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Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed herein are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ancient Faith Radio or Orthodox Christian Fellowships.

Note:  I rarely say bold things in a public forum.  Therefore, I’m slightly nervous about posting the following.  However, I feel this to be absolutely true, and a terribly vital point of conversation.  So, I ask that you read on and prayerfully consider what I have to say. —Jonathan

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the OCF Podcast (for which I am the coordinator, host, and producer).  Where it is.  Where I want it to be. Where it’s going, where it’s been…you know, basic introspection type stuff.  And, I have to say that I’m really pleased.  The fact that the podcast is doing well is enough to make everyone at OCF HQ and those involved with the show fill with excitement.  Though, along with excitement, it fills me with questions.  Good questions.  Necessary questions.  Hard questions.

The primary thought that enters my mind is this:  Why is the OCF Podcast so lonely?  Why are there only a handful (2-4, by my estimation) of podcasts targeted toward students?  Why is it that, with all the data about the growing influx of converts, and with the knowledge that an increasing number are aged upper-high school to twentysomethings (I hate that term, incidentally), why are there not more resources being poured into producing audio and even video programs to match even half the caliber and ubiquity of the programs which already grace the Orthodox landscape, primarily geared toward people 30 and older?  Why is more not being done?

Let me pause and say that I love these shows that I kind of indirectly (and unintentionally) just slammed.  I listened to practically the entire archive of Our Life In Christ when I got my first iPod back in 2006, shortly before my Chrismation. (I still like to randomly listen to entire series.) Half of the podcasts I currently listen to are from AFR.  And they’re wonderful; they do endless good toward helping me to understand and reflect on the Faith.  Still…I feel like something is missing.

And this is where this podcast comes in.  Originally, the podcast began as an idea to help keep us students connected with each other within the OCF world…to keep up-to-date with things that were going on, to hear each other’s stories, and to drop in on retreats halfway across the country. It is beginning to fit in to that mold, glory to God.  At the same time, it serves as a small step toward filling the gap I mentioned earlier.

OCF Executive Director Fr. Kevin Scherer once told me that the number one problem facing student ministry in the American Orthodox Church is a lack of curriculum.  Now, two years after that conversation, I fully believe it.  And, I would venture to guess, he’s not simply talking about Sunday School or Bible study.  Now, this is simply my opinion.  But, where students are concerned, I see an utter void of anything in any consumable media (save a few books and the podcasts mentioned above) which strikes me as engaging and relevant to today’s Orthodox young adult.  This ranges from student devotional books to conference materials, from t-shirts to CD’s and DVD’s of student-oriented teaching.  Yes, there are strides being made.  But, more could and should be done to assure that the Church in America offers more and more to the generation which is rising in service and devotion to Her.

I, for one, am dedicated to exploring this topic and seeing what can be done.  I will seek to enlist the help of John Maddex of AFR, Fr. Kevin Scherer, some of the clergy near and dear to OCF, and, of course, you.  The only reason I bring this up at all is because I feel it would be a huge service to Orthodox students to have these things.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe I’m more right than I realize. Whatever the case, the only way to find out is to hear what students have to say.

I’ve heard it said that the Orthodox Church is thirty years behind the curve in the area of student ministry.  I, for one, want to see us catch up.

I ask that you please pray for this effort, for it is only with God’s grace that any of this chatter will ever lead to thoughts, plans, and actions.

Through the prayers of the Holy Apostle Timothy, who was encouraged to be bold in his young age and to set an example for all of the Faithful, may our great God and Savior Jesus Christ have mercy on us as we journey with Him to His glorious Pascha.  Amen. +

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When I met my girlfriend Tiffany back in September, she could best be described as a melting pot of religious views, with the primary views flipping back-and-forth between agnosticism and atheism, as far as I could tell.

Today, almost 8 months later, she became a catechumen in the Orthodox Christian Church.  And it’s funny, really. After Pascha, she was talking to me about how she had started to feel something that she’s never felt before but has always wanted to feel. She also explained that she had started to fight her doubts against faith which linger in spite of this new feeling. I explained that St. Thomas had a situation where he dealt with a bit of doubt, and that, as a result (long story short), Christ said that those who don’t see and believe are even more blessed than Thomas was.

And, then, we get to church, she gets enrolled into the catechumenate, and I look down at the bulletin to find out that, lo and behold, it’s Thomas Sunday.

