Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Encounter 2012 of the Eastern Catholic Churches Midwest-Cleveland, OH – September 20 – 23, 2012 East-Hillsborough, NJ – October 11-14, 2012 West-Los Angeles, CA – November 1-4, 2012
This is a real-time transcription of the welcome address at the Eastern Encounter 2012 (November 3rd) by Father Edward Cimbala, the Administrator of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic as well as the pastor of St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Hillsborough, NJ. He is currently the Eparchial Director of Deacon Formation and the Assistant Vocation Director of Vocations, and the Chairperson of the Saints Cyril and Methodius Seminary Advisory Committee. Although it has been reviewed, it may contain errors, for which the webmaster unreservedly apologizes. Fr. Ed asked for prayers for the parishes and parishioners in their eparchy who are still without power, some of whom have not been in contact with their parishes so they do not know of their safety, following Hurricane Sandy.

Blueprint for Church Growth

Everybody has a different theory on how churches grow. There are piles of books out there! Example: A great pastor grew a huge church and it was so successful that he wrote books about it. He was asked to become the president of a Christian college. When he left, the church fell apart. The new pastor was blamed, but it is obvious that the original pastor had built a church on personality, not on God, so that without the old pastor’s presence, the church had nothing to sustain it and collapsed. Acts 17: Paul came to preach in Thessalonica. He invited everyone to come. Paul, being Paul, irritated quite a few in the process. They were so angry, they tried to seize him and take him to the authorities. When they couldn’t find Paul, they took Jason instead because he hosted Paul. In charging Jason, they said, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…”
  • That’s what we’re called to do. Wouldn’t it be great if people said YOU turn the world upside down?

Creating Leaders and Disciples—People who Turn the World Upside Down

Discipleship is not what you do, but an attitude that asks what you must do. What is our passion? We Eastern Catholics truly want to have the kind of churches where people are equipped and filled with joy, worshipping God and serving others. 2 Corinthians 9:7: God loves a cheerful giver
  • It’s a mistake to think about this as money alone. We must cheerfully give of our time, talent, effort, and expertise, too.
  • We must do this with joy, laughter, and excitement.
  • God loves a cheerful giver.
How do we become cheerful givers?
  • Finding our passion
  • Finding our gifts
  • Finding our place
When we first recognize our desire to live as Christians, we do it like the 10th leper (cf., Luke 17:15). We run to God and jump in! Then we tire and burn out. Then our service to God and our relationship with him starts feeling like it is going nowhere. We’re spinning in place because in all this we haven’t discerned where God wants us. When we discern our gifts, we’ll be able to be good leaders.
  • Your own passions, gifts, and style will energize you and allow you to enjoy the work.
Galatians 1: 11For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; 14and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 15But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…
  • Paul recognized his passion was to preach to the Gentiles. This step is crucial.
  • Passion is God-given.
  • Paul said God set him apart.
  • Passion compels you to make a difference.
Your passion might be for a group (children, homeless, moms…), or for an issue (abortion…), or with functions (assisting with liturgy, being a prayer warrior…)
  • Everyone can have a passion. A passion isn’t necessarily loud or active.
Don’t think or say you’re too old, too young, of the wrong gender, nash…
  • Let’s not step on passion. Let it happen!
When people come to him and say, “You know what we should be doing?” (which usually means, “Do you know what I think you should be doing, Father?), he listens and says, “That’s a great idea! Have at it!” Passion helps you know where to serve and direct your gifts. Galatians 1: 15But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. 18Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.
  • This was a ripening of Paul’s passion to preach to the Gentiles.
  • Paul took the time to think and pray.
  • When we recognize people’s passions and help them to grow in their passion, we see them ripen and mature.
    • Example: A young teen in his parish was guided in her passion to work with her peers when she was in high school, then when she went to college she was guided in her passion to work with her peers there. The books and support she was given through those years allow her now to serve the church teaching ECF.
Galatians 1: 23They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they praised God because of me.
  • If you serve God cheerfully with your whole heart, people will want to know God because they know that you know Him.
  • People will praise God for your presence.
  • Don’t do it for you own glory, but for the glory of God.
Be patient as you package your passion when presenting it to your priest.
  • Sometimes priests have hard or bad days, too.
  • Be wise. If you’re turned down, do what his parishioners do: come back in a few weeks and present it again. He joked that then he thinks it was his idea and he supports it.
Once you’ve discovered your passion, how does that have an effect?
  • The Church is like a symphony. God gives each of us the gift to play an instrument perfectly.
  • There are a diversity of instruments and activities, but it is the same God.
  • These gifts, manifested in the Mysteries of Initiation, are given to all by God.
  • Spiritual gifts are often exercised in an area where natural talents already exist.
  • Spiritual gifts are given for the common good, not to glorify oneself.
  • We are each enabled by God to use a supernatural gift to make a difference.
  • While a person doesn’t have all the gifts, all of the spiritual gifts are present within our community.
1 Corinthians 12: 7Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

