Entries with tag humility .

Prepping for Our Journey to Pascha

If you’re anything like me, the fasting periods of the Church seem to just sneak up on you. It feels like it was just Christmas, and suddenly we’re preparing for Pascha! But despite the surprise every year, Lent comes at a time when I always find that I most need it. And like we prepare by stretching before we exercise and we pack before a journey, the Church gives us a period called Triodion before Lent begins to get us spiritually prepared.


For three weeks, we ease into fasting and we set our eyes on the goal of Christ at Pascha. On the first Sunday, we heard the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee – a reminder against pride and a for humility in anticipation of the Fast. On the second Sunday, we were reminded that that we – like the Prodigal Son – are on a journey to the Father’s House. And the final two Sundays of Triodion we bring to mind the Last Judgement and the importance of forgiveness.


Interwoven into these four Sundays are three themes that help us to orient our minds towards Christ and to put us in the right spirit as we approach the Great Fast. During Triodion, we are reminded of the importance of humility, of forgiveness, and of being concerned for our neighbor.


1. Humility


Humility is a virtue which prepares us to receive God and opens us up for compassion towards our neighbor. So it’s natural that humility is woven into each of the four Gospel passages chosen for the period of Triodion.


In the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, the humble and honest prayers of the Publican justified him before God. He was honest with himself and the state of his life and poured out his heart to God without trying to justify himself. The Prodigal Son was humbled by his poor choices and was willing to return to his father’s house even if he had to be a servant. In his humility, he confessed his unworthiness, and his father clothed him in a robe and received him as his son.


The theme of humility is especially fitting for us as we prepare for a fasting period because the temptation is so very real to become prideful in our adherence to regulations and our spiritual practices. It is so easy to forget that we worship the God who says on Judgement Sunday, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” We worship a God who not only humbled Himself by becoming man and dying on the Cross for us, but one who continues to identify with the humble and lowly among us.


So we hear the words of Christ on Forgiveness Sunday that “when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:17-18). You see, it wasn’t a matter of if you fast but when you fast. There was no concept that the followers of Christ wouldn’t keep this tradition. The issue for us is how to go about fasting, how we present ourselves before others, and whether we reflect the humility of the God we worship or the pride of our own egos.


2. Forgiveness


As we approach Great Lent, we remember that we worship a God who forgives. But forgiveness is connected to our own personal repentance, which is a journey in itself. Each one of us becomes more aware of the things that are barriers to our relationship with God the closer that we come to Him. Lent is a time of special vigilance, a time when we become more attentive to ourselves and our spiritual lives. So the Church reminds us both of the forgiveness that God offers us, but also of our responsibility to forgive others as well.


With the image of the merciful father of the Prodigal Son in mind, we remember that God offers us a restored relationship with Him when we return to Him. But on Forgiveness Sunday, we also hear the words of Christ about our role in forgiving others. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). We hear the same thing in the Our Father when we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”


In the days that remain of Triodion, we can seek to have forgiving hearts. Holding on to resentments and anger from today or yesterday or years past only holds us back from being able to receive the grace of God.


3. Concern for our neighbor


The scripture readings during Triodion call us to have a real concern for our neighbor. From the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we encounter the merciful father. We learn not only that our God is a merciful father to us, but also that this should affect our relationships with those around us as well. Christ tells us, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Do we show this mercy to those who have offended us? Do we show concern for our loved ones and parishioners who no longer come to church? Do we show concern for our friends who do not know the Father’s House and have never encountered Him in the Orthodox Church?


Are we as merciful to our least favorite person as God is merciful to us?


On Judgement Sunday, also known as Meatfare Sunday (because it’s the last day we eat meat until Pascha), we hear the words of Christ who says,

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. (Matthew 25:35-36,45)

Our Lord tells us that when we serve those in need, we serve not only them but Christ Himself. In contrast, if we do not serve the hungry, the thirsty, the naked or those in prison, we are neglecting Christ.