God is cool. 🙂

O Lord, our God, Who dwellest on high and regardest the humble of heart; Who hast sent forth as the salvation of mankind Thine Only-begotten Son and God, our Lord Jesus Christ; look down upon Thy servants, the catechumens, who have bowed their heads before Thee; make them worthy in due season of the laver of regeneration. Unite them to thy Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church, and number them with Thy chosen flock. That they also with us may glorify Thy most honorable and majestic Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

You know, it’s funny how you can hear something several times and be moved by it. Then, there is that one time you hear it, and it just knocks you down.

Very early this morning, this officially became the most moving sermon I’ve ever heard.

+++
If any man be devout and loveth God,
Let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast!
If any man be a wise servant,
Let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.

If any have laboured long in fasting,
Let him how receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour,
Let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour,
Let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour,
Let him have no misgivings;
Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour,
Let him draw near, fearing nothing.
And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour,
Let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour,
Will accept the last even as the first.
He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour,
Even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.
And He showeth mercy upon the last,
And careth for the first;
And to the one He giveth,
And upon the other He bestoweth gifts.
And He both accepteth the deeds,
And welcometh the intention,
And honoureth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord;
Receive your reward,
Both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honour the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
And you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty,
For the universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
For pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
For the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages.

Amen.
+++

CHRIST IS RISEN!

Classes ended yesterday.  Next week, we here at UT will start the journey through the dreaded Finals Week, keeping our eyes set on the release that awaits us at the end of it all: Summer.

As I walked around my residence hall today, I noticed everyone walking around as thought it were just an ordinary day.  And, for many, it is.  I couldn’t help but think of the contrast, though.  For them, it’s an ordinary day.  But, for the Orthodox, it’s at the doorstep of the Feast of Feasts: our Lord’s Pascha.

Just a few years ago, I thought Easter was a really cool holiday.  I mean…duh!  Jesus came out of the tomb, right?  So, yeah…it was pretty big.  But, in reality, for me and most I knew, the Big Deal was Christmas.  The Nativity was at the forefront, giving a back seat (in a way) to Easter.

Since then, however, Pascha has become the new Christmas.  Christmas, of course, is a big deal still.  But, it doesn’t compare to the joy that awaits all who make the journey to Pascha.

And, now, I must go.  For the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and it’s 10:17. So…on to church.

TWLOHA Title

Thanks to my friend Mary for the link to this interview with Jamie of TWLOHA. It’s short, but he said some things that really cut to the core. Here are a couple of highlights:


TWLOHA isn’t technically a Christian organization. How do think the Church’s response to the issue has been, and why are you guys taking a different approach (reaching outside the Church)?

I think the Church, for the most part, is no better than the rest of society in terms of how we respond to these issues. I say “we” because I consider myself part of the Church … Often times, the Church oversimplifies and looks only at the spiritual. In most cases, there is more to these battles than, “I’ll be praying for you.” If your friend had a broken arm, you wouldn’t just pray. You would take them to the hospital to get the bone fixed. These are complex problems and often times, they require complex solutions. I believe God’s given us wisdom, education and medicine, for a reason, and those things are part of the equation. The Church is quick with its answers but slow to embrace people living with enormous questions. And a lot of times that’s the first step, simply meeting people where they are, showing we’re not afraid of their pain, showing we’re willing to walk with them.

We don’t call ourselves a Christian organization because I believe the word has been abused to the point it now means some terrible things to a lot of people, so we’re trying to use a new language, and more than anything, we’re trying to meet people where they are. We would probably not be welcome on Warped Tour or be sitting in meetings at MySpace, if we showed up under the banner of “Christian organization,” but by doing things the way we have, we’re seeing some amazing doors open. In short, we do more ministry by not using the word “ministry.”

It seems like depression and self-injury are kind of “secret issues” that people dealing with them don’t like to talk about. How can we bring it more into the open so people feel comfortable seeking help?
I think a lot of people doing the sort of work we’re doing, especially when it comes to awareness, they tend to focus on the negative. We’re trying to be honest about these things, but we’re also trying to focus on and celebrate the hope and help that exists in the face of this stuff.

And community is essential. I know I keep saying that, but it’s true. When we get in the habit of living honest lives and doing life with people, talking to people, it makes it so much easier to navigate these storms. And I think part of a life lived in community, and the idea of freedom in Christ, is that there’s nothing we can’t talk about, no dark place we can’t bring light to.

This was posted by my very good friend Dusty, to whom I’ve previously linked and replied here at twelve:one. He writes about two talks he gave to the youth at his church (my former church). The main focus is his talk from this past Wednesday. The main point of the response I posed follows. The full texts for both can be read here.