How to Discover our Spiritual Gifts

  1. Prayer
    • Fr. Ed had difficulty with this one. His confessor told him to set his iPhone timer for 15 minutes, to set it aside, and then to pray. He found this very helpful because he no longer had to think about how long he had prayed and he could focus on his prayers. He now shares this with others in case it helps someone else.
  2. Trial and Error
    • There is nothing wrong with failure.
  3. Ask someone
    • What do you see in me? Watch out! Your friends and family will be honest, but that’s what you need.
  4. Assessment tools online
    • Don’t take it to heart, but see what they recommend and discuss it with your pastor.
God has arranged a place for you in the body of Christ that serves the church in accordance with your personality, gifts and style. Dizzy Dean was a pitcher who once won 30 games in a season. He and his brother both pitched a game that won the World Series. He was so good that he had gone into the locker room and told each hitter how he would pitch to them and he’d still won. Then he hurt his big toe. He favored the toe, which changed his alignment, and that affected his pitch. By the time he realized the importance of his toe, his pitching career was already over. The pitching arm cannot tell the big toe that it is not needed. There is a unique and important place for each and every person.
  • When you go home, pray and discover where it is God wants you.
  • Now is a time to reflect on the gifts our Eastern Catholic Churches have brought to our country. And on what we can bring to our Church.
  • The message of Christ needs the seeds to continue to be sown and watered. This is the New Evangelization.
Psalm 145: 4One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare your mighty acts.
  • Our Number One responsibility is to share the Good News.
  • The Christian faith is not a marathon, it is a relay. We need to take it and pass the faith from generation to generation.
  • Our beliefs, our creed, and our relationship with God must be passed on.
What we are to do:
  • Identify your personality
  • Identify your spiritual gifts
  • Identify what God wants you to do
  • Grow in your relationship with Christ
  • Pass it on
Fr. Ed passed out blue papers, rolled up and tied like relay batons. He asked everyone to “pass it on” so the room was full of blue batons moving from one hand to another until everyone had one. Once unrolled, the paper said:
The Blue Print For Church Growth Pass it On … The Creed I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, the only-begotten, born of the Father before all ages. Light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in essence with the Father; through whom all things were made. For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried. He rose on the third day according to the scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of Life, who proceeds from the Father. Together with the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified; he spoke through the prophets. In one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I profess one baptism for the remission of sins. I expect the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
 
Encounter 2012 of the Eastern Catholic Churches Midwest-Cleveland, OH – September 20 – 23, 2012 East-Hillsborough, NJ – October 11-14, 2012 West-Los Angeles, CA – November 1-4, 2012
This is a real-time transcription of the welcome address at the Eastern Encounter 2012 (November 3rd) by Deacon Sabatino Roberto Carnazzo of the Institute of Catholic Culture. Although it has been reviewed, it may contain errors, for which the webmaster unreservedly apologizes. Today, the Church faces a crisis in leadership. No, this crisis is not a crisis in vocations to the priesthood, nor is it a crisis in strong leadership from our bishops. This crisis is a crisis of the laity. Lay leadership and its place in the community of Christ is an essential characteristic of the Church. Without it, the faith risks becoming a relic of the past. In this lecture, participants will examine this important issue facing the Church today, discover the Biblical model for its correction, and explore unique opportunities our Eastern Catholic Churches have to reignite the faith of believers and restore our parishes with the flame of apostolic spirit. Bring your Bibles for this challenging study of God’s plan for the future of our Church!
Deacon Sabatino asked for a show of hands on who brought a Bible. He said electronics don’t count, recounting how he was beside the See of Galilee when the tour guide pulled out his phone to read to them from the Gospels only to find the phone battery was dead. When only a small fraction had a hard-copy Bible, he said we are at a leadership conference for the laity. “If you do not carry your Bible with you, we might as well close up shop!” He encouraged everyone to always carry a Bible and to see the blessings and opportunities God would supply because of it. Matthew 28:18: And Jesus came and said to them, all authority in heaven and earth have been given to me.
  • He could have asked for anything at this point. The risen Lord appearing before His disciples! And what does he ask of them? Matthew 28:19: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.
  • He invited them at that moment to become leaders.
Lay Leadership
  • is not a band-aid that Vatican II has applied to a sick church
  • is not an answer to the vocations crisis
  • is not saying parish councils can hire and fire
  • What is it and why do we do it?
A leader
  • Has to lead someone
  • Has to lead somewhere
  • Has to have something—a purpose, some knowledge, a place to go—that his people cannot have without him
  • Steps out of the way once his job is done so the people he’s taught can now do the same
1 Corinthians 4:15: For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
  • Why be followers of Paul not Christ?
Galations 2:20: it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me 1 Corinthians 4:17: For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son…
  • Just as Christ showed Paul and Paul showed Timothy, Paul now sends Timothy to show others
  • A good father rejoices in the fact that his son has grown up and become what he intended him to be.
A distinction--that is helpful, not oppositional—is to be made between the clergy and the laity.
  • When I was clothed in my diaconal robes, I was not stripped of my baptismal robes.
  • An opposition between the clergy and laity “reduces the laity to the status of second-class citizens, defined primarily in negative terms as those who ‘do not have the right’ to enter certain places, to touch certain things or to take part in certain activities.” As Fr. Alexander Schmemann says in The Eucharist
  • The apostolic tradition gives us a positive example of what the people are supposed to do, not a negative one of what they are restricted from doing.
Just as there were three main views of Christ when He lived among us, there are 3 main views of the Church:
  1. Man on the street—newspaper reader
  2. Astute viewer—the woman who finds God in her baklava at the festival
  3. The view of faith
Question: Who founded the Church and when?
  • Jesus on Pentecost?
  • Jesus when He changed Simon’s name to Peter?
  • When the soldier pierced Jesus’ side and blood and water flowed out?
  • Wrong, wrong, and wrong!
  • The church was already present in figure at the creation of the world!
  • We need to return to the beginning.

