Entries with tag service .

Balancing Our Inner Mary and Martha

The older I get, the more I struggle with the inner dialogue of “I have to do something about ____” and “but I’m just one person…what can I do, really?” As a Millennial (which Microsoft Word says is synonymous with utopian, idealistic, and visionary), I’m annoyingly optimistic. But there’s only so much one person can handle on their own, there’s only so much of the world’s pain, anxieties, and fears that one person (aside from Christ) can try to solve.

 

I try to balance the desire to “do something” about the world’s problems – to offer a voice, to be the hands and feet of Christ, to serve – while also allowing myself to sit at the feet of Christ and listen. Ora et labora, pray and work, has been something Christians have struggled to balance for centuries.

 

But who likes listening when the world is shouting at you to speak, to act, to do something, anything, to fix the world’s problems that just seem to be getting worse?

 

So when I read the Gospel passage from the Feast of the Dormition (the same as for the apodosis or leavetaking of the feast) from Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28, I could certainly identify with both Mary and Martha. Mary sat listening to Christ while Martha took care of offering hospitality to her guests. Martha was upset at Mary’s inaction, and Jesus tells Martha that she is anxious and worried about many things but one thing (being with Jesus) was needful.

 

What we need is to find some balance. Here are three things to keep in mind.

 

1. Acknowledge anxieties and worries

 

Most of my own confusion with answering the “what can I do?” question comes from the seemingly oppressive list of problems that need solving. In our heads, all mixed up and confused, these problems really seem unsolvable. What we need is to pause and acknowledge the various things in our lives that we’re anxious and worried about.

 

Are we struggling with grief and sadness over the loss of a loved one? Maybe we’re battling all the lies we tell ourselves.

 

Then there’s the general political tone in our country today. Regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum, life after the election is certainly different. There’s a lot of uncertainty for many people who struggle to find hope and give thanks in such a divisive political climate. We don’t want to get stuck in our worries, but it’s easier to deal with them if we have cleaned up the clutter of our thoughts.

 

After we are aware of what problems we’re personally struggling with, then we can turn them over to Christ.

 

2. The One Thing that’s needful

 

In the Gospel reading about Mary and Martha, Mary was perfectly content with sitting at the feet of Christ and listening to Him. I’m guessing Martha would have wanted to sit and listen to Jesus too, she just had SO much to do! Sound familiar? We’d love to be at church, we’d love to read the Bible, we’d love to spend some alone time with God…but…look at this LIST!

 

We need to commit ourselves to Christ and see that He is the one thing that’s needful.

 

But what if we just feel burnt out? What if that urge to sit at the feet of Christ, that urge to pray and grow in our faith is just not as strong as it once was?

 

I am so very good at distracting myself from prayer. I can fill my free time with so many things until it comes down to growing in my faith – and then suddenly there’s just not enough time. Time seems to stop as I stare blankly at my to do list or at the daily news in shock, but what I really need is to break out of this inaction and turn to Christ.

 

You see, behind all of the world’s problems and the problems I might face, I am only one person. But One Person is also the solution to all of the world’s brokenness – Jesus Christ – and He can and will be present with us if we have the faith to let Him work. From a position of trust in Him, He will direct us to the right course of action.

 

3. The role of action

 

Once we’re centered and letting Christ direct us, we’ll have the better vantage point to see what we can do. But there are different types of action.

 

If I’m inclined towards selfishness and laziness, doing something physical might be exactly what I need to do. After all, service changed my life and might change yours too. When we serve someone in need, we serve Christ Himself. And, that’s what Martha was doing wasn’t it?

 

They key to the issue might be what the Church connects to the story of Mary and Martha from the next chapter of Luke. Jesus calls blessed those who “hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28). Some of the Gospel requires action on our part, and this is our keeping of the word of God. But we have to hear it first.

 

If I’m inclined to worry and trying to do everything and anticipate all the possible problems that might come next, it will surely take work just to…stop. Action for me would be to slow down and listen to Christ. We have an opportunity for action – that work of the people of God – to serve together in prayer. Like Elder Sophrony of Essex reminds us, "The early church lived without a New Testament, but not without the Divine Liturgy."

 

Whether our action is by serving those in need, or speaking out when we need to, or stopping ourselves for a moment to listen to what Christ is trying to tell us, it takes work on our part.

 

*****

 

We cannot ignore evil any more than we can ignore the anxieties in our own lives. So we have to slow down for a moment and acknowledge the fears and worries we have. We need to sit at the feet of Christ in prayer and study and listen to what He might have us do. And then we take action in the best way we can – following the lead of Martha who showed hospitality to Christ as best she could.

