Entries with tag greek orthodox archdiocese of america .

Abducted Syrian Bishops Serve as Models of Christian Service

This month marked four years since two Christian hierarchs were abducted at gunpoint in Syria. While Metropolitan Paul of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and Bishop John, the Syriac Orthodox bishop of Aleppo, were en route from Antioch to Aleppo, they were stopped by unknown assailants and taken hostage. The deacon driving their car was shot and killed.

The bishops’ whereabouts and status remain unknown. As Syria has been embroiled in a devastatingly violent and multifaceted civil war since 2011, various factions immediately blamed each other for the abductions.

The extended disappearance of the bishops has had a marked and heart-rending effect on the Christian population both in Syria and around the world. Both men were known as prominent and dedicated clerics in their communities.

And there’s one more important detail to the story that I haven’t mentioned yet.

The bishops were returning from a humanitarian mission when they were kidnapped.

In today’s charged political climate, much of the conversation here in the United States and in Europe centers on security over humanity and dignity. Civil authorities endlessly debate the merits of offering humanitarian aid and of safe haven in our own communities, particularly to the victims of violence in the Middle East.

Metropolitan Paul and Bishop John, both residents of Aleppo, probably knew better than anybody how dangerous it was to venture out past their front gates and into the world. And yet they did it anyway.

They took their Christian role as servants very seriously, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

The bishops could easily have decided that it would have been too risky to travel. They could very well have remained secure in their homes, offices and cathedrals.

But they didn’t. They went out into the world to serve.

As Christians, our ambition is to follow the example of Jesus; to live a Life in Christ.

And though we still do not know where Meropolitan Paul and Bishop John are, their service reminds us that our individual and collective potential for helping others is far greater than the power of death.

Indeed, the anniversary of their abduction during this Paschal season emphasizes the power of Christ in the world. Christians, after all, are not deterred by danger; we go out into the world and open the doors to our communities in service for many.

Andrew Romanov 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.

 

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.

When it Comes to Racism, Start with the Person in the Mirror

“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First, remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Luke 6:42

Martin Luther King Jr. is the United States’ most famous civil rights leader, having advanced equality for racial minorities by using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.

That method of protest inspired countless others to join him in seeking equality for all in America, including numerous faith leaders. The movement, perhaps unlike the United States at the time, did not discriminate based on color or creed.

King was assassinated in 1968, but the many people he inspired during his ministry continued to espouse his message of peace and justice.

Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America, who was one of the faith leaders who joined King at the March on Selma, later reflected on how the civil rights movement was not over and how it continued to be a driving force in his own life.

“I know that civil rights and human rights continue to be the most thorny social issues in our nation,” he said. “But I will stand for both rights for as long as I live.”

Decades after Archbishop Iakovos’s remarks, civil rights and human rights are still at the forefront of a national conversation—and in many ways still are “the most thorny social issues in our nation.” 2016 was undoubtedly a year of racial tension in America.

Despite statistical evidence of discrimination against African Americans in law enforcement, in housing and in employment, many people refuse to listen to the people in our communities who face that discrimination every day.

In light of King’s inspiring legacy, it is perhaps even more unfortunate that people deride contemporary civil rights organizations for their work in bringing an end to said discrimination.

The criticisms of the Black Lives Matter movement today, for example, eerily resemble those of Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement 50 years ago.

In a rebuke of the civil rights movement’s critique of white violence against blacks, one person in a 1966 telegram anonymously asked King, “what about the violence by blacks in these cities?”

“Hang your head in shame,” another wrote to King. “You are responsible for all of these riots and havoc in this country today.”

Still another wrote, “you don’t point out any faults at all of your own people, just the whites.”

Sound familiar?

Such an unwillingness to listen is in contradiction to the scriptures, in which God instructs us to “incline your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding” (Proverbs 2:2).

As Christians, we are called to look inward and to improve upon ourselves instead of pointing out the flaws in others. It is based in the act of repentance, the recurring stage of salvation in which we turn away from sin.

How might you discriminate in your life? At the very least, it’s worth some thought.

Do you subconsciously put your hands in your pockets when you pass a black person on the street? Did you not consider a babysitting applicant because her name sounded like she might be black or Hispanic?

These days, it’s easy to deny being racist and to generally support the civil rights movement of Martin Luther King Jr.’s era. After all, you’re probably not lynching people or forcing them to drink from a different water fountain.

But how might racism still manifest itself in your life? How can you bring an end to racism in yourself?

Martin Luther King Jr. and Archbishop Iakovos knew that, as icons of Christ in the world, they were called to challenge the institutional inequalities in our country that unnecessarily pitted one group of people against another. Many others feel that they are called to similar work today.

