Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Evangelism is as Simple as a Quiet Conversation

Friends,

I would like to continue our discussion about Orthodox Evangelism here. I am going to try to post something on Blogtushka each Wednesday. Mostly in this regard, but certainly we will discuss other things. Please pray for me that I get this important job done.

There are certain sorts of tactics in conducting evangelism that take time, treasure, and talent to execute. The Russian Festival is one of those things. But there are other things that DO NOT take much time, treasure, or talent to execute. One of those is the sharing of business cards. I’d like to start our renewed evangelism efforts with this simple tactic. I have lots of business cards. So does Fr. Moses. We do not buy business cards to save them – we buy them to share them! And it is SO POWERFUL when parishioners share these business cards with friends. If your friends know that you are attending St. Vladimir’s they are going to ask you about it. That is the way that things work in America – people want to have these sorts of conversations. And to be honest: there are MANY people who are quietly, almost ashamedly, looking for a place to worship on Sunday morning. A recent poll indicated that 80% of people in America would attend church on a Sunday morning IF THEY WERE JUST ASKED! But to make this even easier, share a business card and say something like “...check out our web site and then let me know if you’d like to go with me to church some Sunday – I would be happy to have you join me anytime.” If we don’t ask we are essentially keeping our loved ones away!

This is the sort of evangelism that is normal for Orthodox people. We don’t go door to door and attack people in their homes or attack them on the streets. But to have a quiet and pleasant conversation with a friend and encourage that friend to join us on Sunday morning (not to go alone, but to go WITH US) is fully in line with us sharing the good news of the Gospel. Or to put it another way: to share the cure for death! Because that is what the Lord brought us – the cure for death. For with Christ there is no death, but only eternal life. This is what people want! This is what they are seeking! And if we give them an opportunity to find it – they will grab on to it with both arms!

This Sunday we will have big stacks of business cards – both mine and Fr. Moses’ - on the literature table. Take some of each and use them! Give them to friends, loved ones, co-workers. Give them with love – the love of Christ that you have within you. And with a warm invitation to have them join you on some coming Sunday morning. If the person is already involved in a church and can’t come Sunday – invite them for Saturday evening services! And if they can’t do that – invite them for Wednesday evening services! But YOU have to put skin in the game. You can’t ask them to come without you. Everyone needs a little hand-holding as they approach the Lord. YOU are called to do that hand-holding.

Grab business cards this Sunday! If you miss it – grab them next Sunday. Or ask us – we are HAPPY to give away our business cards for the glory of God. May He strengthen you as your work to spread His love to your close ones!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Friday, September 13, 2019

Orthodox Evangelism – an Oxymoron?

I am reading a great book right now: “100 Natural Ways to Grow a Church – A Guide to Orthodox Evangelism in North America.” What is Evangelism? That is a Protestant thing, no? NO IT IS NOT – this is an ORTHODOX thing. Protestants might do this better than we do at this point in history, but it is time to take back that standard! Evangelism is the spreading of the Gospel. You know who did that first? The Apostles. And do you know what Church they belonged to? The ORTHODOX CHURCH!

This is our birthright, and this is our obligation. We’ll be talking a lot about this going forward in our parish, including forming a group that will have a sharp focus on this important part of being a living, growing, thriving Christian community. I think we should begin to examine everything we are doing in our parish family through two perspectives: how does this effort serve our parish family -AND- how does this effort welcome new people to God’s Church? This is not to say we should stop anything that we are doing. It is to say: can we tweak what we are doing so it more actively and warmly welcomes new people to our parish?

Evangelism happens in two ways: when people come to us and when we go out to people. There are very Orthodox ways to do both of these things. And there are very NOT Orthodox ways to do both of these things. We will work on training ourselves to do this the right way – the Orthodox way – over the course of the next few months and years. Everyone will participate in some active way in this effort. Some will “do stuff”. Others will pray. And the prayer is just as important – maybe MORE important – as the “doing stuff” that has to be done to welcome those who come to us of their own accord AND those that we go out to meet and invite to the Lord’s House.

There are sort of two pivotal instructions from our Lord in this regard:

1. THE GREAT COMMISSION: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

2. THE GREAT COMMANDMENT: “...thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

A lot of this work will be small paradigm shifts on our part. For instance, we have a festival coming up this weekend. We are all working like crazy to make the festival happen and to make it successful using the metrics of financial success and bringing new people to the Church. Do you know what that “bringing new people to the Church” metric is? EVANGELISM! And as we think about what we do – and with God’s help and with our parish family’s hard work we do a lot – in the light of Evangelism we will get better and better at making the Orthodox Church a place for those who are seeking God. We’ve got the Pearl of Great Price – and it is not ours to hide. We need to share it! The Great Commission is not an option, and neither is the Great Commandment. We are called to fulfill these instructions of our Lord! Can we do it! We CAN do it if we work hard and ask God’s blessing on our work!