Genesis 1: 1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good... 26Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. 31God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.... God is creator.
  • Not a clockwork god of the deist.
  • Not the all-powerful will requiring the submission of the Muslim.
  • Moses says our God is intimately involved in His creation: “And God saw that it was good.” “…very good.”
  • This is God’s relationship to His creation.
  • To see something as good is to see it as desirable, to want it for yourself. When that desire is properly oriented, we call it love.
  • As married people know, when you give your life to another, there is literally nothing left to give.
  • It is good that you are. Very good. How wonderful that you exist.
  • God the creator of the world desires to share Himself with his creation.
Principle: What is last in execution is always first of intention.
  • When you want to do something important, you have to prepare for it.
    • When you bake a cake, you first have to get the water, the mixing bowls, etc. The cake itself comes last.
  • God made paradise for man.
Man is made in the image and likeness of God.
  • We are made in the image and likeness of a creator who loves his creation into existence.
  • It is God who in the act of creation anticipated all conceivable human love and said: I will you to be; it is good, “very good” (Genesis 1:31), that you exist. He has already infused everything that human beings can love and affirm, goodness along with existence, and that means lovability and affirmability. Human love, therefore, is by its nature and must inevitably be always an imitation and a kind of repetition of this perfected and, in the exact sense of the word, creative love of God. –Josef Pieper in “Faith, Hope, Love”
Principle: Action follows upon being.
  • What a thing is determines what it does.
  • What a thing does points to what it is.
What is it God told man to do?
  • Be fruitful and multiply: What God started when He made me, I now participate in and perpetuate by being fruitful.
  • Till and keep the garden: God puts us here to bring his harvest to fruition.
  • Have dominion over the kingdom: Who has dominion? A king. What does the king do? Unites and serves. A society working together is strong.
The reason our economy is now in the greatest recession since the 1930s is because those in the place of the King of Glory are not acting like their creator. And as the form follows upon the gradual working of the stone, at first somewhat indistinct, but more perfect after the completion of the work, so too in the moulding of its instrument the form of the soul is expressed in the substratum, incompletely in that which is still incomplete, perfect in that which is perfect; indeed it would have been perfect from the beginning had our nature not been maimed by evil./em> -St. Gregory of Nyssa< What exactly is man’s goal according to God’s plan?
  • What is last in execution is always first of intention. Man was made the crown jewel of God’s creation, but the story doesn’t end with man’s creation. There was a 7th day.
  • When God rested on the 7th day, he blessed creation and sanctified it. He made creation holy.
  • Man was made in the image and likeness of the one who blessed and sanctified creation.
  • Man has a vocation to now bless and sanctify creation in God’s image and likeness.
  • We have to go out into the world and lead others to God.
  • In this way, creation is divinized.
It is our job to go out into the world to make it more like Him.
  • Moses was shining when he came down from the mountain so they no longer saw Moses, but saw God when they looked on him.
The fall was so destructive because the one who was to have dominion did not bring things to order, but to disorder. Do not call Jesus Christ your savior unless you know what He saved you from.
  • He restored us to the way it was in the beginning so that we would become divinized.
  • Just like Nicodemus couldn’t understand Jesus without being born again (re: John 3), we can’t understand Him unless we see it through the lens of baptism.
  • Nicodemus didn’t get baptized and Jesus tells him he must return with faith.
John said in Romans 6: 1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 1 Corinthians 12:14ff: For the body is not one member, but many….
  • Look at a human body and you can figure out what the church is like. If we were all priests, where would the church of Christ be? On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensible.
Ephesians 4: 11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
  • Each part is dependent on the others.
  • If your churches are not living, Fathers, we’ve got to ask ourselves if we’re pumping the Holy Spirit into them.
  • When you sin, I suffer. When I do good, you benefit.
This is the New Evangelization and true leadership.
  • Galatians 3:26: For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. 28There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus.
  • God became man so that man might become a god. -St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation 54:3
  • Then let us rejoice and give thanks that we are made not only Christians, but Christ. Do you understand, brothers, and apprehend the grace of God upon us? Marvel, be glad, we are made Christ. -St Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John 21:8
You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
  • Who is the light of the world? Christ is.
  • We must shine His light.
  • If our society doesn’t have salt and light in it, if it is not tasty, it is because we have not brought His salt and light.
Acts 3:1:Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. 2And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; 3Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms. 4And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. 5And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them. 6Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. 7And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
  • Peter says he doesn’t have money, but will give what he does have, and healed the man.
  • What only God can do (healing) has become the inheritance of all men.
  • We cannot use leadership as our own because it is a gift.
  • People will die and God’s life will cease to be proclaimed if we don’t do our part.
  • We cannot lord our leadership over others.

Have we ever really become disciples?
  • The first step is metanoia.
  • Without metanoia, we’ll lead people astray instead of leading them to God.
John 1:28: These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. 29On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man who is become before me: for he was before me. 31And I knew him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel, for this cause came I baptizing in water. 32And John bare witness, saying, I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven; and it abode upon him. 33And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize in water, he said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he that baptizeth in the Holy Spirit. 34And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. 35Again on the morrow John was standing, and two of his disciples; 36and he looked upon Jesus as he walked, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God! 37And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38And Jesus turned, and beheld them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? And they said unto him, Rabbi (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), where abideth thou? 39He saith unto them, Come, and ye shall see. They came therefore and saw where he abode; and they abode with him that day: it was about the tenth hour.
  • John knew the exact circumstances of his conversion, right down to the hour of the day.
  • It’s time for us to reclaim that phrase Protestants love to say: “I’ve accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.”
  • We should have a testimony like John’s.
What’s stopping us from acting as disciples? Clergy are plagued by the “Me First” Syndrome
  • Are we, clergy, treating our churches as St. Paul would tell us “as our spouses for whom we’d lay down our lives” or are we treating them as concubines?
  • A test for clergy in order to answer the above question can be found in Colossians 1:24ff: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…
  • Do you rejoice in suffering for the sake of the church or do you just complain?
Laity are plagued by the “My Real Estate” Syndrome
  • That’s my job.
  • We’ve never done it that way before.
We must give to others what God has given to us.
  • Paul rejoiced that his son Timothy could do what Paul did.
Stop pointing the finger at others and take responsibility.
  • Is your parish a geriatric ward or a growing family?
  • Most of our parishes have 30-100 people on Sunday. Laity: you know who you stand next to. If you know the person you stand next to wasn’t at church, did you go knock on their door or give them a call?
  • Clergy: if you know your parishioners are going to the Latin Church or to a Protestant Church, go stand in front of the doors of that church and wait for them and invite them back.
  • Pray with them, eat with them, live with them, and then they’ll die with you.
  1. Pray
    • We better put Jesus back in the center of our churches—domestic and liturgical!
    • The average American has a TV in the center of the family room and spends 2.7 hours watching it each day.
    • If you don’t have an icon of Christ, go right now and get one, get a nail, and hang it up. Not in some obscure place, but right in the middle of the living room. Better yet, get a lampada and a censor to go with it. Now!
  2. Fast
    • Don’t wait for the Church to tell you to fast.
    • Obligation was left behind in Judaism. Fasting is an opportunity.
    • Sin causes us to focus on ourselves while fasting focuses on others.
  3. Tithe
    • Do not be one who stretches out his hand to receive but withdraws it in giving. Give a ransom for your sins if you have it to give. Do not hesitate to give, nor give in a grumbling manner, for you know who is the good Paymaster who rewards? –Didache
    • I know times are tough. I hear you say you can’t afford to tithe. You can’t afford not to. That goes for the clergy as well. Yes, it is hard. Do it and God will supply what you need.
  4. Education
    • You cannot give what you do not have.
    • You cannot teach what you do not know.
Adult Formation
  • He used to teach children’s Sunday School. His assessment: What he did in 1hr of Sunday School was unraveled the rest of the week because of the family life and culture.
  • We need to reach the parents so they’re continuing the work through the week.
  • Our current adult programs are culturally oriented, not intellectually oriented
  • We fill our churches for festivals, but not for Bible studies.
  • Play to your strengths! We are culturally rich! If that’s all you have, get up and in the middle of BINGO and preach for 5 minutes, then let the people go back to their games.
  • Our parishes are geographically spread out, yes. But we have other Eastern Catholic parishes nearby. We have to work together!
  • Adult education is expensive. His program has an annual budget of a quarter million. As Bishop Nicholas (Samra) has said: “How much do we spend to spread the Gospel?”
  • Secularism is bankrupt. We have the answer they’re hungry for. Lift up your eyes and see that the fields are ripe for the harvest.
 
