respect the principles of ecumenicity by recognizing that such a discussion had been inaugurated well before the publication of Laudato Si and that the Pope’s encyclical is, in fact, an echo, a reflection, a product of that preexisting discussion, not its originating source.  In that spirit, the next two contributions to this blog will focus on the work of Francis’ forerunner in global environmentalism, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I.

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University, in Salem, Massachusetts, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

Returning Home

The best perk of being a Y2AM Young Adult Ministries Coordinator (at least this far) is spending two weeks with some of my very favorite young adults and Clergy at Camp Emmanuel, the Metropolis of Denver summer camp.  Every year, across the entire Archdiocese, very dedicated and patient people commit their time and energy to put on some really incredible camps for Orthodox youth.  By the time you’re reading this, I will be in the Manzano Mountains completely exhausted (and probably very dirty) but experiencing my favorite blessing of the year.

 

We know that camp is an important experience for the youth that show up ready to spend a week immersed in Orthodoxy, but I’m not sure we realize how important it is for camp counselors, too.  Camp is an opportunity for young adults like me to (hopefully) help shape young Orthodox Christians, and it’s also a very necessary reminder to refocus on our own faith.  

 

Getting older often includes getting busier, which can distract us from Christ I’m not the only one who doesn’t get as many truly spiritual moments as I would like.  Yet camp gives us a few weeks to step back from school and work and reconnect with our Faith.  It gives me the inspiration I need to make God more of a priority in my life.  

 

It’s also a beautiful reminder that I’m not alone.  We are all struggling to keep God at the center of our lives as we enter our twenties and thirties.  

 

A big part of that struggle includes staying involved.

 

As we get older, graduate college, stop having our summers off, and start building careers, it becomes more and more difficult for young adults to find time to dedicate to things like summer camp.

 

Last year, in order to be a staffer at Camp Emmanuel, I took every vacation day my job offered.  For the entire year.  I used all of my vacation time to go on what is most definitely NOT a vacation.  When I went back to work my coworkers couldn’t understand why I was more exhausted than when I left.  

 

I go to camp because I love it.  I go to camp because I need it.  But I didn’t always realize that.  

 

You could say I’m part of a “camp family;” my father has been involved in the program for as long as I can remember and I’ve watched my little sister go from a dedicated camper to a dedicated staff member.  I attended camp pretty consistently when I was in junior high and high school, but, until recently, it had been more years than I care to admit since I had last been back.  My family spent those years trying to peer pressure me into going but I always had something “more important” going on.  

 

Without my family’s patient (yet consistent) advice, I don’t know that I would have ever gone back to camp.  Most of the staff that is here are either part of a “‘camp family”’ or actively sought out the program as a way to serve their Church.  It’s rare (at least at Camp Emmanuel) to meet a staffer that the camp found and encouraged to join.    

 

And maybe that’s part of the problem.

 

The Church raised me.  As I write this I’m with many of the same Clergy that served here when I was a camper.  I’m co-staff with friends I met when we were campers.  And, of course, my father and sisters are here.

 

These are the people who have helped shape my identity.  They were with me when I was a camper, they’re with me now that I’m on staff, and they were patiently waiting for me all those years I was off doing my own thing.  They are Christians in the best and most true sense of the word, and I doubt I could ever express exactly what they have done for me.  They made sure I knew the Church was home, even when I was wandering.  And they made sure the door was open for me when I returned.

 

It can be difficult to find your way home once you become lost.  It doesn’t always come as easily as it did for me.  One of the parables we discussed with our campers this week was the Prodigal Son.  While all it took was a little gentle encouragement from my family for me to return “home,” for the Prodigal Son, it took the loss of everything

 

But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”  (Luke 15:11-32)

 

Losing your way doesn’t always include blowing your inheritance on Gatsby style parties and finding yourself with nothing.  But we all have our prodigal moments, whether they last days or years.  And if we hope that prodigals find their way back home, we need to make sure that they know home is waiting for them.

 

So are we?

 

The Church is full of active youth, the type you see at summer camps and those that participate in GOYA activities throughout the year.  But it is also full of not-so-active young adults.  The struggle becomes turning that group of active youth into an active group of young adults, and serving at summer camps is an important part of that.  

 

So, are we inviting them in?  Are we calling them home?

 

We can invite young adults back by making sure we, as a Church, offer ministry opportunities for them.  For those who are about to start (or currently in the midst of) college OCF is a great way to help our college students stay involved in the Church while they’re on campus.

 

Visit ocf.net/firstfortydays [hyperlink] to learn how to connect college freshmen to Orthodox college ministry.

 

And for those of us out of college, there should be a REAL group waiting for you at your parish.  REAL is the new young adult ministry from Y2AM and we’re seeing some awesome work happening all across the country.  If you don’t already have one in your community, let’s talk about getting a REAL group started.

 

And keep a lookout for REAL Weekend, coming later this fall.  

 

Hopefully in combination with OCF, REAL, and getting our young adults serving at camp programs, we can start to see a more of our young adults who are seeking home (and those who didn’t know they wanted to) finding their way home.         

 

 

 

Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.

 

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For more:

For more on summer camp, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

 

For more on returning home to the Church, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

 

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou
Posts: 18
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Date: 6/29/15
George E. Demacopoulos
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Date: 6/24/15
Christian Gonzalez
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Date: 6/23/15
Charissa Giannopoulos
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Date: 6/19/15
Father Evagoras Constantinides
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Date: 5/28/15
Dr. Tony Vrame
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Date: 4/10/15
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