For us, perhaps we ought to start simply with the person in the mirror.

Andrew Romanov 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.

Arduous Journeys Across Seas and Deserts

Let’s say you had to move away. Actually, let’s say you had to move far away—like, outside-of-your-country far away.

In this scenario, the economy has gotten so bad that nobody—not even the most skilled individuals—can find work anymore. If you want to live comfortably or even put food on your table, you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Or, you grew up in a low-income family, but you studied hard, defied all expectations and earned a spot at the best university in the world, located somewhere across the sea. This is an incredible opportunity that would forever change your life and that of your family.

Or, there’s violent civil war in your country. The most recent election was hotly contested and the military staged a coup in an attempt to retain power and maintain civil order, pitting faction against faction and neighbor against neighbor. There are bullet holes in your windows and the inside of your house is covered in dust and dirt from the constant artillery shelling in the city. There’s no more electricity and tap water, and several of your family members have already died.

So, what would you do in each of those situations? Would you actually leave?

Those are only a few of the many reasons people might choose to become migrants and leave their homes. Sometimes it’s a conscious choice to leave, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes, the reason for leaving is positive and happy, and sometimes (more often, actually) the reason is not so optimistic.

Right now, at this very moment, there are more forcibly displaced people than there have been since World War II. Many are “refugees,” who were actually able to leave their country in search of new homes and communities where they can live and learn and work. Others are internally displaced, and aren’t able to reach safety outside of their homeland.

or people who didn’t really have a choice when it came to staying or leaving—who probably don’t want to leave but are now looking for new homes and communities where they can live and learn and work.

Tragically, many of them don’t ever reach asylum. Thousands die while trying to reach safety via dangerous land and sea routes just in the last few years.

If you did have to move away—far away—how would you want people to think about you? How would you want them to treat you?

The next time you hear about migrants or refugees in the news or in politics, think about the reality of the situation for these people and their actual lives. Should you welcome them into your community with open arms and understanding (like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously did)?

Or, should you reject them on the basis of that they might be dangerous (which isn’t really true)?

In reality, it’s the migrants who have usually faced danger—leaving behind family, friends, relationships and any sense of normalcy to make their way across treacherous terrain in order to reach the border that promises safety.

Which means that migrants are some of the most courageous, resilient and resourceful people on the planet. They are more than people in need—they are people wanting to give and make a meaningful contribution to society.

After all, remember what the most famous refugee, Jesus Christ, went on to do.

International Migrants Day is on Dec. 18. The International Organization for Migration is calling on the international community to come together and remember the refugees and migrants who have lost their lives or have disappeared while trying to reach safe harbor after arduous journeys across seas and deserts.

Andrew Romanov 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 U.N. (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.

 

The Potential of Religious Education, even Sunday School

On any given Sunday from about September to May, I conservatively estimate that at least 10,500 young people attend a parish religious education program, with at least 2,625 adult volunteer teachers, with the support of the 600 clergy in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (You can do the math: 525 parishes: an average 20 students, 5 teachers per parish.). Whatever the size of your parish’s program, you are participating in the single largest program of the Greek Orthodox Church on a national scale. If we were to include all Orthodox Christian parishes in the US, the numbers would, of course, be even larger.

Handing forward the Orthodox Christian Faith and Way of Life to another generation ought to be a central activity of every parish and family. As Orthodox Americans, we have been thinking about the best ways to teach the next generation, pretty much since we arrived on these shores. Implicit in this effort has been the realization that our educational efforts are essential to “make it” in America. This realization has become more important today. As the sociologist Peter Berger advised an Orthodox audience more than a decade ago, we can no longer “take it for granted” that our children will remain connected to the Church and their Faith. If we fail in our educational ministry, you and I could be the last generation of Orthodox Christians in America. It’s a great responsibility and challenge.

“Knowing” is more important today than perhaps ever before; we don’t call it “the information age” for nothing. We are bombarded by all kinds of information from a dizzying array of sources. As Orthodox, we are often asked to explain what we believe to others, so knowing the facts is important. Educational experiences that foster thinking provide the space for separating the wheat from the chaff through study, questions, discussion, and action. Of course, we can “know” in many ways, but religious education creates, at least, the opportunity “to know” in our minds.

Religious education has the potential to fill the minds of young and old and expose them to the treasury that is the Orthodox Christian Faith and Way of Life. Religious education, when done well and for all, provides everyone in the community an opportunity to acquire the knowledge of the contents of their Faith and ask honest and critical questions of it, hopefully getting good answers, so that they can more deeply appropriate its truth and wisdom in their heads, their hearts, and their hands.

