Faith and Football

Photo credit: St. Paul Pioneer Press
 

At the center of my Sundays since the mid-90s has been the act of praising and thanking God (for almost fifteen years now, in Eastern Orthodox parishes) for His unshakable good will toward me and all human beings in spite of our great and ongoing failings.  This way of structuring Sundays stands very much in contrast to my experience as a child growing up in a secular Jewish family in a Minneapolis suburb in the ‘70s -- when, from September through January (and I really don’t remember Sundays otherwise), my whole reality rose and fell with the televised fortunes of the Minnesota Vikings, whose yellow-trimmed white and purple uniform and helmet against the wan (home games) or strong (West Coast games) sunlit expanse of a perfect green field touched the deepest chord in me.   From a game’s start to its finish, reality was different, more taut and concentrated, than before or afterward and determined the cast of the rest of the day and, often, the week, for better or worse. 

Usually it was for worse – or so I remember.  The Vikings’ cumulative record from 1970-80 was actually 108-50-1.  And I do have vivid memories of high points.  One was the game against Cleveland that put us into the 1980 playoffs (the closest analogue to an afterlife, in my childhood cosmology) when Tommy Kramer with 14 seconds left from our own 20 and the Vikings trailing 23-22 hit Sammy White who lateraled immediately to Ted Brown who ran to about midfield and out of bounds with 5 seconds on the clock.  Kramer then threw a Hail Mary into the end zone on the game’s final play.  The ball was tipped and somehow scooped up with one hand by Ahmad Rashad for the touchdown.  With the rest of Minnesota, and with the latest (January '77) of four lacerating Super Bowl losses still a raw wound, I was delirious, running and shouting through the house for joy.  But such moments of elation are far overshadowed in my childhood memory by the Super Bowl losses and kindred devastations like the '75 divisional playoff loss to Dallas, when Drew Pearson scored on a Roger Staubach TD pass the refs let stand even though Pearson clearly shoved cornerback Nate Wright on the way to the ball.        

I was baptized in '96.  One of the things about the presence of God when a person is newly touched and exalted by it in even the merest of ways is that it relativizes everything else.  What otherwise would get a person all riled up – slights, disappointments, fears – suddenly doesn’t.  Everything is melted or dissolved in the glow of the divine radiance.  As one millennium gave way to the next the Vikings went on blowing important games as, for example, they did, true to form, in the '98 NFC championship game against Atlanta (placekicker Gary Anderson, otherwise perfect all year, missing a 38-yarder), again in the 2009 championship game against the Saints (Brett Favre throwing needlessly and dangerously across field for an interception) and again in the January '16 Wild Card game against Seattle (Blair Walsh missing an easy 27-yard field goal). 

To what extent any of this could still put me into an emotional tailspin was an interesting question.  From many of my old attachments, whether to people's praise or to creature comforts or various desirable outcomes related to work or family, I had found myself abruptly and completely freed at the moment when God's reality and goodness had first impressed themselves on me, but over time they had returned (surprise!), so that I would have to make a deliberate and often prolonged effort to let go of them through prayer, confession, and other spiritual disciplines.  Bitter Vikings’ defeats were part of this.  I found I could let go (as I couldn’t back in the days when the Vikings were my religion) but if I didn't watch out, still, the whole Vikings football thing could ensnare me again in fruitless feelings of manic worry, despair and self-pity. 

More than once it occurred to me that if I had just opened myself more fearlessly to God's will for me I might have made a different decision altogether by now related to watching professional football:  I might simply have renounced it.  I strongly suspect this to be true, actually.  Yes, athletics meaningfully develop virtues in those who play them and showcase human talent and spirit in edifying ways for spectators.  But I know I'm not alone in having long thought, occasionally with disturbing clarity, that if we Americans collectively could somehow shut off our televisions on Sunday afternoons during NFL season and redirect our hope- and anxiety-laden energies and resources into serving the pressing needs in our local communities, in a short time all our towns and cities would be wondrously transformed, along with our souls.  We are indeed entertaining and distracting ourselves to death in all sorts of ways, not least through professional sports.  Our country and our world are in trouble, drifting along on terrible tides of indifference and despair -- yet I go on allowing myself to get worked up again over the nothing that is on the line when the Vikings play the Packers, the Bills or the Bengals?  "Faces along the bar / Cling to their average day: / The lights must never go out, / The music must always play, / All the conventions conspire / To make this fort assume / The furniture of home; / Lest we should see where we are, / Lost . . ."    