Lastly, as we begin the fasting period, we are reminded not to let what we eat be a stumbling block to others (1 Corinthians 8). In other words, we need to be aware of how we are conducting ourselves during the Great Fast. We should not bring undue attention to ourselves just so that we can keep the Fast, but neither should we scandalize our brother or sister by eating meat or dairy in front of them if we are not fully keeping the Fast.




Lent is our journey back to the Father’s house. Through these next weeks, we take a journey of fasting, of learning how to say no to good things like meat and dairy, so that we can have the strength to say no to the passions that lead us away from God. We learn to say no to our sins so that we can say yes to Christ.


But the period we are in today is preparing us for this journey. It is time for us to pack by practicing humility and forgiveness and to get ready for how we will serve Christ and our neighbor during Great Lent.


How are you preparing for Great Lent? Who do you need to forgive and how is Christ calling you to be of service during the Fast?


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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


Escaping Hubris Through Failure - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

I have the best wife ever. For my 31st birthday, she planned a trip for a handful of friends and me to go to an escape room, which is basically a live-version video game.

Eight of us were told that we were FBI agents whose colleague had been killed while trying to rescue a kidnapped young girl, Judy Bates. The kidnappers, alarmed by the FBI’s presence, escaped with the girl and strapped a bomb to her chest, setting the timer for one hour. We, the remaining agents, had the hour to decipher a set of clues strewn about the room in order to discover the girl’s whereabouts, disarm the bomb, and rescue her.

We failed. And it sucked.

Don’t get me wrong. I had fun and all - hanging with friends, solving puzzles, feeling super smart when we figured out all the clues to unlock the door. But failing to save Judy was a major disappointment and somewhat of an embarrassment.

Mind you, this particular mission has only a 5% success rate, so it wasn’t too surprising that we didn’t finish, but part of the reason I chose this mission was because of the 5% success rate. I wanted to be exceptional. And we weren’t.

We were like 95% of people: failures.

At least it was hard not to feel that way. After all: it was just a game.

I don’t know if I’m the only one who struggles with hubris, but I tell you, losing this game became a very quick ego-check for me. And you know what? I’m grateful. I’m grateful for this failure.

Last week, I wrote about how watching scary things in movies can actually be practice for being brave. This week, I’m thinking that losing in games is actually practice for humility.

I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with the reality that one day I’m going to die. There’s no escaping it. And this scares me.

In part, it scares me because I don’t like the idea of being reduced to nothing. I don’t like the idea of not being able to talk. I don’t like the idea of not being able to eat. I don’t like the idea of not being able to do anything except to wait and hope that God will raise me up.

But that day is coming.

I run around my life so preoccupied with making myself look good, so worried about someone knowing when I’ve done something brilliant or accomplished something difficult, but the reality is that there is a day coming when I will no longer be able to boast in accomplishing anything. I’ll experience in my bones the reality that it is God Who is going to have to work in me. I have no life in and from myself.

Losing at the escape room gave me a taste of that reality. It helped me practice humility, admitting that there are some things I just cannot do.

I am not God.

Shocker. I know.

But still, these defeats are painful because I walk around in my life with such a falsely inflated sense of self, believing that I am (or at least that I ought to be) capable of doing all things. It is difficult to stand at the end of oneself and to admit defeat, to say, “God, I can’t. You can. Help.”

In a sense, my failures are the very things that save me, because only when I am weak, can I truly receive God’s grace.

To quote St. Paul, “[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9). It is truly only to the extent that I am willing to see my own weakness, to see my own frailty and failure that I am able to comprehend the height of God’s power and the depth of God’s love.

Therefore, I will see such failures, such frustrating losses as gains in the knowledge of God and the experience of God’s love, teaching me to wait patiently on Him who can do all things, including raise the dead.

He is my only hope; I cannot hope in myself, and I would be a fool to do so. And it was the escape room that taught me I can only escape my hubris by being willing to fail.

Photo Credit:

Man Falling: Despositphotos

Man with Computer: Depositphotos

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


Addiction, Sin, & Bad Habits Part 3: Making Amends and the Christian Life

In Part 1 and Part 2, we introduced the first seven steps of the Twelve Steps of recovery. In this post, we will see how the final steps build upon this foundation and parallel to Orthodox Christian practice.