As a Church, we have yet to tap the potential of good religious education, even in the Sunday school model. There are real strengths in the schooling approach to religious education. Yes, there are challenges, but there are advantages as well.

Focused, sequenced, and age-appropriate study. Religious education should follow good educational practices, utilizing what we know about how people learn over their lives and the best ways for teachers to facilitate learning. One benefit of a textbook series is that someone has done that work, sequenced what is to be learned in an orderly way that makes sense for someone over time. Is it everything that can be learned about any given topic? Of course not! There is always more to be learned and experiences to process, which is why it takes a lifetime.

Adults mentoring students. Teachers take up a lot of time and space in young people’s lives. At church, they can instill a love of learning about the Faith, because they are excited about learning it. They are role models, guides, and coaches in living the Faith, because they are striving to put their Faith into action.

Community building. A classroom setting is a good place for people to get to know one another; relationships are formed and a community is built. Studying together fosters relationships because of the work of the class, discussions, projects, games, and celebrations. In the parish, a classroom experience is just one of a few ways young people can meet regularly and become friends. They can mentor one another as peers, student to student. In a class, we learn what it means to be a part of a community.

Reflection and making connections. A classroom is a good place to make an intentional connection between the praxis and experience of the Orthodox Way of Life with the content of the Orthodox Faith. Customs, traditions, and practices are connected to stories, events, and sources. Hymns have words that relay ideas, concepts, doctrine, and teachings. A classroom is a good place to ask the questions, “What does that mean?” and “Why do we do that?” One of the great truisms of education is that we can learn little from experience without reflecting on it.

This being said, we must state that we have too easily limited our understanding of curriculum to a printed book. The entire life of the parish is the curriculum. Which physician would you prefer? One who only read medical textbooks or one who went to a medical school filled with labs, good teachers, hospital internships and residencies? The same is true for the Church. Schooling in faith -- reading a textbook, answering questions -- is just one dimension of the much larger curriculum of the parish that teaches us what it means to be and live as an Orthodox Christian. The curriculum that is needed is a dynamic parish community filled with good worship and liturgy, opportunities for service to the world and parish, good fellowship and organization, and fellow parishioners who can talk about and share their knowledge, experience, and wisdom that comes from a life in the Church. In such an environment, classroom experiences fill in the knowledge about the Christian life that is being lived.

Religious education programs should not happen during the Divine Liturgy or any other worship service of the Church. For the better part of the last fifty years, Orthodox Christian religious educators, the Department of Religious Education, and Clergy Laity Congresses of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese have reaffirmed this message repeatedly.

There may have been an unintended byproduct of this message. Some people say that the main reason they attend church on Sundays is to send their children to Sunday school. Perhaps, just perhaps, they have figured out when Sunday school begins and time their arrival just for that! Perhaps, just perhaps, (as one of my students observed), attendance at Divine Liturgy was better when people came to Liturgy from the beginning because they knew that’s when Sunday school began and they sent their children to class while the adults attended Liturgy.

Finally, permit me to share how religious education occurs. Volunteers handle the overwhelming majority of this work in our parishes and Metropolises. They are the little recognized heroes and heroines of this ministry. In my travels around our Archdiocese, I see creative and dedicated teachers, supervisors, and clergy, who week after week strive to teach the Faith. St. Paul ranks teachers after apostles and prophets, and before miracle workers (1 Cor. 12:28). Yet these teachers are apostolic and prophetic, and week after week, they perform miracles.

There is no expansive educational bureaucracy to support them. There is one Archdiocese office of seven people that creates textbooks and supplements, magazines, videos, develops programs, and now websites, blogs, and social media discussions (and it takes real money). They also seek out other materials created by Orthodox sources and evaluate resources created by non-Orthodox, so that they might be purchased and distributed to parishes (We maintain a catalog of nearly 800 items.). They spend time on the phone advising parishes and teachers about these resources, and take their orders, answer their questions, pass along tips and ideas about improving a parish program (We have about 7000 customers, parishes and individuals, from all Orthodox jurisdictions in North America and the English-speaking Orthodox world.). And we are responsible for keeping track of it all – accounting, reporting, computers, files, etc. (We average 3000 orders per year.) As I like to say, this dedicated group of people is too few people trying to meet too many needs.

In the first description of the Church after Pentecost, the community gathered daily to attend to the teaching and fellowship of the apostles (Acts 2:42) and the breaking of bread and prayers. Education in faith has been an organized and intentional activity of the Church since its very first day. Our task is to honor that legacy with the best educational ministry we can.

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