The question -- why keep watching this stuff -- has been all the more sharpened by the increased medical and scientific consensus of recent years about the physiological damage the sport has done to so many players.  As it turns out, one need not be a world-renouncing religious zealot to be moved to keep the TV off on Sunday afternoons, but just a concerned human being.  Yet somehow I’ve kept this concern at arm's length, too.  Exposés like League of Denial on the horrors of concussions in the NFL are abundantly available, and I have managed not to digest any of them in full, thereby giving myself a little more time to remain unsure whether being an NFL fan necessarily goes against the grain of loving one's neighbor as oneself.  When principled people I know say they've weaned themselves from football viewing, I tell myself they evidently never had the kind of genuine devotion to a team that I had to the Vikings, or, if they did, never the baggage of so much chronic and momentous loss.  As with other drastic life-changes I sometimes contemplate making, whenever the thought of this one has arisen I've typically met it in the spirit of Augustine and his prayer, "God, make me holy -- but not yet."  A 13-3 season anyway has not really seemed the right time to start on the straight and narrow in this particular regard.  I'm sure I'll be better prepared, without double-mindedness, to ask God if this sacrifice really is His will for me and (if so) to act on it the day the Vikings have finally won the Super Bowl.

…Which irrepressibly hopeful thought brings me to last Sunday's playoff game against the Saints and the miraculous pass from Case Keenam to Stefon Diggs and the latter's spectacular run into the end zone as time expired.  By then I was watching in the upstairs bedroom of some friends in the neighborhood who, not being into sports, had invited us to a dinner party they had outrageously set for right around game time.  The first half I had watched with my kids at home before joining my wife at the party with the Vikings up 17-0 and a TV upstairs that our friends had said I could go turn on if I felt I needed to, as indeed I did, after engaging in only a little elevated chit-chat over dinner.  The lead had shrunk to 17-14.  It was the start of the fourth quarter.  The Vikings hit a field goal next, but it was no surprise to me when the Saints a few possessions later blocked a punt and marched forty yards into the end zone -- "for the first time all game, the Saints take the lead, with 3:01 to go," intoned one of the announcers -- because everything since I’d sat down had been telling me I had seen this movie; I knew the script.  Nor did the Vikings' subsequent field goal (putting them back up 23-21), however impressive at 53 yards, fool me for a second into thinking anything different, because there was still 1:29 remaining on the clock.  I knew what Drew Brees and his receivers would do in that time to the Vikings' defense (forget its #1 rating in the league) and I was right; I'm always right; all Minnesota fans are always right in these kinds of circumstances.  A few crisp passes got the Saints well into position for the inevitable go-ahead field goal with 25 seconds left. 

Some Viking fans spare themselves further torture at this point.  (--A friend later told me he went downstairs then and there to throw in a load of laundry.)  I stayed watching to the end, perhaps more than anything in sheer awe of the predictability of it all.  From our 25, Keenam completed a pass over the middle that required us to use our last time-out with 17 seconds left; we were at our own 39.  The next play went nowhere; it was one of those complete and total expressions of feeble impotence; it used up another seven seconds.  Then there was the last play.  Whether, seeing it, I was in the body or out of the body I still don't know.  The Vikings' Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes was quoted the next day as saying he watched the replay at home "about a thousand times".  Keenam dropped back and threw toward the right sideline about 25 yards downfield to Diggs who somehow eluded a tackle as he caught it, turned and ran for the score.

Comparing notes with my kids (11, 8, and 5) back home, you’d have thought we’d all made it through the apocalypse, each with our own stories of it to tell.  "I thought we were finished!"  "It was so amazing, Dad!"  "I couldn't believe it!"  "I went running into the kitchen like a maniac!"  My son, the middle child, recounted in more detail what was going through his mind just before the last play.  "I said, 'God, I know this isn't something to pray over, but please...'"  He also mentioned, a little later, that he felt sort of sorry for the Saints afterwards. 