Steps 8 & 9: Making Amends

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Step Eight and Step Nine are about asking forgiveness and trying to right the wrongs of our past. In Step Eight, we write out each person we can remember hurting through thoughts, words, or actions, and then we decide how we can right that wrong. In Step Nine, we go to work by reaching out to each of these people named in Step Eight; we admit how we were wrong and we ask forgiveness. Prayer for the other person can suffice if a direct amends is not possible.

Pride keeps us from admitting our wrongs even to ourselves. In the courtrooms of our minds, we can put to trial those around us and then convince ourselves we are in the right. Steps Eight and Nine help us to see past this unhealthy way of thinking allowing us to discover a healthy humility and an ability to ask for forgiveness. This attitude of vulnerability and humility can assist Orthodox Christians in actively being the Church not just in the abstract, but in creating a more healthy community in Christ.

Steps 10 & 11: Maintenance

“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”    “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Step Ten and Step Eleven are about living out previous steps in our daily lives. Step Ten is a reworking of Steps Four through Nine. In a moment of frustration or anger we take a moment to ask ourselves, “How am I in the wrong here? Which of my character defects is playing a part?” Instead of falling back on the old habit of trying to ignore our wrongs, we ask forgiveness as soon as possible. In Step Eleven, we build upon the foundation of Step Two and Step Three by consciously improving our relationship with God through prayer.

The maintenance stage of Steps Ten and Eleven are like the daily living of a truly converted Orthodox Christian. Step Ten is about watchfulness, self-awareness, and continued humility in our daily lives. Each one of us (whether we were baptized Orthodox as infants or came to faith later in life) needs to develop our faith in God (Step Two) followed by a conversion or decision to follow Him (Step Three) in order to actually live out that relationship in our daily lives (Step Eleven). It follows the heavy lifting of Step Nine because we need to first reestablish our proper relationships with our neighbors (forgiving them and asking forgiveness) so that we can have a healthy relationship with God, too.

Step 12: Sharing Our Experience, Strength, & Hope

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics [addicts], and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Step Twelve is practiced by every addict who shares their story with another person. In Twelve Step programs, the emphasis is always on the solution (working the Steps) instead of the problem (the addiction). The problem is discussed only enough to show the low that the person has experienced, and how much God has worked in his or her life. Step Twelve also means working with other addicts one-on-one as a sponsor to assist them in the Steps. The wisdom of the Twelve Steps says that “you can’t give what you don’t have” but also that “if you don’t give it away, you lose it.” Each recovering addict is expected to participate in service to others as a vital aspect of their continued recovery.

After working the Steps, addicts see that recovery isn’t simply about stopping a compulsion or an action; rather, the purpose is to heal as a person and to grow closer to God and neighbor. The work of the Church is to bring us from brokenness to wholeness through unity with Christ and our neighbor. We are not Christians in order to “not do ___” or to be “be nice people”; we are Christians in order to be transformed. And as with Step Twelve, when we have found this source of transformation, Christ, how can we not want to share this gift with others?


The principles found in the Twelve Steps are neither new nor complex. They are principles already found and practiced in the Orthodox Christian Church. What many addicts find, however, is that they had never learned to put these principles to work in their lives until they worked the Steps. Most addicts come to faith through working the Steps, because they finally accept their own powerlessness and trust in God’s strength. Worked in order, the Steps guide a person to mend their relationships with others and with God, and to have a new life guided by His will.

Do you shy away from making amends with others? What keeps you from promptly admitting your wrongs? How do you share with others what Christ has done for you?


Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. 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


Three Lessons Friends Can Learn From The Old Testament

Friendship seems to have become a lost art. As we focus more and more on our careers and what’s next in life, our friendships are usually the first things to fall by the wayside.

Cultivating strong friendships is important, especially because they can strengthen us during times of weakness and reinforce our relationship with Christ. While having Orthodox friendships is certainly important, most of our friendships are with people quite different from us. As Orthodox in this country, nearly all of our neighbors and coworkers (who we’re around most of the time) are either from a different faith, or disconnected from faith all together.