(Post)
I was finishing up about dating when I tied the whole two weeks together again by drawing focus to the main point again, which is that we should be DEVOTING A LIFE TO CHRIST, and not just sundays and wednesdays.

I explained it further by using an example using math; I love numbers and facts. LOL 🙂 But anyways, here is what I found.

The average person right now lives to be 75 years old, and 79 for women. So then, I let my mathematics do the rest….. and if a person just worships GOD on sundays alone which is a lot of christians, that makes it 3,900 days / 557 weeks / or 11 years. WOW, that information is disheartening. I mean, here we are…. we should be devoting a LIFE to Christ and all we’re giving HIM is one-seventh or 11 years out of 75.

But, here is what GOD showed me even further [in the middle of the talk]: Most people who are christians only go to church for no more than two hours in a day, and that’s all the worshiping they do… with that said, here is what GOD showed me: If you take those same statistics and replace the 24 hour day for 2 hours, you get 325 days / 46 weeks / or less than 1 year!!!! THAT IS VERY MUCH DISTURBING! Here we are, suppose to be devoting a life to Christ because HE wants us to, and because HE saved us, so we should thank HIM with our life, and we don’t even give HIM one full year out of 75 years. I’ll say that again, if all you do is go to church on Sundays and never worship or pray or read the Bible for the rest of the week, then all that amounts up to, is One year of your life out of 75 years! That does not sound anything like an entire life to me! Well, then you might say, “I go on wednesdays too.” Ok, then just double the numbers: 650 days / 92 weeks / or around 1.5 years! Wow, that’s a lot better…. I can definitely see how 1.5 years seems like an entire lifetime.

It’s no wonder that most christians stay “baby christians” in their walk, it’s because in the big picture of it all, we’re just giving him 1/75th of our life! Maybe, if we christians would start to reflect a LIFE of Christ and not just on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, then maybe, just maybe we could change the world, or even just ourselves. And, what hurts even more, is that a lot of christians don’t even go on Sundays and Wednesdays at all, and then they wonder why GOD hasn’t talked to them in awhile, or why does all this bad stuff keep happening? It’s because we’re not getting close to the Savior like we should be doing!

Then, the question might arise of, “ok, how do I best live a life devoted to Christ?.” Well, of course go to church on a regular basis so you can at least get that one year out of 75, then I would say, watch how you react to the rest of life…. What are you watching? What are you listening to? How are you treating people? Understand that you might be the only Bible that someone ever sees in their life. In fact, I tell people all the time, the best way to show someone Christ is live A LIFE for Christ and constantly try to better yourself. Besides, most people that don’t know Christ won’t care about what the Bible says, because if they don’t know Christ, why are they going to believe in the Bible? So, be an example and stand up for THE WAY, stand up for THE TRUTH, stand up for THE LIFE! […] I pray that all of us, those who call ourselves christians, will stand up for Christ and reflect Him all of our life, and not just one or two days a week.

(Response)
–Really….you’re dead on. I would even take it a step further and say that we don’t need to be Bible-believing as you say. Christ-following is better. That is Life. Not believing a book. Yes, believe the scriptures. But, if I simply believe the plank of wood standing in front of me with the shiny round thing in the middle of it is a door, what good does that do me? It is only when I turn the knob and open the door that it allows change (e.g. moving from one room to another.

Christ said “I am the door.” Therefore, don’t simply believe Him, or believe in Him, or the Bible, or whatever. Every day is a choice of action, not just a retention of belief. Daily, we should choose to follow Him to the Cross, to love our neighbor (friend and enemy) along the way, and to enter through Him and we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

May I and may you choose the narrow path this day and tomorrow. Amen.

When I was in Chicago recently, I was involved in a conversation with a local Methodist lady who happened to decide to come to the ACAAC conference and was asking all manner of questions about Orthodoxy. At one point, a couple of people also engaged in the discussion mentioned the word “feeling.” What it “feels” like to worship in the Church. The “experience” that you have.

I readily admitted that the use of the phrase and the notion of “feeling” and “experiencing” things in the church made me cringe. I saw far too many people get too focused on that aspect in my years as a Protestant. But, I was just as readily reassured that “feeling” and “experience” were meant in a different context. I kind of got what they said, but I guess it was slightly acquiescent for me not to pursue that point further than I did.