Keep an eye out here for more on this topic. How you can work. How you can pray. What you can do. Consider subscribing to Blogtushka so you don’t miss any updates. The Lord put us in this time and place so that we could best save our souls to be sure, but He also did that because it is our job to sanctify this place. To fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment with zeal and Christian Love. And to do it in a way that is fully and authentically Orthodox. Let’s start with this weekend’s festival! Let it be a warm welcome to all those in our community who are not yet part of our parish family! And if we do this with the love of Christ shining within us we will have begun to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. BEGUN! There is more to do of course. May the Lord guide us, bless us, inspire us, and strengthen us to hearken to His words and to actualize them in our lives!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Festival Communications & Temptations

Friends,

Thank God we have gotten to the time of the year where we have the opportunity to slay the temptations! Our festival takes a lot of work and a lot of people spend a lot of time to make this happen. So people get tired. And they don’t think before they speak. Which means they sometimes say hurtful or ignorant things. We have a choice then how we answer. We can slay the temptations by showing Christian love and humility, or we can stoke the passions by returning evil. You don’t need me to tell you what the right thing to do is. But maybe these tactics will help you to be more successful in doing the right thing.

1. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) writes in his manual for priest on confession that if we could just think before we speak we could avoid 75% of our sins. That’s a big number! And if you think about it, you will probably agree that this is just about right. Think first. Then speak. Or return the text that you just got insulted at. Or whatever. THINK. Then act as a Christian.

2. ASSUME OTHERS HAVE GOOD MOTIVES. Most people want to do and say the right thing. Sometimes it seems that this is not the case, but this is OUR problem – not theirs. Assume your brother or sister desires to do good and that YOU are the problem if you are interpreting their actions or words in any other way but good.

3. MAKE EXCUSES FOR OTHERS – NOT FOR OURSELVES. The fathers say that we should make excuses for the bad behavior of others, but never excuse ourselves in this regard. We don’t know what is in the heart of another. If someone acts out or speaks out we should assume their dog got hit by a car earlier in the day, or their mother just told them she has cancer, or whatever. Excuse others. Hold yourself to the highest standard of interpersonal communication. That is the Orthodox way.

4. NO ONE IS CLAIRVOYANT IN OUR PARISH. At least to the best of my knowledge. So we do have to tell people if there is a problem. If no one can read our minds then it makes no sense to hold a grudge or speak out against someone for something you have never told them is an issue. Communicate with love, but communicate clearly.

5. FORGIVE. We are all trying to give our best to God this week. But these words of the Lord should be ringing in our ears as we make our efforts:

“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

Our labor is our gift to God. But if we are not actively forgiving others then our gift is wasted. Let’s not waste our gift! We are all giving a lot! But let us give as a Christian: with love and forgiveness. Then the Lord will accept our gift.

Now – read everything above one more time. And then this: let’s get out there and have the best festival ever AND slay the temptations as a parish family as we do it!

Fr. Gregory

Friday, August 30, 2019

Church School Year begins September 21

On August 22 our Church School faculty met with our Church School Coordinator, Alexandra Pyrozhenko. The meeting was marked by a spirit of cooperation and with great zeal to execute the ministry of teaching our children and young adults the important aspects of their faith they will need to persist as active members of the Holy Church as adults. The Church School Year will begin on September 21, on the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos. That day all Church School students are invited to attend the Divine Liturgy, partake of the Holy Mysteries, and prepare a gift for the Mother of God: a poem, a song, art work, etc. - each child should use the talents the Lord has given him or her to prepare a gift for our most important intercession before the Lord.
Many interesting and significant events will mark our Church School sessions this year in addition to classroom instruction: pilgrimages, the annual Gospel Collegium, the annual Halloween alternative, prosphora baking, prayer rope making, children’s Liturgies, and much more! All children of the parish should be enrolled in the Church School - even those who are home schooled. Home schooled children get more instruction in their faith than those who are not as a rule, but Church School is a lot more than just classroom instruction! It is about learning about our faith WITH OUR PEERS and growing bonds of friendship that can only be grown between those who share our Orthodox Faith. Those with questions should contact me or our Church School Coordinator, Alexandra Pyrozhenko (vpirozhenko@hotmail.com ~ 315-480-3165)
To register for Church School please visit this link:

CHURCH SCHOOL REGISTRATION
We all look forward to the best Church School Year EVER! Join us to make that desire come true!
Fr. Gregory

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Marriage in the Church – Why?