This reminds me of a perennial response of many of my college students to the story of the exodus; the drowning of Pharaoh’s pursuing army bothers them.  Only in their case, it isn’t just a troubling layer in an overall response of awe-struck gladness – as my son felt – at the victory that’s been wrought; it’s virtually the whole response, as if all that’s happened here is only bad.  My attempts to deepen their reading are tricky and often fail since I can easily seem merely to be saying, don’t care so much!  But of course it isn’t that empathetic identification with those suddenly cast down is to be discouraged, in principle.  (And let’s be clear:  without a good dose of healthy moral discomfort about some of Scripture’s violence and destruction, we know what kinds of uses it can be put to.)  The question is how deep the quick identification with the Israelites’ pursuers really goes and whether it has first come to empathetic grips with the suffering of the ones oppressed by them for four centuries and only now gaining a freedom too good to be true.  Matthew, my 8-year-old, didn't suffer through four Viking Super Bowl losses as a child, nor sit and watch the Saints steal the 2009 playoff game right out of the Vikings' grasp.  When you've been through these things (an AP news article on Monday referred to the Vikings as "one of the NFL's most agonized franchises"), it is decidedly secondary how the Saints, who’ve got their Super Bowl title, must feel after Sunday’s loss. 

For some, of course, the defeated opposition’s misery is precisely part of what makes being victorious over them sweet, but that has never been my experience as a Vikings fan.  With respect to whatever team we’re lined up against, it isn’t about beating them, but about beating it – the deeper thing “they” just happen to be representing at the moment.  In fact the pure euphoria of seeing Diggs run into the end zone was far too soaring to be tethered to, or buoyed up any further by, anything so paltry and small as revenge.  The point as I see it, whether in biblical accounts or on the playing field, never is and never was to relish seeing the Goliaths or the Yankees or the Patriots of this world eat dust (Nietzsche was wrong to see ressentiment at the heart of biblical faith – though it does, sadly, seem to characterize many Yankee-haters I know) but to stand amazed simply by the realization that the impossible is possible.   The reason why the great ones, the strong of this world, don’t have all humankind pulling for them is that theirs are the victories no miracle is needed to bring about.  I suppose that perennial winners do have, then, a sort of tough time of it in their own way, since their fans’ devotion to them even at its most fervent must intrinsically lack a certain qualitative depth, the nobility of heartache, the precious hope-beyond-hope that the habit of winning can know nothing of.  But this is just the way it is.  When was the last time, you might ask yourself, a villain was ever the underdog?  Vikings' coach Mike Zimmer hit it on the head:  "A heckuva game, wasn't it?" he said.  "And the good guys won."

Like all good sacraments -- like the Exodus story itself -- the Vikings' win on Sunday moves and exalts us because of its mysterious power to point beyond itself, beyond what one has just seen.  A moment like that can never be experienced again in full, though we may try a thousand times to replay it, because even the first time, it had in it something more than itself that comprised its essential and elusive content.  What is it about?  Its meaning lies in the primordial fact that we're all cooked, up against it, as the Israelites were at the Red Sea with the Egyptian army closing in fast, as the Vikings were with no more time-outs and their long luckless history; we're all running out of time, all feebly impotent to burst through what stands against us.  In the grand cosmic scheme we're luckless losers, each and every one of us, mired and powerless – Yankees and Cubs alike, Patriots and Vikings, Goliaths and Davids, all – powerless to defeat the evil that’s the real and fierce opponent around us and especially within us.  And yet the miracle -- in a game like the one this past weekend in Minneapolis – is shown to be possible, the miracle that snatches us the victory in defiance of everything we thought we knew about the laws of the universe.  Good luck, Vikings, on Sunday. 


Will Cohen is Associate Professor of Theology at the University of Scranton and currently serves as President of the Orthodox Theological Society in America

Who Brought You to Christ!

Who Brought You to Christ?

Growing up I was blessed to have many mentors and guides in the Faith. One of my role models was, and continues to be, my grandmother Nikonia, whose life helped shape my commitment to Christ.

I would often stay at my grandmother’s house for weeks at a time during summer vacation. She would take me to church services on Sunday. On weekdays she would rise early, offer her daily prayers, and cense the house. Since I slept in the room with the icon corner, my grandmother would unintentionally wake me from a deep sleep during censing. One day I asked her why she was praying since it was not Sunday. She responded lovingly, “God blesses us seven days a week. Should we not do the same?” I learned at that moment about the importance of daily prayer. In the twenty-four hours God gives each day, certainly we can find a portion of that time to share with God our praise, our problems, our thanks, our love.