Encounter 2012 of the Eastern Catholic Churches Midwest-Cleveland, OH – September 20 – 23, 2012 East-Hillsborough, NJ – October 11-14, 2012 West-Los Angeles, CA – November 1-4, 2012
This is a real-time transcription of the welcome address at the Eastern Encounter 2012 (November 3rd) by Fr. Justin Rose of St. Philip the Apostle Melkite Mission in San Bernardino, CA. Although it has been reviewed, it may contain errors, for which the webmaster unreservedly apologizes. Our Eastern Catholic Churches need clergy, monastics, and laity all exercising their baptismal priesthood as defined by the Acts of the Apostles. The Domestic Church is one centrally important expression of the Royal Priesthood. This conference couldn’t be more timely. We’ve heard terms like secularization bounced around in our culture. It is important for us to discuss where our ministry as church comes into place.

What is our job description?

The Pew Forum says there’s a rise in the “nones.” Those who do not identify with any religious affiliation. We need to discuss the royal priesthood in a culture that is increasingly reflecting on the role of faith in our lives. Acts 2:42ff defines 5 aspects of being church and therefore of the royal priesthood: 42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. The summary of Christian life is
  • Didache/Catechesis
  • Koinonia/Fellowship or Community
  • Diakonia/Service or Stewardship
  • Liturgia/Liturgy
  • Kerygma/Evangelization

Catechesis

  • The Early Church had the preaching of the apostles. For us, education comes in many new forms: online classes, blogs, websites, publishers, audio books, etc
  • Geography dictated how we did education. To gather people together in one room was the only way to convey information in the past. Now the internet allows greater communication.

Community

  • Because of the changes in communication, we can focus more on prayer and fellowship when we gather together now.
  • The call of the baptized is to grow in community.
    • “It’s not my ministry, it is the ministry of the Church.”
    • A priest addresses a deacon as “my fellow celebrant” and we say the laity celebrate with the clergy. On the other hand, bishops and priests serve the liturgy.
  • He’s pushing back in his parish against social activities that are not communal. Ethnic and cultural celebrations are wonderful but “not lasting.” Family activities are low cost and easily arranged. They give opportunities to “love on each other” which builds community.

Stewardship

  • What are we doing in our communities?
  • Youth and young adults often gravitate to social work.
    • Every Thursday, his parish serves the homeless and the working poor.
  • Want more people in your church? Less parties (BINGO, festivals) and more service.
  • Deacons have a responsibility in the church that they need to reclaim. They are the pastoral arm. They lead the royal priestly efforts to serve the suffering.

Liturgy

  • Liturgy means “work of the people,” not just of the choir or the clergy.
  • Litanies tell the faithful who they should be praying for.

