Entries with tag faith matters .

Talking is Important: The Formation of the United Nations

The United Nations began operating 71 years ago today, following the second of two world wars that killed up to 100 million people around the globe.

As those conflicts dwindle further and further into the past and out of our collective memories, we forget the toll that kind of death had on humanity. While the number of Americans who died was relatively low, entire generations were lost in other parts of the world.

The Soviet Union lost almost 14 percent of its population, Poland 17 percent and Germany 8 percent, just to name a few.

The United Nations was established to prevent another such conflict, and was the successor to the post-World War I League of Nations that itself failed to do the same thing.

By most accounts, the UN has been rather successful. Despite high-profile conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and Israel, the number of people killed in wars is close to its lowest point since 1946 (when World War II ended).

Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker told the Wall Street Journal a few years ago that “we may be living in the peaceable era in the history of our species.”

But the United Nations doesn’t exist simply to prevent war. The 195 countries that are part of the UN also collaborate on other important issues.

In 2015, world leaders adopted 17 sustainable development goals that include ending poverty, eliminating hunger, providing quality education and ensuring gender equality, among other things.

Hundreds of other organizations—called “nongovernmental organizations”—also have roles at the UN, along with its 193 member states and 2 observer states.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has been an accredited NGO at the UN since 1985, and takes an active role in advocating on the behalf of refugees and migrants, against human trafficking, and in favor of the right to clean water worldwide.

The UN experiment of the last 71 years has shown just how effective open communication can be in resolving conflict.

The Charter of the United Nations took force on Oct. 24, 1945.

Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the UN 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.

On Raising Children

What is it that we, as a community of faith, want for our children?  This seemingly simple question is riddled with complexity.  The social environment allures us with a carnival of enticing considerations.  The Internet and social media provide us with an additional kaleidoscope of possibilities and access to information about the personal and professional lives of others that makes competition fueled by social comparison almost inevitable. These images sculpt a sense of what is “normative” to strive for and secure. As our networks extend, so do the distractions and comparisons. The culture of modern life likely distances us from maintaining and modeling a Christ-Centered home.

Most adults would agree that we have to monitor and be selective of the content of our children’s social scope, television programming, and Internet activities.  They are the vulnerable ones we need to protect.  However, we inadvertently forget the pervasive and powerful influence of what we, the adults, select to ingest personally, professionally, recreationally, or simply as social bystanders.  We pay limited attention to how our beliefs and behaviors impact the our children.  For the contemporary Orthodox family, it is easy to become focused on “fitting it all in” (e.g. school, sports, Church, family time, etc.) rather than “putting in” the Christ-Centered virtues and resources that will serve our children better in the long run.

Opportunely, modern psychology has recently uncovered the science behind what our Church has taught through its inception. Positive psychology involves the scientific study of strengths and virtues that empower individuals and communities to thrive and flourish. This field of study examines factors that contribute to the pursuit of the engaged and meaningful life (Seligman, 2012).  One of its outcomes is the recognition that as individuals we long for things more substantial than what we may appear to chase at a glance. In other words, the characteristics identified for living fulfilled and healthy lives (Seligman, 2012) are those qualities our Church Fathers identified as vital to living a Christ-Centered Life.

Our emotional wellbeing helps us engage in a meaningful life. Positive psychology identifies six virtues that contribute to emotional wellbeing and an engaged, meaningful life: wisdom/knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. In the language of the Church these virtues are none other than the fruits of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, charity, faith, meekness, and temperance.

Practicing gratitude daily through journaling and other verbal/written reflections significantly improve our physical health, emotional wellbeing, and relationships (Emmons, 2007). As Orthodox, we offer gratitude and thanksgiving to God through the spiritual disciplines of prayer and almsgiving.