My grandmother was very active in her church, participating in choir, Philoptochos, festivals, and other activities, but she made the greatest impression on me when she took me to the hospital to visit people. Being a patient can be lonely, frightening, and painful. The comfort of a friendly visit is usually appreciated. My grandmother and I would visit people she knew, and then she would take the extra step. She would peek into other hospital rooms to see if someone else might benefit from a warm conversation. This spoke volumes about my grandmother’s gifts of compassion, conversation, and concern for others. She modeled for me the importance of using the gifts that God has given us to serve our parish and the community at large.

My grandparents raised their three children during the Depression years of the 1930s. Many people suffered terrible financial hardships during that era. It was a common practice for my grandmother to prepare a plate of food—not the leftovers, but the first fruits—and bring it to those who struggled to support their families. During my childhood, my grandmother continued this practice by preparing covered dishes to deliver to her neighbors in need.

I share these reflections not for sentimental reasons but to highlight how one person, one witness, made a permanent impression on me about Jesus Christ. Faith must be modeled by people we love and trust. Once we see that example in others, we will be inspired to follow suit.

Who are the people that brought you to Christ? What values did they model for you?

 

Fr. Alexander Goussetis is the director of the Center for Family Care.

Moving Past Regret

With increasing speed, another year has come and gone. With that comes the natural impulse toward reflection and the measuring up of ourselves against the resolutions we kept with varying success. We applaud ourselves for making progress, and beat ourselves up over our failures or backtracking. And so we find ourselves perhaps regretting certain decisions - or maybe our indecision - wishing we could go back and do it all over again.

 

If we focus on our regret, we’ll find ourselves stuck in guilt and shame without being able to move forward. So how do we move past our regrets?

 

1. Give it up to God

 

Regret can pile up fast. We wish we had done this, or we wish we hadn’t done that. We begin to fear the consequences of the past and start to condemn ourselves instead of handing it all over to God. We forget Christ’s words to us: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

 

We seem to prefer holding on to the heavy load and attempting to manage it all ourselves.

 

And it hits again: regret. When I glance at my university diploma and see the blank space that could have read “Cum laude” if only I had taken those one or two courses more seriously. Regret. When I wish that I had visited my aunt more than once in Florida before she passed away. Regret. When I remember any number of missed opportunities.

 

I have a choice to make when I notice this piling up of regrets. I can keep holding on to it all, trying to balance everything, or I can offer it up to God instead. When I bring my regret to Christ, and ask Him to take away my fears and frustrations, I am committing my whole life to Christ instead of commiting my life to myself.

 

This doesn’t come easily, that’s for sure. Pride and ego makes us think it’s easier to just do things alone and insist on solving all problems on our own. Somehow it seems harder to ask for help and to let Jesus have some hand in our lives. But when we do rely on God more than ourselves we find that we don’t struggle as much with anxiety and fear; we have a God who gives us direction, peace, and strength to face any struggle. We can begin to rely on Him in our daily prayers as we ask God to guide our day in the morning and thank Him for the day in the evening. It takes practice to give our regrets up to God, but it’s part of living a life in repentance.

 

2. Have a change of mind

 

Repentance - for whatever reason - conjures up for many people an idea of self-deprecation or feeling guilty. But the verb “to repent” in Greek means more simply to have a change of mind or to think differently (than before). That means that tied into repentance is the idea of reflecting on the past, but not dwelling on it. I have to know my past and accept the past as reality if I want to live differently today.

 

Moving past regret means offering the things we wish we had or hadn’t done up to God. But then it means having a change of mind, deciding to move forward in a different direction. Repentance is more than asking forgiveness, it’s the decision to make different choices moving forward and following up with that decision.

 

We don’t need to live in regret in order to live in repentance. There is a sense of a healthy regret - that we are aware of what happened and want something different for the present. But we can’t have a change of mind in the past, we can only have a change of mind in the present.

 

3. Live in the present

 

The things we regret are in the past, yet we think that somehow by worrying about our regrets we can change something. We know this makes no sense, but it doesn’t keep us from living in the past.

 

St. Paul gives all of us who struggle with living in the present his example to follow: “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Before becoming a Christian, St. Paul had persecuted the Church and was even involved in the murder of St. Stephen (Acts 7:55-60). St. Paul knew that he couldn’t press on toward Christ if he were still living in the pain of his past. He had to first let go of what was behind him in order to pursue Christ in his present.