Evangelization

  • Basic preaching of the faith. This is the foot in the door.
  • Early followers of Christ shared a simple, clear message of the Good News.
  • Evangelization must come before all the rest. It comes first.
  • At the end of the Acts passage, Luke notes that the followers of Jesus had the favor of all the people. The community was exercising its royal priesthood by preaching and serving within their daily routine.
  • One of the desert fathers (Abba Pembo?) said, “If you want to convert the world, convert yourself.” This is the heart of the new evangelization.
Our times are similar to the Apostles’ times.
  • Roman roads brought commerce and an exchange of cultures and information, just like the internet does today.
  • The world was rich in literature and culture. Many people were bored with the organized religion around them. Sound familiar?
We continue to function as if there is a Christiandom still in the world.
  • We need to shift our focus. This is the goal of the Year of Faith.
  • The pope and the Patriarch of Moscow’s work together recognizes that the world has shifted.
  • We need to see the world as an opportunity to evangelize.
  • Humility, learning, lived experience, stewardship must come first before we can tell others about it.
At the conclusion of the Synod of Evangelization, the bishops recalled John:
Looking specifically at the context of new evangelization, the Synod therefore reminds of the necessity to revive faith, which risks being made obscure in the context of today’s cultures, also faced with the weakening of the faith by many baptized persons. The encounter with the Lord, which reveals God as love, can only come about in the Church, as the form of receptive community and experience of communion; from this, then, Christians become its witnesses also in other places. However, the Church reasserts that to evangelize one must be evangelized first of all, and sends out a plea - starting with herself - for conversion, because the weaknesses of Jesus’ disciples weigh upon the credibility of the mission. Conscious of the fact that the Lord is the guide of history and therefore that evil will not have the last word, the bishops invite the Christians to overcome fear with faith and to look at the world with serene courage because, while full of contradictions and challenges, this is still the world God loves. Therefore no pessimism: globalization, secularization and the new scenarios of society, migration, even with the difficulties and suffering they entail, they must be seen as opportunities for evangelization. Because this is not a question of finding new strategies as if the Gospel was to be spread like a market product, but rediscovering the ways in which individuals come close to Jesus.
The word that most stands out is conversion.
  • We must be a people of conversion and repentance.
  • Metanoia means to turn away from something.
    • We must turn away from ignorance, laziness, watered down faith.
    • We must turn away from the idea of time-card church where we show up for our 1 hour per week.
The domestic church is the very heart of the priestly work we do.
  • Your dining room table is a second altar. The work done there is sanctified.
  • The love of the family lived in ordinary life is the work of the royal priesthood.
  • An example of the priestly work in the domestic church: when he was a deacon, he visited the house of a family for dinner and fellowship. When he went to leave, the woman of the house stopped him and made the sign of the cross on his forehead. Although he never forgot after she told him the first time, she explained every time she did it that she had blessed every one of her children in that way every night. What a powerful demonstration of the royal priesthood for her to have done this!
  • Another example: He heard glass jars clinking and went to investigate. He found a woman filling many pickle and mason jars with holy water. She explained that she put a little in everything she cooked throughout the year. In this way, she sanctified her priestly work in the domestic church.
We need to turn away from vocations programs.
  • We don’t have a vocations crisis. We have a holiness crisis. We have a domestic church crisis.
  • We need prayer, fasting, and almsgiving programs.
  • We need to keep the faith alive in the domestic church.
  • We need a renewal and re-discovery of the same old evangelization.
We need to see the home differently—as the domestic church.
  • St. Macrina convinced her mom to free their slaves, allow them to work on the family estate for pay, and to turn their home into a monastery.
  • We don’t need to go so far—hopefully none of you has slaves!—but we do need to bring the monastery into our home.
  • I’m not trying to put burdens on people. The domestic church isn’t re-creating Mt. Athos on Elm Street. It’s a place of love.
    • Singing hymns before dinner
    • Reading and listening to the Bible is a joyful part of daily life
    • The Jesus prayer is a familiar comfort
St. Basil noted the importance of community: “If you live alone, whose feet will you wash?”
  • We need to turn away from the ghetto mentality. Archbishop Joseph Tawil used this phrase in his 1970 Christmas pastoral:
We have not yet mentioned the principal dangers which threaten our communities and their mission to the Churches: the ghetto mentality and the assimilation process. In a ghetto life is closed in upon itself, operating only within itself, with its own ethnic and social cliches. And the Parish lives upon the ethnic character of the community; when that character disappears, the community dies and the parish dies with it. One day all our ethnic traits - language, folklore, customs - will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we cannot think of our communities as ethnic parishes, primarily for the service of the immigrant or the ethnically oriented, unless we wish to assure the death of our community. Our Churches are not only for our own people but are also for any of our fellow Americans who are attracted to our traditions which show forth the beauty of the universal Church and the variety of its riches.
  • Is the Church of Christ universal or not?
  • What happens when others come near to our churches? I first used the phrase “into our churches,” but there aren’t many who come in, are there? So I changed it to “near our churches” because that’s as close as we let them get.
  • We must turn away from and repent of this ghetto mentality and turn toward each other.
  • When others ask you what religion you are, how do you answer? Do you say Eastern Catholic? Ukrainian? Melkite? Catholic? Christian? Simply align yourself with Christ. “I am a Christian.”
  • He gave several examples of evangelizing to others and expanding their worldview by giving the answer of Christian. One example: he was at a mall in an elevator dressed, as he usually is, in his cassock. A man asked him what religion he is. He said Christian. The man said, “My pastor is a Christian and he doesn’t dress like that.” The elevator doors opened and Fr. Justin said, “Well, why not?” The man’s view of Christianity just expanded and a seed was planted.
  • We have to turn away from hating each others’ music. How can we come together if we won’t turn away from mocking others?
  • The apostles and martyrs did not see themselves as victims. They engaged the popular culture.

Contemporary (Post-Modern) Culture vs Modern Culture

Modern cultural values were “in the head” or intellectual in focus because of the influence of the Enlightenment.
  • Rational discourse
  • Black and white thinking
  • Celebrating human ability, even at the rejection of God’s ability
    • Science vs. God
    • Evolution vs. Genesis
  • Authority came with a title or uniform (you respect a police officer because of his badge).
  • ost-modern cultural values are relational and wholistic in focus, placing a burden not on rational apologetic arguments but on relationships and experience.
  • Relationships
  • Intimacy
  • Warmth of hospitality
  • Family orientation
  • Experience
  • Authenticity
Don’t try to convince a post-modern person unless she can see you living it authentically yourself.
  • Underlying post-modern thought is the idea that truth or meaning is subjective. We must have priestly compassion for the anxiety and angst felt by the post-modern person because they’re being told to deny the existence of God within them.
  • Pastors can only be shepherds of the flock if they are among the sheep.
  • Many thirst for the living water. You have the bucket in your hands.
  • The Samaritan Woman—St. Photini—should be the patron of the post-modern age and the New Evangelization.
This age, like any other, speaks to new opportunities.
  • Post-modern values pose the same threat to the faith as modern values (communism, atheism) posed 100 years ago.
  • “Nones” believe in God but have a problem with “organized religion.” (Joke: that’s why I tell them they should be Melkite. We don’t have any organization!)
  • We need to open the gates of our ghettos because we have something to offer these people to redefine their understanding of organized religion.
People look for non-conformity.
  • As a PhD student in a cassock on a liberal campus (University of California), you’d expect him to be the subject of attack or ridicule. He’s never experienced that. He has daily conversations with students, faculty, and staff who are happy he is there.
  • While people are looking for their own authenticity, they want to see you being authentic to your own faith.
  • We can exercise our royal priesthood by wading out into the vast sea of our culture and standing with them.
  • Let us be a choir of stewards and leaders who humbly lead people through our own authentic expression of the faith.
We are not just here to change ourselves, but the whole cosmos.
  • Conversion, or metanoia, is the hardest change of all.
 