Mindfulness grounds us to the present and focuses our whole being on the here and now. Taking time to practice mindfulness has been shown to change our brain chemistry, increase feelings of wellbeing, improve sleep, reduce anxiety, and decrease aggressive behavior in children (Rosenkrantz et al., 2013; Siegel, 2009).  As Orthodox Christians, we primarily practice mindfulness, that is, mindfulness of God through: prayer (particularly the Jesus Prayer); worship; reading the Bible and other devotional materials; the Sacraments of Eucharist and Confession; and appreciation for His Creation.

Routinely expressing compassion leads to increased levels of emotional wellbeing and social connection (Seppala, Rossomondo, & Dotty, 2013). Compassion is the hallmark of our Lord, Jesus Christ’s life and teachings, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20-35). Thus, compassion is at the heart of a Christ-centered home where children are taught primarily through the modeling of the parents to give and care deeply for the world around them.

Practicing self-compassion promotes physical/emotional health and human connectedness through the understanding that we more alike than different.  In children, promoting self-compassion can be a more powerful tool than promoting self-esteem (which is based on comparison to and competition with others) (Neff, 2012). For the Orthodox Christian, self-compassion is an extension of God’s mercy upon His beloved through the sacrament of Holy Confession and our ability to accept His forgiveness.  Self-compassion speaks to the fact that we have an all-merciful God who created us out of His love in His image and likeness and continues to love despite our brokenness.

How, then, do we take these findings one step further and use them as an impetus for Orthodox living? We begin by directing our efforts toward one modest act: the intentional pause. That’s right, we need to pause. Each day. Every day. Multiple times a day. On purpose. In Christ. And we need to teach our children to do the same.  Only in this way can the fruits of the Holy Spirit be manifest in our lives and in the lives of our children. Because the more our commitments, activities, and pursuits consume our every breath, the less likely we are as families to be intentionally working to develop, exercise and let breathe the very strengths, virtues, and behaviors that will serve as the foundation for living a life in Christ.  We as Orthodox Christians need to intentionally grow more intimately in communion with our Lord Jesus Christ and become aware of the grace of the Holy Spirit working within our homes and families.   It is this grace of God that reveals to us and to our children the very spiritual gifts that our Lord has bestowed upon them for His purpose and good.  By teaching our children to pause, pray, and rest in Christ, we teach them to allow Christ to live through them and make manifest His virtues and unique gifts.

What, then, is our greatest responsibility to our children as parents, grandparents and a community of faith when the developmental needs of children are ever evolving, and confounded with distractions?  As a professional my answer would be to provide them with resources that afford enduring foundations in order to navigate the world with courage, humility, compassion, open minds, and grateful hearts.  As an Orthodox Christian my answer would be to provide an environment that can enable them take on the identity of Christ each day, as they were called to do so in love and in faith on their baptismal day.  As a parent, my answer would be to model all of the above and pray for the grace to do so each day and with every ounce of my heart, mind, and soul.


Evelyn Bilias Lolis, PhD is an educational psychologist, school climate consultant, and assistant professor of Psychology & Special Education in the Graduate School of Education & Allied Professions (GSEAP) at Fairfield University. She has worked in adolescent mental health for over fifteen years, helping to design numerous therapeutic programs for at-risk youth with a concentration in crisis counseling and intervention in the schools.  She is the former district chair of Psychology for the Stamford Public Schools.  She is a devoted member of the Church of the Archangels in Stamford, CT where she is the supervisor of the Archangels Church School Program and the chair of the Archangels Greek School Committee.   Fifteen months ago, she and her husband Elias became parents to their two beautiful daughters, Thalia and Natasha.

Life, Not the Death Penalty

Last spring, I had the privilege of hearing oral arguments for a lethal injection case at the U.S. Supreme Court. Working as a television reporter in Washington, D.C. at the time, I had the station’s legal beat and occasionally found myself at the nation’s highest court.


In this case, inmates sentenced to death in Oklahoma were suing the state over its use of a drug called midazolam, the first administered as part of the state’s lethal injection protocol.