There are some of us in our St. Vladimir family who have not yet gotten married in the Church. We should address this issue, not with acrimony, but from an educational point of view. It is my hope that if we do this it will become clear that marriage in the Church is not some sort of optional thing, but is absolutely crucial if we hope to be successful as a couple. And we’ll talk about what “successful” means too. It might be something different than what you are thinking as you begin this note…

We should begin by making it clear: the point here is not to DEMEAN those who have not yet been married in the Church. It is understood that each person and each couple come to God at a different pace. The Church is here for you and your salvation. God is patient and loving. But that does not mean that we should equate ignorance with bliss either. The Church is a spiritual hospital – we all need to be healed. Staying away from treatment is not healthy once we realize we need that treatment. And the fact of the matter is, all couples need the treatment of the Sacrament of Marriage the Holy Church offers us.

But why bother, right? We’ve been together for years. The civil ceremony seems to have “stuck”. We love each other. That’s all that matters isn’t it? Love conquers all…

Love may conquer all – but that is Christian love. Not romantic love. Romantic love is not unimportant, but the hyper-focus we have a society have on this aspect of married life is an extreme that sets us up for failure, given few of us manage to age looking just as we did at 25. We are greatly hobbled in our limited lexicon for the word “love” in English. Russian is equally hobbled. The Greeks were good with love – they have lots of words for it and that is helpful. For instance, eros is not at all the same as agape. But for us – it is all “love”. And that is not helpful. Certainly we are not going to state here that love is not important. Of course it is. But our culture of marriage in society is very much informed by the Western Christian idea of marriage: that marriage is a contract with certain responsibilities of each partner in the contract. If the contract is broken the marriage is broken. This is true in Judaism and Islam too, by the way. But this is NOT true in Orthodoxy. Marriage is not a contract. At least is it not a contract strictly between the husband and wife. And this is made clear by the promises that the bride and the groom make to each other in the Orthodox wedding service. What are those promises? There aren’t any. :) The vows are made to GOD – not to the other spouse. And thus the Orthodox marriage is a covenant with God – not a contract with another human. Of course, it would be ideal if the bride and groom had discussed a few things before the marriage takes place, but they make two vows in the marriage service – both to God: that neither has promised themselves to any other and that they do this with a free will. That’s is. But that is everything. Because God is now a central part of the marriage. IF it is accomplished in His Church.

Those who are reading this are almost certainly Orthodox Christian churchgoers. God is part of their lives already. From a theological mathematical point of view “civil wedding + church attendance = God is part of our marriage”, no? Not really. It is not that a civil marriage doesn’t mean anything. Of course it does. Those who manage to stick together without God as an sacramental part of their marriage should be lauded – this is a great accomplishment! But why wouldn’t we ask God into our marriage? Not in the way that we make up with our own theological math, but in the way that HE HIMSELF taught us is the Christian way – the Orthodox way. How did He teach us? Recall please, where was the first miracle of Jesus Christ accomplished? At the WEDDING IN CANA OF GALILEE. Certainly Jesus Christ – the God man – could have chosen any place that He liked for His first miracle. He was not constrained to do this at a wedding. But He did. This was not a mistake. This is God clearly blessing marriage – that as Christians we may be married (and this might be surprising to you: this was a burning question in the early Church). And moreover, not only MAY we be married, but GOD BLESSES us to be married. If we chose the married life it is clear that this needs to be accomplished with God’s blessing – it is not our decision to do whatever we like. Of course, we could ignore Christ’s first miracle and His blessing of marriage. But we could also ignore the fact that He gave Holy Communion to the Apostles and told us to do this in remembrance of Him. In either case (and in all cases)  ignoring God is not going to be terribly helpful in our striving for transfiguration in Christ. Essentially, ignoring this teaching of Christ is striving for transfiguration WITHOUT Christ. I’m not the best priest – that is obvious. But even with my weaknesses and ignorances it is pretty clear to me – we aren’t to ignore the very teaching of our Lord that marriage is blessed where He is present. And striving for transfiguration without Christ is not likely to be terribly fruitful. The marriage in Cana of Galilee was blessed because Jesus Christ was there. Jesus Christ is present in His Church, which He gave us for our salvation. Thus, the only place for Orthodox Christians to be married is in the Church. And for those who are not yet married in the Church – it is probably time to heed the call of the Lord and accept His gracious invitation to be part of our marriage. And to have the sacrament of matrimony served for us in the Church.