And that’s not a bad thing.

In my experience, there’s so much we can learn about ourselves and the world when we make friends with people who are different than us. Scripture itself gives us this lesson through an unlikely pair of friends from the Old Testament: Ruth and Naomi.

I encourage you to read the Book of Ruth for yourself but, in a nutshell, Naomi was an Israelite from Bethlehem and Ruth was a Moabite from another land. Ruth was married to one of Naomi’s sons. This unlikely pair of people were thrust together after the two suffered the loss of their entire family. Unlike her sister-in-law, who went her own way after these disasters, Ruth decided to stay with Naomi, saying:

Entreat me not to leave you,

Nor to turn back from following after you;

For wherever you go I will go;

And wherever you lodge I will lodge.

Your people shall be my people,

And your God my God.

Where you die I will die,

And there will I be buried.

The Lord do so to me, and more also,

If anything but death parts you and me. (Ruth 1: 16-17).                 

It’s a story of loss and redemption. It’s a story of devoted friendship, borne out of differences rather than commonalities.

Here are three lessons we learn from Ruth and Naomi that can help us in our friendships with people different from us.

1. Have no fear

Fear plays a big role in keeping people apart. Differences in class, race, culture, and religion so often keep people from getting to know one another. Stereotypes and misconceptions keep us so bound by fear that we don’t get to know the “other”. So the first thing that Ruth and Naomi can teach us is to not be afraid of getting to know people different from us.

Not only was Ruth a foreigner, but her people (the Moabites) were considered to be enemies of the Israelites. For Naomi to allow her sons to marry Moabite women, she must have learned how to make peace with the differences between them. But that would have started by getting to know them. And after her husband died, Ruth chose to not let their differences in culture get in the way of being there for Naomi.

Both women chose to leave their fear behind, which opened them up to approaching others, not defensively, but with humility.

2. Be humble

The relationship between Ruth and Naomi was formed out of their mutual humility and vulnerability. Naomi was humbled by having to go to the land of her enemies in search for food. Ruth chose to search for food from the fields in Bethlehem to support Naomi. Both of them experienced being a foreigner in an unknown land, but they also experienced the benefits of friendship borne from that humility.

When we seek out friendships with people who are different from us, it is an act of humility because it takes us out of our comfort zone. It creates an opportunity to reach out and to discover another person based on what they value. It leads us to ask about another person and allows us to get to know ourselves in the process. As we better understand our differences, we can better learn who we ourselves are. At the same time, our eyes can open to see what we have in common, too.

And friendships, which take work to start and nurture, are the result of effort and commitment.

3. Be committed

Friendship is different from family in that it is freely chosen. Yet sometimes we view friendship as relatively unimportant because, while freely chosen, it usually lacks serious commitment. The story of Ruth and Naomi challenges us with a higher image: one of lasting, committed friendship.

Ruth was free of her duty to Naomi when her husband died, yet she chose to stay with her mother-in-law. Ruth tells Naomi, "Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried" (Ruth 1: 16-17).

In other words, she’s in this friendship for good. She’s committed.

And the blessings that are borne from commitment to our friendships have the potential to run over into our other relationships as well. Ruth took the harder road and went back with Naomi to a land she didn’t know. And because Ruth went back, she met Boaz. So their commitment to friendship led to something quite unexpected: Ruth and Boaz became the great-grandparents of King David and the ancestors of Jesus.

Commitment makes possible the richness that two people experience in a friendship that has lasted a while. And though friendships can be hard sometimes, if we treat them lightly, or give up on them too easily, we miss out on the joys that can come out of commitment.


Ruth and Naomi present us with a new way of looking at friendship. They let go of their fears and humbled themselves, which made their friendship possible. Their commitment to their friendship made possible not only the redemption of their lives, but also of the Israelites through David, and of the whole world through Jesus Christ.

Do you let fear keep you away from getting to know others around you? How can humility open up a door to better encounter your friends? And are you as committed to your friends as Ruth was to Naomi?  


Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. 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:

"Whither Thou Goest" by Sandy Freckleton Gagon  

St Ruth 

St Naomi 

Ruth and Naomi 


Mercy is Better Than What I Deserve - Sunday of the Canaanite Woman

Though I have a tendency to push limits and resist authority initially, I‘m much more of a rule follower than not. I’m not saying I am happy about being under authority, but I usually honor it.

I also have (believe it or not) a real respect for the authority of process. Generally speaking, I understand that entry-level employees will have to work to get higher paying and better positions. This is just how it works.

There was one time, however, that I personally violated this rule. Before I came to work for Y2AM and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, I worked for a social service agency as a case manager. I grew tired of my work since I’m trained as a clinician, and instead I asked if I could be considered for a promotion, despite being relatively new at the company and not even having a license (yet) to practice in Arizona.

Amazingly, the company agreed.

Even though I left the company shortly after that to come work for Y2AM, the situation struck me: maybe there are some things we need to press against.

Now, I think there is a difference between being entitled and the kind of social resistance I’m talking about here.  There’s a difference between thinking you deserve special treatment, and asking for mercy.

When I went to the powers-that-be at the company and asked them to make all kinds of exceptions for me, I realized that I was asking from a position of utter undeserving.

I hadn’t put in my time.

I hadn’t even been that great of a case manager.

I just went before them knowing what I wanted, asking for them to be gracious with me.

And it worked.

This Sunday’s Gospel reading has always baffled me, because it seems like Christ is being difficult with someone who really needs His help, and asks so persistently.

At that time, Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon." But he did not answer her a word.
And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us."
He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
And he answered, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table."
Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.
(Matthew 15:21-28)

This is one of those readings where, if you didn’t know Jesus was likely “up to something,” it might be really easy to get frustrated with Him.

Every time I read Him say, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” I can’t help but think, “How rude! Jesus! This woman needs you, and you’re calling her a dog?”

Even more amazing, however, is the fact that the woman doesn’t get upset by it. She actually kind of rolls with it. It might be easy to assume that this woman has some serious self-esteem issues, letting Jesus call her a dog and all, but there’s actually more going on here.

This woman is a Gentile, coming to ask the Jewish Messiah for a miracle. He responds that He is there for the people of Israel, the chosen People of God.

And the Canaanite woman doesn’t argue or object.  She willingly takes a posture of active humility, accepting her low status as a Gentile woman. She asks, not for a seat at the table, but for crumbs.

And that’s the point: her lowliness does not prevent her from asking the Lord to be gracious to her; it actually compels her implore the Lord repeatedly.

We seem to think that the Lord only really hears the prayers of the righteous, of those who have ascended the heights of holiness. This woman, however, demonstrates that holiness, and true humility, is revealed in lowliness.

​Declaring herself to be small, the Lord calls her faith great!

We may think that the Lord is only interested in what we have to say if we have devoted ourselves to prayer, fasting, and other ascetic work. And He may be, but if He is inclined to us, it is only because these labors have opened our eyes to perceive our own lowliness before Him.

The Lord is eager to be gracious to us; He desires to show mercy on sinners. The problem is that we are often too busy trying to look like we have it all together, too busy trying to earn promotions in the Kingdom of God.

Success in the Kingdom doesn’t look like success in the corporate world. We can’t “earn” our salvation in the way that we might earn a pay raise. We can’t confidently hand in a resume, satisfied that we’ve done all the right things to claim a new position.

Rather than reach for goals we believe we already deserve, we benefit by accepting our unworthiness before the Lord. We’re not high-powered executives marching into the boardroom; we’re dogs begging for scraps.

Not because we don’t have self-esteem, but because showing mercy on those who earned it would be nothing great. Instead, Christ’s love is so magnificent, and His grace so rich, because it is unearned. Because He bestows it upon the lowest of the low, those who meekly ask rather than forcefully claim, those who know they deserve nothing more than crumbs.

And yet, it is precisely those people that Christ hears, precisely those people that He lifts up off the ground and seats at His table.

It is mercy because it is undeserved.

Photo Credit:

Business: Charles Crosbie via Compfight cc

Dog: hodge via Compfight cc

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



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