There was growing evidence that midazolam—which is meant to render a person unconscious before the painful drugs that actually stop the heart are injected—wasn’t doing its job. A man in Oklahoma and another in Arizona were seen gasping and writhing in pain during their respective executions.


The legal question was whether executions involving midazolam constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” violating the Eighth Amendment. The Supreme Court wasn’t convinced, narrowly deciding (5-4) to uphold Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol.


The five justices who ruled in favor of the this iteration of the death penalty formed their opinions on legal grounds. I would argue that, perhaps, they were not formed on a moral or ethical ones.


However, the Orthodox Church—through several local Churches worldwide—has taken action to oppose it.


Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken about the perversion of violence and hatred against other people in any form, including corporal punishment.


“How can [Jesus] support the death penalty for people’s wrongdoings, especially when He came to save the lost, and desires ‘that all may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth?’” Patriarch Bartholomew said during a 2013 speech at an ecumencal gathering in Espoo, Finland. “How can life possibly embrace death?”


The Moscow Patriarchate has also encouraged mercy over lethal punishment, noting that the abolition of the death penalty provides more opportunities both for the Church to engage in pastoral work and for those who have committed crimes to repent.


“Today, many states have either abolished the death penalty by law or stopped practicing it,” the Russian Church’s document on the basis of the social concept states. “Keeping in mind that mercy toward a fallen man is always more preferable than revenge, the Church welcomes these steps by state authorities.”


Fortunately, 82 percent of countries have either introduced moratoria on the death penalty by law or in practice or have abolished it entirely.


Here in the U.S., where the practice is still legal in most states and in the federal government, Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos has worked extensively to put an end to the death penalty, having served twice as president of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty before it was finally banned there in 2011.


Like virtually all contemporary social issues, this one is vastly complicated and riddled with nuance. But the data and research overwhelmingly paint a picture of a death penalty that doesn’t really work.


Death penalty convictions are often based on the race of the accused and of the victims, inmates are frequently removed from death row after evidence is found of their innocence, claims that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder are flawed, and enforcing the death penalty costs taxpayers millions of dollars more than it would to punish all first-degree murderers with life in prison.


When basing a decision in the supreme value of human life and the virtue of mercy, it becomes even more obvious that the death penalty should be discarded.


If your justification for opposing abortion is a personal commitment to champion life, why let the death penalty slide? Surely, “pro-life” has to actually mean “pro-life.”


Remember that Christ Himself prevented the legal execution of a woman (John 8:3-11), saying “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”


World Day Against the Death Penalty is marked every year on Oct. 10.


Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the UN 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.

Health and Literacy: An Often Overlooked Connection That Impacts Lives


2016 marks the celebration of two important milestones: the 50th anniversary of World Literacy Day and the implementation of a new United Nations agenda, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These targets converge on many issues, but one important one is often overlooked, namely, literacy. Broadly defined, literacy is the ability to read and write, and ultimately comprehend information. While these skills are important by themselves, they can be impactful on essential aspects of daily life, particularly health and wellness, and they can affect morbidity and mortality rates. Since the right to health has been declared by the UN since 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, this suggests that these issues are intertwined in such a way that when one improves, the other will consequently improve.

Literacy is a tool used to educate and empower individuals around the world. It is part of Sustainable Development Goal #4, which seeks to “ensure inclusive quality education and promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities and societies.” But literacy means far more than a person’s ability to read and write: it has a direct connection to a person’s quality of life and mortality. Studies have shown that limited literacy acts as an indicator of poor health. It leads to life-threatening errors when taking medication, poorer understanding of diseases and their root causes, as well limited access to preventative care measures. Barriers to literacy also limit people’s ability to address chronic conditions and various other health-related issues. These studies have shown that when a person’s literacy is poor, they face difficulties that others do not, including communicating with healthcare professionals about their health.

Imagine, for example, a scenario where a person has a condition that is not easily diagnosable through basic examination. If the patient lacks the cognitive ability to either describe his or her symptoms, or is incapable of comprehending the instructions given by the medical professional, they will suffer accordingly.