But given that the goal of marriage is personal gratification and financial stability of the two parties involved why does this all matter? BECAUSE THAT IS NOT THE GOAL OF MARRIAGE! Success in marriage is measured by only one metric: salvation. Salvation is transfiguration in Christ. This is how we should choose a spouse and this should be our over-arching goal: salvation. Of course, there are other goals along the way, but this is the big one: salvation. Marriage, despite lots of good jokes in this regard, is not about suffering. Nor is it about having children (this is an expected and hoped-for part of marriage, but not the main goal). The main goal is salvation. Full stop.

But what if we came to the Church after we were already married? Then what? Are we lost? Of course not! One can be married at any point! There is no statute of limitation on marriage. I’ve married people quite beyond the usual age for marriage (into their 60s or 70s), and there is even a special marriage service for those who have been married outside the Church for a long time. It is not necessary to make a huge big deal of this. Such a Church marriage can be taken care of quietly and prayerfully. It not need be a huge undertaking. But it MUST be undertaken. Strictly speaking those living without a Church marriage are living in sin. It is understood that the Soviet authorities were not exactly promoting Church marriage and therefore many of our parishioners might not have a Church marriage. This is not a reason to judge anyone – that was just the plain fact in the Soviet Union. But thank God – the Soviet Union is no more. No one is constraining you from accomplishing this important – frankly crucial – sacrament of the Church. Why should we be holding to anachronistic atheistic practices? The answer is: we should not. :)

You all know a couple or a couple of couples who are not yet married in the Church. This article is NOT a call to embarrass these folks or make an example of them. Rather, let us apply this as we do all the guidance of the Holy Church: with love. Let us lovingly encourage our friends and loved ones who have not yet been married in the Church to do so at the earliest opportunity. With love. With genuine concern for their salvation. If you have this co-suffering love – love that has as its center the sincere desire for the salvation of another – then you can move mountains. And your invitation to your close ones who are not yet married in the Church will not be an occasion for strife, but an occasion for rejoicing in the Lord. A zealot for Church marriage must be a zealot for Christian love. Pray for this love first, only THEN talk to your close ones about this.

It is my hope that 2019 will be the year that EVERY one of our St. Vladimir’s couples is married in the Church, that by January 1, 2020 we will have 100% of our families living with the grace of the sacrament of marriage. May the merciful Lord grant it!

Fr. Gregory

Post Script:

One of our parishioners rightly pointed out that there is an exception to this rule: those who are married outside the Church, but baptized together in the Church. In this way the Grace of the Sacrament of Marriage is imparted to the couple through reception into the Church. This is an important caveat, and I’m very glad that our parishioner reached out to remind me of this!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Vigil – Let Us Attend?

There are 9 Divine Services appointed to be served each day of the year. Those are:

Vespers
Compline
Midnight Office
Matins
First Hour
Third Hour
Sixth Hour
Divine Liturgy or Typica
Ninth Hour

In parishes generally Compline and Midnight Office are served very rarely, as is the Ninth Hour. Not never – just rarely. The typical parish cycle of Divine Services is:

=== Evening Services ===
Vespers
Matins
First Hour
=== End of Evening Services ===

=== Morning Services ===
Third Hour
Sixth Hour
Divine Liturgy
=== End of Morning Services ===

Sometimes the evening services are served separately, one right after the other. But sometimes, if the commemoration of the saint or feast is a significant one (and always on Saturday evenings in the Russia Church) the three evening services are combined into a Vigil. It is still the same three services – these are just combined a little differently than when they are served separately.

Typica is served on days when there is no Liturgy appointed, or when the Liturgy is Vesperal in nature (Presanctified Liturgy, or one of the combined Vespers/Liturgy services like on the eve of Nativity or Holy Saturday or other similar days).

It is important for us to fight the idea that the evening and morning Divine Services are “separate”. Of course, they are separated by time. We can’t deny that. Although there is no time in the Heavenly Kingdom and we should not forget that when we discussing the Divine Services, where earth and Heaven meet...

Rather, we need to strive to see the evening and morning Divine Services as one whole, with the evening services being an important (and by important we mean “crucial”) part of preparing for the Divine Liturgy. That is especially true if one is communing, but also important if one is not. Why is that?

