Entries with tag community .

Yes, I Read *The Benedict Option*

Recently, one of my friends read Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and strongly suggested that I do likewise. I was a bit hesitant, to be sure, feeling like I was about to be inundated with political lingo and reasons that the Religious Conservative Right was under siege from the Secular Liberal Left, and frankly - ain’t nobody got time for that.

I have enough problems. I thought. I don’t need to hear all the bad news about how the Church is under attack. And so I wrote it off.

Then I learned that many people I love and respect have been wrestling through Dreher’s work, and so I suddenly felt that perhaps it was time that I give it a go, and so I decided to follow suite, and bought The Benedict Option on Audible.

While a review of Dreher’s book is beyond the scope of this post, I can say that my time with The Benedict Option has awakened something within me: a longing for a truly Christian community. I want to be a part of something bigger than myself, a part of a group of people that are committed to living out the virtues and struggles of the Christian life together.

I think one of the biggest problems I face in my own Christian life is that of isolation. I frequently feel like my spirituality is something that I’m responsible for muscling through on my own, and so I despair. I feel lonely in my striving to follow Christ, and it becomes all too easy to let myself off the hook when it comes to the struggle that is inherent in learning to be a disciple of Christ, of learning to deny myself, take up the cross, and follow Him.

I know that the Church exists as a rampart of faith, a place where we can shore up courage as we learn to battle the passions together, but functionally, it doesn’t really seem like that. For me, it often feels more like a weekly gathering of like-minded people who take refuge in being kind-of-like one another. In part, this is due to the fact that so many of us live so far from our parishes that establishing any kind of day-in-day-out rhythm of life is simply impossible. So each Sunday we come together and return to our individual huts where we are responsible for holding on for another seven days. And frankly, this is simply getting tiring for me.

It’s not that I don’t believe. It’s just that I don’t have the strength to act like it on my own. And so, as I’m reading The Benedict Option, I find myself longing for a community of faith, a community that is dedicated to the teaching of Christ, committed to living out what it is to be a disciple of the Lord.

I don’t mean this as laziness on my part. It’s not that I don’t want to do it on my own. It’s just that I can’t. I get too weighed down by the demands of my daily life: waking up in the middle of the night to a crying baby, waking up again to the demands of a hungry toddler, needing to get ready for work, maintaining a caseload, feeling guilty about not making it to the gym more, and amidst all this, trying to be the perfect husband who helps out around the house as much as possible while having a keen financial plan that will allow us to make a down payment on a house in a year...well, it’s just a lot. Then when someone tells me that I have to say my prayers, spend an hour in silence, and prepare for confession...honestly, those just seem like more things on top of an already very long to-do list.

Again, it’s not that I don’t want to do these things; I simply don’t have the energy on my own.

But I have this imagination that if I were part of a community, a real community of Orthodox Christians where our kids played together after school and we gathered together for evening prayers or reader’s vespers on the regular, somehow this would make it all feel more manageable.

I’m just tired. I’m tired of believing on my own. I’m tired of feeling like I have to keep my head above water by my own effort. I understand that this is an essential component of being a disciple, but it cannot be the entirety of it. If the monks are a part of a community that is committed to prayer as a way of life and the central grounding point of their life together; why shouldn’t lay people in the world want the same thing?

And so, I think I’m going to make this my quest in the next year or so. I want to make an intentional effort to build a community of Christians committed to living out the Gospel. I don’t mean that I simply want more “church events.” I want the Church, the assembled body of believers to be the center of my life so that I may continue to strive to draw near to the Lord with the fear of God, in faith and in love.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, homebrewer, and CrossFitter. Christian has an MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary and is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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This is a Manhattan Bound N Train

Those who live in New York City can unanimously agree on one thing: subways suck. There’s something about being crammed into a dirty tin can, underground, with a bunch of strangers, that is universally unappealing.

 

Recently, I was commuting to work; it was probably one of my more ordinary commutes (which is saying a lot because, having been commuting as a native New Yorker for quite some time now, I’ve seen a lot of things).