According to the 2015 figures articulated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 757 million adults presently lack literacy skills. This means that a significant portion of the world’s population has an increased mortality rate and a higher risk for health problems. The World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that the majority of deaths are the result of chronic conditions. This includes physical ailments like diabetes and hypertension, but also various mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. Here is where the two issues converge, creating an opportunity to improvements in both health and literacy.

Health Literacy describes a patient’s ability to process information related to their health. This means that the patient should be able to comprehend the information provided to them by medical professionals, thereby avoiding diagnosis and treatment problems. If a person is unable to obtain or lacks the skills to comprehend certain information, he or she will be unable to properly look out for him or herself, nor make appropriate health-conscious decisions. In order to combat the rise in these conditions, it has been argued that individuals need to engage in the practice of self-management, which outlines the skills and practices needed in order for a person to learn how to live with certain conditions, thus improving their daily lives while simultaneously reducing mortality.

With improved literacy, individuals will be able to self-manage a significant portion of their ailments. Due to the day-to-day nature of many chronic conditions, individuals must be able to understand health information, including instructions regarding a particular health regimen, or the ability to plan and execute any lifestyle changes that need to be made. In countries and particular populations with low literacy rates, the ability to self-manage is diminished. Thus, those individuals are at a higher risk for health problems. For example, an individual with poor literacy skills who suffers from diabetes may be unaware that they are presently living with the condition, or if they do know about it, they may be ignorant of treatment methods. Diabetes typically requires vigilant control over one’s diet and the constant checking of blood sugar, both of which, if done correctly, allow for a relatively normal life. Ignored, and that person may struggle to participate in daily activities. With increased literacy will come the recognition of self-management skills, namely that blood sugar needs to be maintained.

Recognizing the correlation between literacy and health will ultimately benefit both issues. After fifty years of acknowledging literacy as an essential issue, connected to many facets of life for the world, things have certainly improved. There are 50 million fewer illiterate people in the world today than fifteen years ago thanks to the work of governments, the private sector and various organizations dedicated to this issue. Despite this, however, work remains to be done.  According to the UNESCO, 250 million children are likely to enter adulthood without basic literacy skills. And these problems do not exist in isolation of other problems: many exist because of a particular population or country’s inability to escape from a cycle of poverty and illiteracy. By improving at least one of these issues, literacy, you will be potentially removing a burden to escaping that cycle, while simultaneously creating a healthier existence for many.


Anthony Balouris is a Fellow at the UN 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.




The Church in the Home

“Father, my teenager is losing interest in Sunday School and in the Church,” a parent comments with obvious frustration. “What can I do?” Her concern is prompted following a sermon on John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Sunday School, the Divine Liturgy, youth ministries, summer camps, Bible studies, pilgrimages, monasteries, and mission trips—all represent ways the Church attempts to make John 3:16 a reality in peoples’ Christian experience. From birth to death, we use these avenues to bring others to love and follow Jesus Christ, especially during the formative years of their youth. We want everyone to experience God’s love and to know that He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:3-4).

Where can young people experience this better than in a Christ-centered home? We need the home environment that includes parents, grandparents, and relatives to manifest this love of God. St. Paul speaks of the ‘church in the home.’ The Church depends on the ‘church in the home’ to fortify its teaching of the gospel.

What does a Church in the Home look like? Here are some ingredients:

It is a home where there are plenty of icons.

At least one icon of Christ should be displayed in a prominent place in our homes. This immediately tells every guest that Jesus Christ is Lord of this home and family. Icons of the Theotokos and patron saints of our family members should also be present.  By displaying icons, we let others know that our home is a sacred and holy place—a place of faith, love, rest, and renewal—just like the Church.

It is a home where the family prays.

Some families create a prayer corner or area where everyone can gather to pray. An easy-to-read Bible in a modern translation, a children’s Bible, a book of Orthodox saints, and an Orthodox prayer book make it possible for children to share in the readings during family devotions. Children will remember for the rest of their lives that they once prayed together in their home with their parents and siblings.