The reason is this: the vast, vast majority of educational material found in the Divine Services is located in the evening services. About 60% of the evening services is changeable – every day is different. On the contrary, about 80% of the morning Divine Services DO NOT CHANGE – every day is the same. The Divine Liturgy is the the most important Divine Service from a theological point of view – this is without question. The Angels marvel at the Eucharist, which does not exist in the Heavenly Kingdom. When we are present at the Divine Liturgy we are present at the events in the life of our Lord commemorated there. There is no more important service from that point of view – this is the ultimate expression of the incarnational reality of our Orthodox Faith.

But just because the Divine Liturgy is the ultimate Divine Service does not mean that the others are somehow useless. And if we are honest – this is how we treat the other services. I don’t mean this is how we think about them. At least hypothetically. We don’t despise them in our thoughts. But in our deeds we do. Because we do not come to God’s House for these important educational services. These services are important for those preparing to join the Church from a catechitical point of view, but they are important for the rest of us too. And if we are honest – the level of our spiritual/theological education is rather low from a historical perspective. In Byzantium one could find people arguing on corners and in the marketplace about the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the place of icons in the Church, etc. I do not think that we will soon return to those days, nor do I think that is necessarily a goal for which we should strive. But to know our faith: to read the Nicean Creed with complete understanding, to know the lives of the saints, to know the major theological beliefs of our faith, to build an Orthodox ethos and filter that allows us to live in the world without becoming part of the world – all these are strengthened greatly by attending the evening Divine Services. It is said that if one were to attend all the Divine Services every day of the year one would never have to open another book – all these things would be part and parcel of our lives. That time is probably not coming again soon – when most of us could attend most Divine Services every day. But I would suggest that we can and should strive to move more towards that place. Towards making the Divine Services more important in our lives. And we can begin by more diligently and zealously attending the evening Divine Services whenever we have the chance to do so.

Evening Divine Services: Educationally Most Important

Morning Divine Liturgy: Theologically Most Important

Thank God we have the opportunity to have many Divine Services in our parish. And I sincerely thank all of you that make that possible! But that does not mean there is an expectation that everyone would attend every service. Rather, what it means, is that there are many opportunities to be in God’s House, the parish church, and that for most people there are opportunities that correspond to their free time outside of their usual work schedules. It is understood that not all free time outside of work can be 100% dedicated to attending the Divine Services. But how about 10%? What about 5%? If we work 40 hours per week that means we have 128 hours of time every week we are not working. Yes – we have to sleep. Yes – we have to eat. Yes – we have to do chores. All understood and expected. 5% of 128 is 6.4 (we’ll round this to 6.5 to make things mathematically easier). That would be 6.5 hours for the Divine Services if we dedicate 5% of our free time to this pious pursuit. Saturday evening services are about 2.5 hours. That leaves 4 hours left. Sunday morning Liturgy is about 2 hours. That leaves us 2 more hours every week that we could dedicate to the Divine Services if we decided we would spend just 5% of our non-working time in God’s house. Do you know what takes about 2 hours? One weekday evening cycle of the Divine Services. Or one weekday Divine Liturgy (actually these are more like 1.5 hours, but who is counting?). Perhaps for some thinking about this mathematically is helpful...

As we prepare for the Nativity Lent, which begins on November 28, let us also prepare ourselves to make a renewed effort in this regard: to attend the evening Divine Services more often (especially if partaking of Holy Communion the next day – this is really a must unless one lives very far away, is very sick, or very young): on Saturday evenings, on other evenings, or even at Midnight Liturgies. Your sincere efforts in this regard – to draw nearer to the Lord through the Divine Services that He has guided in their development fo
r our salvation – WILL pay spiritual dividends. And it is the right thing to do. It is the Orthodox thing to do. It is a direct investment in our striving for transfiguration into the sons and daughters of God. And if you teach your child to attend the Saturday evening Divine Services you will never wonder where you child is on Saturday night – even when they leave the nest of the family home to strike out on their own. Good spiritual habits taught in childhood tend to be practiced in adulthood as well. May the Lord strengthen us to be zealous to attend and participate (via our attendance, for we are always participants in the Divine Services when we attend – never spectators) in the Divine Services for the good of our salvation and to teach our children to do so as well!