Encounter 2012 of the Eastern Catholic Churches Midwest-Cleveland, OH – September 20 – 23, 2012 East-Hillsborough, NJ – October 11-14, 2012 West-Los Angeles, CA – November 1-4, 2012
This is a real-time transcription of the welcome address at the Eastern Encounter 2012 (November 3rd) by Bishop Nicholas (Samra) of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton. Although it has been reviewed, it may contain errors, for which the webmaster unreservedly apologizes. Speaker Bio: An active speaker and author, Bishop Nicholas has written extensively on the subject of ecumenism, Christian leadership and stewardship. He has also published a multi-volume history of the Melkite Church and a book on the legacy of Archbishop Joseph Tawil. He is the past president of the Eastern Catholic Association of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In April 1999, the Oriental Congregation in Rome called him to a meeting. They had an agenda to bring together the bishops in the Americas and Oceana for October 1999. This encounter took place in Boston by invitation only, with about 125 people in attendance.
  • The first day was about their relationships with their mother Churches
  • The second day was about their relationships with the Roman Church
  • The third day was about their relationship with the Orthodox Churches
  • The fourth day was about catechesis, religious education, etc
  • Rome then said, &lquo;God bless you! You’re on your own! Continue what you started!&rquo;
In 2006, they held a second Encounter on the theme of “Evangelization through the Mysteries”
  • It was again by invitation with bishops, clergy, religious, and a few catechists
  • At this encounter, they saw the need to open it to everyone
We’re now at the third Encounter in 2012
  • They thought it might be a catechetical congress, but it changed over time to a leadership theme for the whole church
Bishop Nicholas greeted the participants in the name of all the Eastern Catholic bishops in the United States, those in attendance as well as those who sent their blessings, including:
  • Bishop Nerses Bedros XIX, the Catholicos Patriarch of Cilicia for Armenian Catholics
  • Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Apostolic Nuncio of the United States of America
  • Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, Major Archbishop Emeritus of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church
  • Pedro López Quintana, Apostolic Nuncio of Canada
  • Cardinal LUCIAN (Mureșan), Major Archbishop of Făgăraş and Alba Iulia of the Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic.
  • Leonardo Cardinal Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches
  • Patriarch SVIATOSLAV (Shevchuk), Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church
  • Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
We call the feast of Christ’s presentation in the temple an encounter, where he was getting to know His people.
  • It is important to mingle and get to know each other at the Encounter.
“Our uniqueness is not a ghetto mentality.”
  • We must come together and witness to the whole Catholic Church that it is important we are here.
 
Widely used by Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christians since its publication in 1986, A Guide for the Domestic Church has been reissued in a full-color, updated version for another generation of Eastern Christian families. A kind of cookbook for Christian family life, A Guide for the Domestic Church is an easy-to-read presentation of the Eastern Churches’ vision for the Christian home along with specific directions for those wishing to incorporate Byzantine spirituality into their home lives through the Church year. This book contains step-by-step directions for family prayer, hints for keeping the fasts, setting up an icon corner, celebrating namedays and participating in the Church’s special moments of encounter with God (baptisms, marriages, funerals and memorial services). The second edition includes newly-available resources and recipes as well as links to online distributors and manufacturers of religious supplies. A Guide for the Domestic Church does a wonderful job of explaining both the whys and the hows of Eastern Christian family practice, telling you where to find icons, lamps, incense, and so forth, and what to do with them. A Guide for the Domestic Church Second Edition (116 pages, $15.00) is available online.

Table of Contents

Preface v
Part One: Our Vision for Christian Living
What is an Eastern Church? 8
What Eastern Christians Believe 11
Living in the Heavenly Realm 14
Part Two: Daily Life in the Domestic Church
We are a Domestic Church 18
The Icon Corner 21
Prayer in the Domestic Church 24
The Jesus Prayer 28
Reading and Praying the Bible 30
Giving Our Table to the Lord 34
Almsgiving in the Christian Family 38
Part Three: The Church and its Worship
Of Earthly and Heavenly Families 42
Worship and the Domestic Church 44
How to Keep the Lord's Day 47
The Family and the Divine Liturgy 50
Through the Year with the Domestic Church 53
Celebrating Namedays 77
Part Four: Special Moments of Encounter
Blessings: Moments of Encounter 82
Entering the Spiritual Family 85
The Image Restored 88
Marriage: the Great Mystery 90
Ministry in the Local Church 94
To Sleep in the Lord 97
Prayer for the Dead 101
Foods at the Memorial Service 103
Growing in the Christian Life 107
Appendix
Resources for the Eastern Christian 110
 
The New England Regional Adult Enrichment and Teacher Training seminar for 2012 will focus on exploring the unique and captivating aspects of our Melkite tradition for young adults:
  • The Cosmic Christ
  • Infinite Potential
  • Divine Love
  • Transformation: Growth For All Eternity
  • Contemplative Prayer, Mysticism, The Secrets of The Heart, The Jesus Prayer
  • Who Do You Say You Are? Discovering The Real You
  • Heaven Or Hell? – No Guessing, Your Choice
  • Sin, Freedom And Morality
Date:Saturday, October 20, 2012
Time:9:00am-4:00pm (break from noon to 1:00pm)
Place:Annunciation Cathedral
The seminar is open to all adults interested in knowing more about the Eastern Catholic Church. A special invitation is extended to parishioners of St. Joseph Melkite Church in Lawrence, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Worcester, St. Basil the Great Church in Lincoln, St. Ann Melkite Church in Waterford, Our Lady of the Cedars Church in Manchester, St. Ann Church in Danbury, and the Annunciation Cathedral. For more information, please contact the Director, Dr Frances Colie.
 