 

Are you a Mary or a Martha? If you’re feeling more anxious these days, how have you strengthened your personal prayer life? How is God calling you to action in your corner of the world?

 

 

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

 

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

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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How Service Changes Lives

Over the last few months, I’ve been busy organizing a group of sixteen young adults to take a service trip to Project Mexico. We recently got back, and since then I’ve been reflecting on the importance of service - both international and domestic - and how it has changed my life. For me, this trip was one of reunion and fulfillment, and served as an expression of gratitude for what God has done in my life over the last decade.

 

Eleven years ago, I went on an alternative spring break (Real Break) trip through Orthodox Christian Fellowship. I was a freshman and excited for my first service trip - working on a home in Tijuana, Mexico through Project Mexico and Saint Innocent Orphanage. I couldn’t have predicted how much that trip would change me. In Mexico, I witnessed poverty like I hadn’t seen before: homes the size of my neighbor’s shed, a community outhouse, children playing frisbee over downed power lines, poor infrastructure, etc.

 

Maybe this was my Damascus moment - like Saint Paul whom God had to strike blind before he changed the direction of his life.

 

Service - and Project Mexico more specifically - became the catalyst of change in both my professional and spiritual life. I switched my major from Chemistry to International Affairs and Spanish. I served with AmeriCorps VISTA for a year in Philadelphia and then went to seminary. Going on a week-long international service trip to Mexico propelled me in the direction of domestic service and ultimately full-time ministry in the Orthodox Church.

 

But what is it about service that is so life changing? Why is service so important for Orthodox Christians?

 

1. It fosters relationships

 

It isn’t enough for me to know about someone, I need to actually take the action of getting to know him. Before I took my first trip to Mexico, poverty was a concept and impoverished people were not much more than a category. Afterwards, I had names and faces, relationships instead of ideas. I knew the relative poverty of my own family, but I knew little of the poverty of others.

 

Last month, our group of young adults went to Mexico as a collection of friends and strangers. We came back a united group, as people who had served together, prayed together and who had a common experience as a community. What I’ve found is that when two or more people serve someone together, they grow close to one another, too. A similar thing happens as friends or spouses develop their relationship with God; they wind up closer as a result.

 

Service is so transformative to individuals because they break out of their isolation and become members of a community. We experience a moment of connection - to God and neighbor - that gives life to all of our relationships. Service changes our lives because it opens our hearts and helps give us a new perspective on our lives.

 

2. It’s a reflection of the Liturgy

 

The focal point and climax of the Liturgy is the Eucharist. All of our prayer and worship, our offering of ourselves and one another, our listening to the Scripture readings and homily, lead up to this moment when God offers back to us our gift to Him (bread and wine) as His Body and Blood. And as a corporate work as a community, the Liturgy is an act of service to God. Eucharist is our thanksgiving, our action of gratitude for the work and presence of Christ in our lives.

 

But when we leave the Liturgy, how much does our week resemble this action of gratitude? Do we commit ourselves and others to God during the week? Service to our neighbor is an important way of giving thanks to God as we help bear one another’s burdens. As the Liturgy helps to cultivate within us the realization that God is the source of our lives - and not our own labor or our success - service reminds us to be grateful instead of selfish.

 

There’s a certain mystery that happens when we give to others in the name of Christ. He gives to us His Body and His Blood and is never depleted. And when we give to others in service to them, we leave with hearts brimming over. We walk away with more than we gave.

 

*****

 

The Orthodox Church sets up service as a vital part of our spiritual lives. Almsgiving and service to those in need are built in as part of our fasting periods and are highlighted in the lives of great saints such as Saint Basil the Great and Saint John Chrysostom. Service cultivates relationships both with God and our neighbor, and it is an act of gratitude for what God has already done for us.

 

How has service changed your life? How can you reach out to serve your local community?

 

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

 

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

Photo Credit: Sam Williams - Project Mexico 2017 Virginia team

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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.

 

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?

 

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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Saving Room for Christ

Every year I look forward to holiday foods. At Thanksgiving, it’s the stuffing and cranberry sauce. At Christmas, it’s the ham. At Pascha, it’s the lamb…and well, anything related to meat or cheese. And as a Southerner, we seem to always have deviled eggs and sweet tea at every important family gathering too.

 

And you better believe I make sure to save room for that food! After all, the thin guy always has to get seconds and thirds or the host isn’t happy.