It is a home where the family speaks positively of the Church.

They discuss the good things that take place in Church, in the atmosphere of grace. This includes talking about the Liturgy and Holy Communion or a particular sermon that taught or inspired the parish. Children can learn to be positive and optimistic about Church or they can turn negative and critical depending upon what they hear. It is often written of the saints that they grew up in a pious home with parents who loved the faith and taught their children to also respect and honor it.

It is a home that is hospitable.

The Bible says, “Be hospitable to one another” (I Peter 4:9). A family enriches its members by inviting people into their home and offering them Christian hospitality. Over the years, we’ve received many blessings by having in our home neighborhood children, schoolmates of our children, foreign students, college students, monks, nuns, missionaries, retreat speakers, priests, bishops, Sunday School teachers, choir members, parish council members, visitors, and friends! They left a positive influence on our family. More importantly, our children realized that their home was open to everyone. There is no limit to showing Christian love to others. Our Lord said, “Inasmuch as you do it for the least of my brethren, you do it for me.” (Matthew 25:40).

It is a home where the family relates their faith to the surrounding world.

“The poor you shall always have with you,” Jesus says (John 12:8). Our cities and neighborhoods have needy adults and children who beg to be loved and accepted. They bless us when we reach out to them in the name of Christ. A parishioner once shared this story:

I was passing by a street person, an elderly man clinging to his knapsack. Suddenly I had the urge to pull out a $20.00 bill and gave it to him. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” he repeated over and over. “I’ll pray for you! Do you believe in prayer? Prayer really helps! We all need prayer! Do you believe in prayer?” he asked. “Yes, yes, I certainly do!” I said.

As the parishioner told this story in a Bible study group, she related it with tears in her eyes because of the blessings she had received from the street person. “I think it was Christ himself blessing me with such enthusiasm at that moment!” she said. And it probably was.“Blessed is the one who considers the poor,” the Psalmist writes (41:1)

St. John Chrysostom says, “A rich man is not one who has much, but one who gives much. For what he gives remains his forever.”There are so many ways to serve the poor, the refugees, the hungry, the homeless, and the foreigner—especially in times of high unemployment. Some parishes do it through CROP/CWS Hunger Walks, building homes through Habitat for Humanity, serving in a local Soup Kitchen, becoming Big Brothers or Big Sisters, or tutoring those who need guidance.

It is a home where children learn to be givers.

Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).When parents teach their children at an early age to fill their Sunday School offering envelopes, to give a generous portion of their money to charity, and to offer some of their time in service for others, those children will grow up as givers. On the other hand, it is sad when parents fail to teach their children to give to charity and the work of the Church. Those children are more likely to grow up self-centered and indifferent to charitable requests. Later on as young adults, they resent the Church for asking for a stewardship contribution. Yet they will think nothing of spending $50,000 for their wedding.

Recently, a lovely mother of five children died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the relatively young age of 47.  She and her husband were active in their parish. Over 1,000 people came to her funeral. She and her family had touched so many people through their strong faith and example as Orthodox Christians. In the eulogy her priest said:

“Elisabeth and her husband John and their five beloved children have made their home a ‘church in the home.’ One feels the presence of Christ as much in their home as in the Church.”

What a tribute it will be for each of us, when we appear before the Lord one day, to present a record of living the faith and walking the walk as this devout woman did.

Remember the ‘church in the home.’ Help make it alive and vibrant in Christ. The children raised in such homes will reflect a Christian life.


Fr. Alexander Veronis, Pastor Emeritus, has served the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, Pennsylbanis for 50 years. He and Presvytera Pearl have five children and 15 grandchildren. Their son, Fr. Luke, served as a long-term missionary in Kenya and Albania for 12 years and now teaches courses related to missions at  Hellenic College-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and heads the Missions Institute based there.

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