 

Around eight people were standing around one pole with me, and the train was packed. But it was no more unpleasant than any other commute, and I thought it would be the normal five minutes or so to the next stop where I would get off.

 

Until one of the women turned to the man next to her and said, “Don’t push me.” His response could have been (and mine would have been), “Okay” (because my general idea on the train is don’t cause controversy). It could have ended here: an unnecessary comment.

 

Instead, his response was, “Don’t come at me! I’m not pushing you, you’re pushing me! What right do you have to say anything to me, lady?!” (with a few choice expletives which I’ve omitted). Many people in the train car turned to look in the direction of the outburst. The woman who had made the original comment realized that she was in way over her head; she obviously hadn’t expected that reaction. All of the sudden her defiance turned to fear. Again, it could have ended here: an overreaction.


But another woman holding onto the same pole looked at them and very calmly said, “No one is pushing anyone. We’re all packed tightly in here. We are just taking this train to where we need to be. Let’s make it as easy as possible.”

 

It seriously felt like peace descended on the whole area. Everyone took a deep breath and then...nothing. Miraculously, it ended there. I tried to give that woman a grateful smile, because it was the first time I had ever seen that response to fighting. Usually people don’t want to get involved, but her honesty and her peacefulness left me in awe.

 

It was one of those moments where I saw everything play out in my head. I saw all of the choices that were being made and how they affected the other people on the train. I thought that there was no return from the screaming match that had just transpired. But, with the kindness of one woman, her acknowledgment of the issue, everything changed. She made one good decision that outweighed all of the bad ones.

 

Things like this happen all of the time, on the train and in our lives. People make choices that we clearly see are detrimental. And while we see them, we don’t always have the courage to speak up like that woman did. I, for one, have fallen into this pattern way too many times, especially on the train. I mutter under my breath that we’re all trying to get to work, or home, but I have never had the courage to say that directly to someone.

 

In our lives, it often feels like circumstances around us are beyond our control. Like we can’t, or shouldn’t, step in.

 

While it’s not our responsibility to break up subway fights, it is our responsibility to make good decisions, even amidst a sea of bad ones. Like the second woman’s decision to bring peace and calm, a decision to acknowledge that yes, where we are stinks, so why are we making it worse for those around us?

 

As Christians, we’re all trying to get to the Kingdom of Heaven. While a subway doesn’t seem like the most obvious way to get there, it just might help; There are all sorts of encounters in our daily lives like the one I had on the subway, and every time, we have a choice. We can bring the peace of Christ in the midst of conflict and remind each other that we are all in the difficulties of life together or we can just watch the tension build or worse, contribute to the discord. In a world where I often feel divided from those around me, where I cross paths with hundreds of strangers per day, it’s good to be reminded that we are all connected and that there is something, however small, I can do to help others get through their day.

 
It’s a reminder that Christ is among us, even on an otherwise mundane commute.

A Church for Healing

We are imperfect people living in a broken world. There are times when we all feel like St. Paul when he said that he did what he didn’t want to do and struggled to do what he wished (Romans 7:15). We are like the crowds of sick and afflicted who came to Christ for His healing, yearning to draw near to the only one that can make us whole. We look at the world and struggling not to despair, we cry out with the early Church, “Maranatha! Oh Lord come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22)

 

We desire healing, wholeness – as individuals, as a community, as a country, as a world – we seek something better than what we have now.

 

And besides this desire to be made better, we have a desire to be with others who want the same thing. We yearn for honest community, a community of people who see the good in the world yet also recognize its need for transformation. We desire an escape from the culture wars of society, a place to retreat from the battle and to recover from the assaults just outside.

 

Glory to God, He gave us the Church – not as an escape from the world, but as a source of healing to do His will in the world. We come to the Church, which offers us Christ as the source of healing and then reveals us to be members of His Body in this world.

 

1. Our Source of healing

 

Many of us see our need for Jesus but are often so tired out by what the world tells us Jesus is all about. We hear it said that we are sinners because we have broken rules, and we need Jesus on our side to pardon us at some cosmic courtroom. But these words about guilt and forgiveness don’t satisfy our need to have our emptiness filled, our wounds healed.  