 

Yesterday is finished, and tomorrow is not yet here. We only have today. And yet we try to fill our today with regrets of yesterday or fears of tomorrow. St. Paul shows us that to keep Christ as the goal of our lives, there is work yet to be done today. If we concern ourselves with the work of straining forward and pressing on toward Christ, we won’t have time to worry about yesterday. We’ll have to let it go in order to live in the present. But it’s worth letting go of control, since it means having Christ at the very center of our lives, directing us and guiding us far better than we could have done ourselves.

 

*****

 

Regret keeps us from moving forward. Instead of allowing regret to pile up on our shoulders, we can let Christ take its weight from us. To move past regret, we need a change of mind, a change of heart. And instead of living in the past, we can move forward in our relationship with Jesus today.

 

As we move into the new year, we don’t need to focus on regrets of the past. With Christ, we can find strength in our weakness, even in the things we once regretted. A new year helps us move forward, with gratitude for new opportunities, and a new chance to renew our relationships - with God and neighbor.

 

How has regret kept you from moving forward? What are you doing today to let Christ carry that burden for you?

 

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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An Orthodox Voice on Sexual Assault

In the last year, the pervasive issues of rape, sexual assault, and harassment have taken center stage in the headlines. Political candidates, actors, and other men in positions of power have been accused (often with multiple corroborating stories) of abuse against women across the country. Just last month, #metoo was trending on social media as people took strength in numbers to speak about their experiences being sexually assaulted or sexually harassed. In the last week, the issue returned to the spotlight as nearly every day another man is exposed as an offender.

 

Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction of many is to ignore, silence, or discredit the voices of those who come forward. On the other end, there is the risk of ruining the reputation of an innocent person with an attitude of “guilty until proven innocent”. The current atmosphere in our country is revealing a much deeper issue that goes beyond the political: sexual assault is a startlingly common issue plaguing our society. And what’s worse? We’re nearly unwilling to speak about it.

 

What role can the Orthodox Church play in navigating this difficult issue? How can Orthodox Christians better be there for their friends who feel alone?

 

1. Be a safe person

 

All the talking in the world will not solve the issue of sexual assault. As much as we’d like to, we cannot control the actions of others. But we can learn how our actions - even those we might not be aware of - can affect those around us. If we wish our society to be better, we need to start with our own thoughts and actions.

 

As Christians, we cannot accept “boys will be boys” or that “that’s just how guys are” as responses to sexual harassment. It’s tantamount to “I’m only human as if being human excuses our sin. So I’ll speak to the men here: how are you making excuses in your thinking or acting? Do you view pornography, and have you considered its natural connection to violence against women? Nothing happens in a vacuum, and sexual violence begins with the problem of lust. If you are struggling against an unwelcome habit of pornography, the Church is the greatest hospital - offering confession and healing. But also check out resources like Wolf You Feed and SA for additional support. Being a safe person begins behind closed doors.

 

On a wider level, how do we maintain proper boundaries in our relationships with others? Improper boundaries can lead to problems that could have been avoided, but can also make sexual assault survivors uncomfortable without our knowing we’re crossing a line. Boundaries aren’t only important between youth workers and youth but in all of our relationships.

 

Our actions - both out in the open and behind closed doors - are the proof of whether we are working to be safe people in the midst of this often unsettling world. But the Church also offers us the ability to cultivate a sensitivity to others and a vulnerability before them.

 

2. Be vulnerable without expecting the same

 

Sexual assault survivors, as victims of abuse, often feel completely alone. What adds to the feeling of loneliness is that our society operates in extremes: either over-sharing all aspects of one’s life on social media or being rigidly private so that no one knows the pain that lies beneath the surface. What we need is the safety of community that comes from being vulnerable with friends.

 

The Church offers us the sacraments of confession, unction, and communion as means of healing not only from our personal sin but also from the brokenness we experience. As we develop a healthy habit of going to confession, we get more comfortable with being open with close friends about some of our struggles. Then, when we’re aware of what’s actually going on in our friends’ lives, we can better help them bear their burdens with them.

 

We should never expect someone to share their stories, especially when it comes to sexual assault or harassment. While many felt empowered by the #metoo posts on social media, still others felt obligated or pressured into sharing what they didn’t yet feel safe or comfortable to share. Our job isn’t to get people to talk, our job is to be the type of person others can feel safe sharing with. And if you have been the victim of sexual assault, the Church is here for you to help you heal - when you’re ready.