Fr. Gregory

LEARN MORE:

Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky: “The Holies are for the Holy” - On the Divine Liturgy

Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy: “The Divine Services” (Excerpt from “Law of God”)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Death in a Place of Worship

On Saturday 11 people were killed and many were injured when the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked in what is being reported as a hate crime. It is important for us, as people of faith, to speak out clearly and unequivocally in such situations. There is a time and a place for theological disputes. This is not that time. This is not that place. This is the time and place to say without any hesitation: violence in a place of worship is NEVER acceptable. Never. Full stop.

I think there is a temptation to downplay such things when they do not touch our community. That is perhaps “normal” or “natural”, but as Orthodox Christians we have to strive to go beyond “normal” - we have to try to raise society to a higher level. And this begins with striving to not allow such things to be acceptable on any level – even if we have to push ourselves in this regard because we are not personally touched by the tragedy. We must affirm in ourselves and we must teach our children that even if we disagree with someone’s theology we never resort to violence and we never accept, encourage, or condone such violence. Never. Full stop.

In sampling the mass media this morning I have been quite disappointed. One would hope that such a tragedy would provide an impetus to unite our country. On the contrary, everything I have heard and seen so far from the media shows that this tragedy is being used as a weapon to blame and attack the “other side”. This is destructive, counter-productive, and promotes the furtherance of evil. It seems that whatever tragedy besets our country and the world there is no effort to unite and work together. Rather, every opportunity is taken to attack the “other side.” To separate. To divide. In such situations is there an other side? Not if we all see each other as God’s children. There’s just one side in that paradigm. The truth of the matter is that we are all God’s children. Yes – some are theologically challenged. That does not make them not God’s children. The Lord values each of our souls – He desires that “all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:4) All. Not some. Not just the ones we like. The ones we know. The ones we identify with. ALL.

And now we get to the “what can I do about it?” part of this note.

This is our job brothers and sisters – to bring all to the knowledge of the truth. We do that mostly by our example. Do we exemplify the Gospel in our lives? Does the love of Christ shine forth within our hearts to such an extent that it enlightens those around us and motivates them to love Christ too? Do we understand that by serving others we serve God (and act on that understanding)? If not (and I’m a long way from that so please pray for me!) then we have work to do. Let’s start by refusing to accept the destructive paradigm being put forth by the mass media in our days. That every tragedy is the fault of the “other side”. Those on the left blame the right. Those on the right blame the left. And the reason this is so wrong? No one is telling the truth that the real culprit is: evil. The constant battle to weaken and undermine the “other side” is a distraction. It keeps us from paying attention to and fighting the real foe: evil. That evil which comes from the prompting of the Devil. That evil which come from within the hearts of some who have been deluded by the paradigm of the “other side” being the culprit which must be destroyed, and are self-justified in their evil actions by their delusion. It is not acceptable for us to be political partisans on this level. Full stop.

Of course, some of us lean to the left, others to the right. That is fine – as long as we remember that we only have one “party” as Orthodox Christians – and that party is Christ. And that means we strive for moderation in our own lives – and that we promote moderation as we are able to in those around us. Again – our example comes first. If we are wild-eyed partisans we should not be surprised if our children our our spouse cannot maintain moderation. Extremism in politics leads to violence, and so perhaps this is one of the most destructive things we can provide a bad example about. Remember that our example effects those around us (not just in this case, but always): our children, our spouse, our neighbors, our friends. In their eyes our actions exemplify what an Orthodox Christian is. We are Orthodox Christianity for most of the people we know. Let that sink in for a second. We ARE Orthodox Christianity for most people in our lives. With that in mind, let us remember that we must be examples of the Gospel: the Law of Love. If that is front and center in our lives then we will not see a “right” or a “left” - we will only see the children of God. Just as we must see those who were killed in their place of worship on Saturday. As children of God. May He have mercy on them! And may He have mercy on us – that we will exemplify His Gospel. If we are serious about this – if we really get to work in this regard – we can make a difference. Our example can change the world. But success only comes before work in the dictionary. In all other instances we must work before success comes. If we can work sincerely in this regard - and ask the Lord’s blessing on our work – we can have great hope in success. Success that will lead us to the Heavenly Kingdom, and many around us too. This is how we should react to the evil perpetrated on Saturday, and to every future evil act. Let us learn from this. Let us change ourselves. Let us stop listening to those who are trying to get us to support future evil acts by incessantly seeking to make the “other side” worthy of destruction. That is not our Orthodox way. Our way is to examine ourselves, work on ourselves, and know that the Lord who loves mankind will help us to transform ourselves and the society around us if we will only put our trust in Him.

Fr. Gregory