 

The Jesus we encounter in Scripture and in the Church is a healer, not a lawyer. He lifts up those who are bent over in guilt and shame; he wipes away the tears of the brokenhearted.

 

It is this Christ whom we meet, alive, in the sacraments. It is this Jesus who says, “Go, sin no more” who washes our wounds and restores our relationship with Him in confession (John 8:11). It is this Jesus who heals soul and body in holy unction. It is this Jesus who gives us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist for the remission of sins and life eternal. The very same Jesus who healed the paralytic and the woman with the issue of blood, the same Jesus who raised Lazarus and the widow’s son, this same Jesus continues to heal His people even today.

 

He transforms us not simply from bad people to good people, but from broken to whole, from obscured image to restored work of His hands. We receive this healing in and through the Church, not as a gathering of perfect individuals, but as a community of people seeking healing together.

 

2. A community of healing

 

The Church is a community of people being transformed, a place to put to use the gifts that God gives to each of us. We bring our unique talents to the table – some to be teachers, some administrators, others healers – to be individual members of His Body (1 Corinthians 12:27-31). But we become a community of healing as each one of us is striving towards and is committed to the same goal of being united to Jesus Christ.

 

As we strive to know God’s will and to follow it, we start to seek ways of being of service to one another – both in our church community and in the community around us. Whether we are married or single, doctors or lawyers, teachers or carpenters, we can serve God and neighbor by bringing the peace and acceptance that God offers us into all of our relationships. This is our liturgy after the Divine Liturgy: to bring to the world the gift that we first received from God.

 

Being a community of healing means being a prayerful community. When we pray for one another, we get out of our isolation and remember that we are connected to others. As we pray for our family, friends, and enemies, we begin to see relationships heal and resentments fall away. As we ask the saints to pray for us, we learn that they help to bring Christ’s healing to us too.

 

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We may live in a broken and fallen world, but it is a world that God yearns to heal. In the Church, we can begin by seeking our own healing. There, we will meet others hoping for the same, and together we can be a community of healing.

 

How do you need healing in your life? Has the Church been a place of healing for you? How can you better be a source of God’s healing in the world around 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 monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month 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 and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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A Home Away from Home Parish

Before I was even alive, I was connected to my home parish. My parents got married there in 1991, I was baptized there two years later, and my sisters were baptized there when they were born. So it holds a very special place in my heart, and it always will.

 

Over the years, I’ve been in and out of that church community. In my teenage years, I fell out completely, and when I got back into Orthodoxy as a college student, I was away from my home parish. Most recently, I attended liturgy there regularly after I graduated in 2015 and moved back into my parents’ house for about a year.  

 

While I will always cherish the opportunity to go back to my home parish, and I will help it in any way that I can, I moved out this past summer and for a long time I found it difficult to find a parish that I felt connected me to Christ with no distractions.

 

Because I realized only a short while ago (unfortunately) that if you call yourself a Christian, you should be going to church. It’s an expression of your faith and devotion to Christ, allowing you to worship Him and take part in Holy Communion every week. It’s a blessing that we can do so, and it’s even more of a blessing that we have so many beautiful places of worship scattered throughout the country, especially in a place like New York City. So as an Orthodox Christian I’m attempting to show gratefulness for these things by going to church.

 

It wasn’t until I moved that I discovered how integral a parish is in building a foundation in your life; how being rooted in a community can help you establish a healthy routine and feel at home where you are. It’s important to have a setting in which you feel comfortable growing towards Christ, and a setting that helps you do that. And this is especially true as we, young adults, move away from our homes and to places where we have to build our own community; a church community is a great way to start.

 

I’ve recently discovered that a short hop, skip, and jump (or train ride) away from my apartment, resides a parish in which I feel completely at home. I honestly never knew that it was possible to find a church that supports me in this way, especially as a young adult (which, honestly, is a group that many parishes lack). This parish has services in a language that I feel more comfortable with, and when I’m there I always feel accepted as the person that I am, and for where I’m at in life.