 

But what would happen if we came to holiday meals already full? The holiday spread would become just…another meal. Just more of the same.

 

During the Advent season, as we are getting closer to Christmas, we are surrounded by Christmas music, Christmas lights, Christmas coffee drinks…we get so filled up with Christmastime that Christmas itself can feel anti-climactic. After weeks of worrying over gifts, planning our holiday schedule, and running here and there, the actual feast of Christmas comes and goes before we know it.

 

We forget to meet Jesus in that quiet cave in Bethlehem. We can get so filled up on Christmas that we forget to leave room for Christ.

 

Here are three things the Church offers to help us to come to the feast prepared and to meet Him this Christmas.

 

1. Fasting

 

We know to skip breakfast before going to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, because we want to make room for the good stuff. Similarly, the Church gives us the practice of fasting so that we can make room for Christ in our lives; or rather so that we can make Him the center of our lives. Instead of filling up on all that the world has to offer us, we are given periods throughout the year to put some limits on ourselves to train us to seek Christ. As we hunger and thirst for food before the Liturgy, we are reminded that Jesus alone can satisfy us. We come to church hungry, and the first thing we taste is Christ.

 

It’s easy to ignore practices like fasting as if they were just the tradition of man, until we remember that Jesus fasted (Matthew 4:1-2) and He said that His disciples were to fast, too (Matthew 9:14-15). The Church has a calendar of feasts and fasts, many of which can be hard to remember, but here’s a simple outline we can follow. Before major feasts, we prepare ourselves by fasting from certain foods and activities to prepare ourselves for the feast. We also fast throughout the year on Wednesdays and Fridays in remembrance of Jesus’ betrayal and death on the cross.   

 

But how can we fast this Advent period? The Nativity Fast lasts for the forty days leading up to Christmas. If you haven’t begun, you can begin today. If you don’t fast on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, perhaps you could begin by fasting from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays during the Nativity Fast. If we are not accustomed to fasting, we should begin by making some step towards the tradition of the Church. As we live in an individualized culture, the temptation is to come up with something unique for ourselves instead of following the tried and true way of the Church. The best thing, though, is that you speak to your parish priest and ask his advice on what might work best for you and your family this year.

 

2. Confession, scripture, and prayer

 

Fasting during the Nativity period helps us to save room for Christ in our lives. Another practice during this period is to go to the sacrament of confession. Jesus desires that all of us who are “heavy laden” with our life’s concerns and worries will come to Him so that He can give us rest in Himself (Matthew 11:28). As we confess and we lay everything at the feet of Christ, we can walk away freer and lightened from those things we keep carrying along with us.

 

And as we are lightened through fasting and confession, we will have room to grow in our relationship with Christ. We can commit to saying some prayers in the morning and at night before going to sleep. We can set aside five to ten minutes each day to read scripture. When was the last time you read the whole of one of the gospels? It can be especially helpful for us to focus on one gospel, like the Gospel of Matthew or Luke during this period. As we read the life and the words of Jesus, we can encounter Him anew each time. And when we come to Liturgy on Christmas, we will be prepared to welcome Him.

 

3. Serving others

 

We worry a lot about presents during Christmastime. Did we get this person what they’d want? We think we’re thinking about people during Christmas, but usually we are just focused on the idea that we have to get everyone something. Is our focus on serving others or just getting them gifts? Are we focused on loving our neighbor? Are we remembering to love our enemy by praying for them?

 

Our Orthodox history is filled with saints who committed their lives to the service of the poor, the needy, the sick, and the fatherless. St. John Chrysostom served the poor in the streets of Antioch and preached the rest of his life about the importance of direct service. St. Basil devoted his life to service and his sermons continue to inspire us today to give back to those who are in need. Modern saints like St. Elizabeth the New Martyr and St. Maria Skobtsova show us that service is something we are all called to do today.

 

We can all find a way to give back to others who are in need today. Have you considered writing letters to those in prison through the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry? How might you assist the work of IOCC or OCMC? How can you serve the Orthodox orphanages like those in Mexico or India? And on a local level, how can you work with local food pantries or social services help a family in need to have a Christmas dinner?

 

*****

 

We might already feel like we’re getting swept up in the preparations for Christmas. The point for us, whether we are starting now, or if we have been preparing all Advent long, is that we commit to growing closer to Christ today. If we are emptying ourselves of our pride and worldly concerns, our hearts will be open to Christ and to the many ways we can serve our neighbor.

 

What is your experience of fasting? Have you been to confession recently? How could you better serve those in need?

 

 

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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