 

3. Walk with others in their pain

 

In the same way that we can’t expect someone else to share their stories with us - but instead need to be people willing to share - we can’t tell someone how to respond to sexual assault. We need to be people that are modelling a Christian response to conflict and being hurt by others without expecting sexual assault victims to do the same.

 

As Christians, we intellectually understand the importance of forgiveness. We know that Christ calls us to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22) and that in the Our Father we ask God to forgive us “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” But when a person becomes the victim of sexual assault, there’s a harm done that can often never be healed by the offender. Forgiveness becomes a foreign idea and it may take years for a person to get to a place of acceptance, let alone forgiveness, and this is something that only God’s grace can provide - it is not within our power or responsibility to heal a person of this pain.

 

For us to better walk with those who have survived sexual assault, we should, however, learn the hard truth about this all too common problem. Only 30% of sexual assault cases are reported to authorities, and in cases of child sexual assault 60% of offenders are known to the child while 30% are family members. And as we are now in the holiday season, we might have more compassion for our friends who may struggle with the idea of spending so much time with their family. The holidays can be especially triggering for victims of sexual assault.

 

We also need to be aware of the deep shame that surrounds sexual abuse. Guilt and shame affect all of us in one way or another, but victims of sexual assault often have a deep-seated sense of impurity, uncleanness, and shame. Though our words may not change their feelings, our friends still deserve to hear that they aren’t to blame, that they didn’t cause their sexual assault. We may not take their shame from them, but we can offer them our hearts to help bear it.

 

*****

 

We can’t solve our society’s ills, but we can work on alleviating the pain of those around us by being a compassionate presence. Each one of us can be a safe person, a listening person, a vulnerable person walking alongside our friends in their pain and struggles to recover from sexual abuse. Our greatest tool is prayer - both for victims and offenders - that God’s grace will cover them, heal them of their wounds, and bring them all into His loving embrace.

 

How are your actions proving or disproving you to be a safe person for victims of sexual abuse? What can you do today to bring Christ’s presence into your relationships? If you have been sexually assaulted, how has the Church been an agent in your healing?

 

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Interfaith Dialogue: A Call to Respond to Millions on the Move

On November 8th, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America (the Assembly) and the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches (SCOOCH) held the Tenth Annual Orthodox Prayer Service for the United Nations Community, at the Holy Trinity Archdiocesan Cathedral in New York City.

This event brought together representatives of Member States, United Nation Agencies, Orthodoxy, and Civil Society, allowing them to enter the sacred space of the Church, thus providing them the opportunity to reflect upon their common work in prayer. During the prayer service, Archbishop Demetrios, chairman of the Assembly, offered prayers for the protection of the 65.3 million persons who have been forced to escape war and persecution. Those in attendance called to mind and prayer countless men, women, and children who have been uprooted from their homelands and rendered refugees, displaced or stateless people, too frequently denied a nationality and access to basic human rights. Many of which are now trapped in camps throughout the world, or worse, have lost their lives or disappeared during the arduous migratory journey from their homeland in search of a safe place for a chance at life. 

For many it is easy to see refugees and migrants as others or strangers. At best, most of us consider them helpless victims too far way for us to make a difference in their lives; at worst, a few consider them worthy of their plight and therefore undeserving of our care. The truth is that we are quite disconnected from these people because we can hardly imagine the circumstances under which they are forced to live. This lack of understanding often leads to fear and indifference.

Jesus Christ would tell us otherwise.

The movement of refugees and migrants displaced throughout the world is a humanitarian crisis, and a humanitarian call to action. It not only requires Orthodox Christians to lend a hand, but also other Christians- indeed all people of faith and good will. For this reason, the prayer service brought together people of all faith traditions, who answered the call to serve as agents of change and instruments that will help end this humanitarian crisis. We were also reminded that no one is excluded from God’s love, no one should be a leftover of our society.

Matthew 25: 31-45 reminds us of Christ’s mandate, namely to express love for our neighbor in tangible ways. There will be a time when each of us, irrespective of faith, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, will be asked, what did you do for the least of them? The next time you hear about migrants or refugees in the news or politics, fight the urge to judge or turn your back. Instead, ask yourself: what can I do for my brothers and sisters across the world?

 

 

Elaina Karayannis is a Fellow at the U.N. for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.

 

Will Thomas Cohen
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