 

What I love especially about this parish is that it isn’t perfect, so in a lot of ways it’s a lot like me. Yet every week it’s pews attract a crowd from all walks of life, from locations both within and outside of New York City, both visitors or permanent residents. This parish is thriving and welcoming and fills my heart with Christ’s love. When I’ve gone to coffee hour, every member of the community has been welcoming and open towards me. I seem to have stumbled into a place that has been extremely inspirational and accepting thus far.

 

On Sundays, I truly enjoy getting up in the morning when I think about going to this parish. I want to go to church, and that’s something that I honestly haven’t always felt. Even when I have my excuses, there’s something in the back of my mind pushing me to get out of bed and get to church. It’s a place that I love to tell people about, that I love to attend, and most importantly, brings me closer to Christ.

 

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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 monthly Patreon supporter.  As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

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Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.

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The Future Orthodox Diaspora Takes Center Stage at HGC

CRETE – Apropos of its international character and the importance of its pastoral dimension, the Holy and Great Council (HGC) devoted a large portion of its deliberations – large parts of three days - to discussions focused on the Orthodox diaspora.

Much of the discussion centered on the recently established Assemblies of Bishops in the countries outside Orthodoxy’s traditional homelands and their dual role as a means of fostering greater cooperation and as a transitional structure leading to more formal and practical unity that will correct the current violation of Church canons which call for each city or region to have only one bishop.

Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and theological consultant in the Office of Inter-Orthodox relations of the GOA, has written extensively on the HGC and the Orthodox Diaspora. He served at the Patriarchate’s spokesman at the HGC, where he spoke with the Orthodox Observer.

 


Fr. John Chrysavgis is at far left during a HGC press briefing. Angela Karagergou, Press Officer for the HGC is at the podium. Photo credit:  Sean Hawkey,


At the outset of the conversation it was noted that most people in the diaspora feel a dual identity. They are Orthodox Christians and they are members of an ethnic group or citizens of particular countries – or both as Greek-Americans would say - and don’t feel that the current structure of the Church is a problem.

Fr. Chryssavgis emphasized that while a situation so anomalous from a canonical perspective cannot he ignored in contexts like the HGC, the essential concern of the hierarchs is not technical but pastoral. The aim of the pre-conciliar preparations and participants in the council was to look closely at the current reality and determine the best way over time to supply the faithful with what is missing when individuals and parishes do not have the experience being part of the Orthodox Church as a whole.

“There is not just the need to work together but to also walk together, and they tend not to do that. They tend to do more on their own and that I think is wrong. We only remember we are one on Sunday of Orthodoxy, or in certain regions in America where some priests, bishops or individual parishes are more sensitive and will meet on a monthly basis.”

He emphasized, however, that “any intermediate transitional stage as the Assembly of Bishops, and even any ultimate solution to the abnormality as it is called in the documents of Geneva would not undermine and certainly would not obliterate that dual distinction people feel is important and are proud of. It would not do away with the national element, the Greek dimension for the Greeks, the Romanian for the Romanians, or the American for the Americans,” he said.

“That element is important, precious, valuable, historical, and sacred,” Fr. Chrysavgis said, and noted that “what the process underway does is put things into perspective from the point of view of the Church in that the national or ethnic dimension should not overrule or do away with basic Church principles. As Orthodox we must remember above and beyond all else that we are one, that we are more one than separate – and we do tend to forget that.”

He also agreed that from the ethnic perspective the process, which entails self and group examination, can lead to a deeper and more substantial appreciation of one’s roots.

When the Church condemns “ethnophyletism,” extreme nationalism is the issue, not ethnic pride or patriotism. As Fr. Chryssavgis noted “There is also an unhealthy form of patriotism that can almost be dysfunctional in the Church.”

“The transitional stage is important because it’s a time also for educating people…they can be informed that the aim is not to get rid of your ethnic background and traditions but to rise above them” – in the context of Church life, and he noted – “the importance of a unified Orthodox church in America which I believe can be much more credible and influential.”

He agreed that it is a voice that other religious groups and participants in the great social and ethical debates of our time, in areas like bio-ethics, the environment, and social justice – welcome.