The Leaflet series from the Office of Educational Services is remastered as hiqh-quality grayscale PDF files! Thirty-six different leaflets are available, covering topics from the Eastern Christian faith, preparing for the mysteries of holy communion and confession, various feasts of the Church year, and the fast of the Theotokos. Each leaflet is printed double-sided, and tri-folded — suitable for display in a brochure holder in the parish hall or entry to the narthex — or to be handed out with the bulletin after the Divine Liturgy. The leaflets have been carefully authored to allow for cost-effective production of attractive educational materials. Printing instructions are available, suitable for copy centers and home/office printing.
 
Educational Services -Melkite Convention, Dearborn, Michigan July 2012

GOALS

The principal goals of the Office of Educational Services are:
  1. The education of the laity through the implementation of formational programs in the parish and diocesan level, and
  2. The publication of catechetical and related texts for use in these programs

EDUCATIONAL FOCUS 2011-2012

  • NEW: MONTHLY CATECHIST NEWSLETTER featuring articles on theology, sample lessons, & resources
  • NEW: WEEKLY PARISH PAMPHLETS
  • NEW: SOPHIA/– CATECHETICAL SECTION covering all educational levels
  • NEW: One Day Only - In-Parish Catechist Formation (alternative program where distance, and time are obstacles to attendance)
  • NEW: PAMPHLET Q&A SERIES
  • NEW; Grade 7 revision WE BECOME GOD LIKE
  • NEW Coffee Hour Discussion Starters (education website)
  • NEW: Contributions To Education Website: Articles, Events Calendar, Catechist Formation Workshops, Coffee Hour Discussion Starters, Convention News, Curriculum resources, Melkite Challenge Questions, Family Catechesis, Director’s Message
  • NEW power point God With Us Series CD’S
    • NEW: In process “MAN-THE DIVINE ICON” Text for young adults on the Christian doctrine of anthropology of man, spirituality, morality, freedom and eternal growth
    • NEW: In process – Eparchial Oratorical Contest
    • NEW: In process = Revision Grade 8 God With Us

Issues And Concerns

Status of our church schools - Findings from our 2011 School Surveys indicate an intransigence among our catechetical leaders and pastors to prioritize the critical nature of catechesis to the survival of our Church. The number of active church schools has declined in number and enrollments based on the data received. Programs for young adults - Needed an experiential catechesis that is beyond the elementary learning stage capable of relating to concrete life shaped and conditioned as it is now, so that the dogma learned can be experienced and lived. Bi-Lingual religious education - Very basic material to catechize adults.
Respectfully submitted, Frances Nejmeh Colie
 

Seeking and Searching
for the Spirituality

Why Not Try Eastern Mysticism?

Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue, Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
email doccolie@yahoo.com

Today the desire for some form of mystical experience is fairly evident when one considers the degree to which a variety of eastern religions, philosophies, exercises and practices are in vogue. We can not help but notice the attraction that the exotic religious practices of the East hold for many searching for spirituality. Polls tell us that Americans are looking for personal ecstatic experiences of God. As teachers, we hear young people tell us that they don’t want to hear that Joan of Arc had a vision, they want to have a vision. They want it to happen for themselves.

We are living in confusing times. It was just about fifty years ago that the cover of Time magazine confronted its readers with existential anguish with the question “Is God Dead?” The culprit was science that triumphed in the belief tht “what cannot be known by scientific methods seems uninteresting and unreal.” Since that time , we have seen an increase in automation, technology and the mechanization of life, all of which have contributed to the dehumanization of society in pursuit of a philosophy of life that advocates the enlistment of a bureaucracy of highly trained engineers, scientists, or technicians to run society.

This has had a devastating effect on the human psyche. We hear complaints that the pursuit of technology has made people feel as mechanical as the technology they created.

Our modern arts are a good index of what has been happening. In theater, painting, sculpturing, music, dancing and singing, we encounter a violent rebellion against static, “clear and distinct” Cartesian forms.

Unfortunately, the scientific age has also contributed to a spiritual crisis which acquires with each passing year truly universal dimensions. The result is a world that is not neutral, but a world that challenges us and tries to reduce us to values, philosophies of life and world views profoundly different from our Christian faith. These ideas have crept into the formation and development of our children and have had more impact on their lives than our Church teachings. Sadly, many young people confused and ambivalent about their beliefs are walking away from their churches.

The crisis of the modern world is a crisis of ideas. Thought determines action and ideas shape our lives. Without using our God given gift of discernment, we are likely to accept as gospel the banter of ideas manufactured for us by the media. These ideas are communicated powerfully yet subtly via every political, cultural and social medium. These are the signs of the times and the fruits of the philosophies that mark this moment in history.

It should not surprise us then, that those seeking to make sense of the chaos would resort to consumer driven marketing techniques offering a variety of pseudo spiritual techniques and programs to fulfill the interest in spirituality as a way to transcend the frenetic pace of life and its accompanying anxiety. These are basically eclectic teachings drawn from the traditions of exotic religions and practices.

Today there are innumerable ways of expanding consciousness. For most of these techniques the originators have carefully analyzed the American mind and come up with practical do-it-yourself, non complicated systems. The latest in the stream of self help and self hypnotic techniques is “Reiki” joining “Holistic theology”, Mind Control and variations of transcendental meditation, all with promises to deliver transcendence, universal compassion, earth healing, transmutation of fear, clearing cellular memory grounding, and creating peace.