Fr. Stephen posted a wonderful reflection on what it means to really want to “know” and “experience” God. I think my befuddlement is fairly defused now. 🙂

Glory to God for All Things: “To Know God”

On the first evening of our trip, we visited St. Athanasius in Nicholasville, KY. It was good to see the priest, who used to serve at our home parish. We were also blessed by the kindness of strangers when the subdeacon offered to take us in for the night so that we wouldn’t have to spring for a hotel room.After vespers, we were hanging out in the parish hall talking to some of the parishioners. One of the members we spoke to that really impressed us was the 8 year-old son of a military chaplain. His name was Ethan.

This kid was sharp. He not only built a submarine out of Legos, but he explained what different parts were and how important they were to the function of the ship. When I asked what he wanted to be when he grows up, he said a paleontologist. He then starting talking about his love of dinosaurs, that he loves them more than any other subject in the world.

As Ethan’s dad and my friend Kevin continued to talk have discussions about military chaplainry and the faculty at St. Vladimir Seminary, Ethan very confidently explained to me that he could build a brachiosaurus out of the Legos. So, I asked to see it.

As he built, I filmed him with my digital camera. Afterward, I sped it up and added some original music. The YouTube video appears below. If you watch it, pay attention to how he’ll stop and describe different things. Also notice his mannerisms when he takes a break from building to discuss something with Kevin.

He’s a very bright and self-assured intelligent boy. He made me wish I was that cool when I was 8 years old. (Or that I was that cool now. 😉 )

I wish we could have stayed longer, but we had to press on to Chicago. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon and be able to meet some of the newer parishioners I didn’t get a chance to talk to, as well as catch up with the ones I’ve seen on other visits.

At a Q & A session at Columbia University, Evangelical apologist Ravi Zacharias was asked a question regarding the state of the (Evangelical) church in America. As part of his answer, he said the following, and I think it’s very worthy of reflection:

The problem with America today is not America; it’s the church. We have become very shallow as Christians. Very shallow. We have become masters at engineering feelings without much thought. There is very little thinking that goes on in church. We repeat things, parrot things. We have not thought our faith through. We have not listened to others and what their questions are. Our answers are very shallow. In trying to become seeker-friendly, we have become message-unfriendly. We have no real depth to what we’re trying to teach and speak. Life has got its jagged edges against us, and we are giving simplistic answers. Somewhere, we fell into the trap of believing that music is everything, forgetting it is only one thing and that teaching and ideas are important. And an expenditure of words without an income of ideas will lead to conceptual bankruptcy. And we are so conceptually bankrupt on this; we cannot really explain these things. And, until the church wakes up to what her message is and thinks deeply about these things, we will slip deeper and deeper into parroting phrases that have very little difference in our lifestyles.

Casting Stones

One Scripture verse that I tend to associate with “big stuff” is 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” I mean, that’s usually the way it’s presented. Especially in my years of being involved with student ministry, I’ve heard it a lot, and normally having to do with parents who fight, or divorce, or abuse, or death of a loved one…you know, “big stuff.”

Recently, in a talk with the student minister at my old church, that verse came up. And he made the point that we tend to cast them off and then reel them back in, like when fishing. I thought that was pretty clever, and it’s stuck with me. Yet, I went back and read the verse again, this time careful to understand the context. I had recently heard someone say that sometimes taking a verse in context will change what it’s really saying, or the depth of it, or whatever. My personal example would be in 2 Samuel 12:7 where it says, “Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!'” It’s something I personally want to hear said about me. But, in that moment, it was the last thing David wanted to hear.

So, I went and reread chapter 5. And, I was amazed at what I found. When Peter said to cast all anxiety on Him, he was talking about something very small. He was talking to both elders and the young people of the church, encouraging them to be humble and gracious towards each other, invoking Proverbs 3:34 which says, “God opposes the proud.” So, as I understand it, Peter was basically telling them to stop fussing and bickering, instead acting in humility toward one another. Then, he says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Peter was telling them, “If it gets too much, cast it aside and give it up to God and let Him deal with it.” Incredible.

So, I thought about how many times I had heard this verse in relation to “big stuff” and how it was really given as an instruction for dealing with the everyday silliness that goes on among people who might disagree or cause one another grief. (See also: Parish Council Meetings, Deacons’ Meetings, discussion among parents and their children, etc.) And, all of a sudden, that verse became even more of an encouragement to me. I mean, if I can trust that He’ll care about the little stuff, then I can definitely trust Him with the big stuff. As Christ Himself says in Luke’s gospel, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (16:10). Not that I didn’t know this to begin with, as I certainly did. It’s just that, sometimes, it needs reinforcement.

You who are weary, striven, worn thin, or busily writing blogs—be of good courage. Cast all your cares…worries, anxieties, uncertainties, quarrels, fears, moments of little faith…upon Him.