It was noted that those who feel most strongly about their ethnicity and language are among the more dynamic and generous elements of their parishes, and many feel that those outside the diaspora don’t fully appreciate that parishes simply cannot function without the contributions of time, talent and treasure of the laity given there is no state support for Churches.

That is why “a go slow” approach is best, Fr. Chryssavgis said. “That is what the transitional stage is all about. The explanation that is given in the documents is that it is a transitional stage and we are using the Assembly of Bishops until circumstances mature and they may not mature for a long time in some of the assembly regions.”

The documents do not present a timeframe, and Fr. Chryssavgis admitted that in America the process might take some decades.

He reiterated that “even though the Church knows what is the right thing, it is a pastoral Church, and so it is not going to do things that will harm its parishes or its peoples’ confidence in it.”

It appears to still be early in the process, but It is possible to talk about what Orthodox unity in a region like the United States might look like. “It is not that Astoria would suddenly have a Russian bishop. Where there is a predominance of a particular ethnic group, that’s exactly where they would need their own bishop,” he said.

One could imagine that there would be a Metropolitan in a given region with auxiliary bishops to serve the different ethnic groups across the whole area. “I don’t know if that has been discussed at the Council but it has been discussed at the Assembly of Bishops” and a proposal like that appears on its web site, www.assemblyofbishops.org, he said.

Given that relatively few people know about the Assemblies and what is being discussed at the Council, when it concludes there will be an opportunity for more outreach.

“I would like to see that,” Fr. Chryssavgis said, “and It would be the right thing to do, because after any Council and its decisions, the process of adopting those decisions, what is called ‘the reception process,’ is equally as important as the council itself…it is part and parcel of the council process. Without that, the council decisions have no meaning,” he explained.

“It is the conscience of the faithful, the mind of the people of God, clergy and laity, not just the bishops, not just the primates and not just the churches that didn’t come, that decide... It’s the conscience of the whole Church that gradually – and it does take time – will adopt the decisions of the council and accept them if it recognizes them as being in the authentic continuity of the previous councils of the Church.”

 “The reception process is important and I very much hope that in our Archdiocese in America, where in many ways we are a pioneering Archdiocese, that we can encourage this education and process of reception on all the decisions,” he said.

Asked for his thoughts about the absence of the churches of Antioch, Moscow, Bulgaria, and Georgia, which have big stakes in diaspora matters, Fr. Chryssavgis first pointed to what they were missing.

“If I walk into the sessions of the council now, I will see a great deal of common sense, civil conversation, respectful debate, sincere dialogue even on thorny subjects” so that “I would almost be tempted to say ‘I don’t know why they are not here,’ although I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and say I respect the reasons they give. Beyond that I would say that they clearly agonized in their churches about their decision and are struggling with the issues being discussed.”

He gave as an example the recent meeting between the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and the Pope in Cuba.

When he returned to Russia he encountered great upheaval. “There was protest, criticism, and a threat of schism,” Fr. Chryssavgis said.

Disagreements are part of the reason for holding councils

Fr. Chryssavgis emphasized that “Part of the reason for a council like this is that not all churches are on the same page. Because we are each moving at a different pace; a council can at least establish fundamental guidelines and principles,” though not directives, for the Churches.

He said that regarding relations with non-Orthodox Churches, the text the HGC adopts probably won’t accurately reflect the views of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, “but it is a text that reflects conciliarity. It won’t, for instance, affect the Patriarch’s relationship with the Pope, but hopefully it will bring Georgia a little closer to where we are…That’s part of the council’s function.”

It is also important to note that many of these churches either recently emerged from totalitarian rule or are under siege in Turkey and the Middle East. “Under pressure, people tend to clam up, not open up; so it would be nice to gradually inform people of the power of dialogue for good as opposed to the dangers” that they fear.  Dialogues are opportunities to witness to Orthodoxy outside its usual circles.

“If this Council becomes the norm, and there are more councils, then it becomes easier to talk. Maybe the next one will have even more churches in attendance than we have here,” he said.

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