These programs play on the vanity of Americans who seem convinced that if they are charged “x” number of dollars for the course, they would get their money’s worth – more so than if it were offered free by some church group. It waves enticing slogans that are hard for the bedraggled American to pass up. Sure he wants inner peace and prosperity. Who wouldn’t want to increase his happiness? His wealth? His creative powers? Everyone wants to get along with everyone else. It will take away headaches, tensions and restore you to your pristine health of body and mind. International peace and an end to the ecological problem will result. Sweeping statements in Horatio Alger style of almost instant panacea for all ills – and all one need to do is to pay and then meditate twice a day – not too bad for what one will receive.

The question is – What is the true path to spirituality? “How do we put ourselves back together?” How do we become focused?, How do we become centered? How do we find out who we really are? How do we discover our true nature? How can we live according to our true nature if we don’t know what it is?

That people seek to find wholeness, harmony, peace, and tranquility. is natural. That people seek higher levels of consciousness is also natural. God made us to seek higher levels of consciousness, intimacy, and relationship with Him. How do we go about it? How do we find the transcendent? This is the age old question.

We may find these moments of stretching toward our transcendent self in beautiful music, a good book, a stimulating conversation with a dear friend. There are innumerable ways of expanding our consciousness. In all such methods, the key to pushing ourselves beyond our habitual experiences of ourselves toward the world, to other persons and to God Himself is concentration. This requires silence, inward stillness and the avoidance of distraction.

The two things lacking in most people’s lives are intimacy with God and intimacy with self. The quest for spiritual union with God is as old as mankind. Our Early Church Fathers had answers – in mysticism – the real experience of God. It is in the encounter with God that our lives are transformed. All the knowledge and formulas about God will not change lives. Knowledge about God is different from the experience of God. Unless dogmatic faith is supported by the personal experience of God Almighty, it remains empty.

The first characteristic of our faith is the important truth for spirituality that God is Trinity. The spiritual relevant meaning and implications of this fact is that reality is ultimately and inescapably interpersonal communion. The experience of God presupposes a continuous and progressive series of changes in our created nature and a more and more intimate communion of the human person with the Holy Trinity. Our personhood as human beings ranges widely over space and time and beyond space into eternity. Our human vocation is “theosis” – divinization. As St. Basil the Great says “the human being is a creature that is called to become God.”

So we see that the limits of our personhood are very far ranging and the answer to the question “Who am I?” is not at all obvious. Each of us is a mystery. We are God’s living icons. Each of us is a created expression of God’s infinite Self expression. This means it is impossible to understand ourselves apart from God. Humans cut off from God are no longer authentically human. If we lose our sense of the divine we equally lose our sense of the human.

The novelly emerging fads, couched in spiritual language, do not have the potential to deliver spiritual growth that is borne of a relationship with God. Although these programs borrow physical and mental practices from exotic mystical traditions, they are unable culminate in the mysticism of the Triune God. If we learn and practice these techniques without a true faith in God Trinity, we will never experience God, the essence of spirituality. Our spirituality is about relationship with God that leads to mystical union and our transformation into the ‘likeness’ of God.

God for us is Trinity. - and as we are made in the ‘image’ of God we are in the ‘Image’ of the Triune God. The key to understanding personhood according to the Trinitarian image is not isolated self awareness but relationship in mutual love. In the words of the theologian Dimitrios Staniloe “Insofar as I am not love, I am unintelligible to myself.” What a pity that in a recent survey of people who claimed to believe in God, 62 percent did not believe that God intervenes in their lives.

On the optimistic side, the interest in spirituality has generated what might be called a springtime in the Church, the scientific age that created an existential anguish over the question Is God Dead? has now been replaced by an era of round the clock televangelism. The wind of the All-Holy Spirit has dispelled the effects of technology and dehumanizing rationalism. And as the Psalmist says, mountains of rocks have been transformed into fountains of living waters. And in this continued movement of hungry people looking for a deeper relationship with God, it is a likely moment that we as Eastern Christians are impelled to return to our roots and rediscover the tradition of our Early Fathers. Their mystical practices allow us to overcome our frenetic state of anxiety dealing with the world around us and encourage descent into our hearts from this disordered state. This explains the revival of the Jesus Prayer among those searching for the experience of God. On the shelves in most Religious book stores today we can find a variety of books on the practice of the Jesus Prayer written by authors of many Christian denominations.

The Jesus Prayer is an ancient form of prayer used in the Eastern Churches, based on the repeated invocation of the name of Jesus. It has many different forms. The most traditional one – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” All of them have the same theological basis and meaning: to let us enter into the divine mystery and to experience the presence of Jesus in our everyday life.

Can such a simple turning within our “heart” and repeating the name of Jesus synchronized with our breathing really be an effective prayer for us today? This is surely the basic technique common to all transcendental forms of meditation; a fixation on a mantra (the name of Jesus) while slowing down one’s breathing and sinking into a state of relaxation. Using the Jesus prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God. . ., have mercy on me a sinner.””

It behooves us also at this time to rediscover our own Eastern Mystical tradition. Let us use the simple but powerful spiritual techniques that are being practiced by all seekers of enlightenment.

The mystical encounter is not exclusive to the ascetic and the disciplined spiritual athlete who goes off into the desert. Inasmuch as we are all temples of the Holy Spirit, He lives and breathes in us When we turn within to listen to that breath breathing in us then we become true temples of prayer. For the mystics, prayer is a state of existence, rather than an action. It is man standing before God in as great a consciousness as man can possess of the awesome, transcendent holiness of God and of his own utter poverty and lack of completeness. The mystic is simply a person like all of us, who meets God in an ever deepening openness to the “Living Mystery” within him. The mystic is the one who consciously lets the Breath of God breathe in him.

He is, as St. Irenaeus says, “The glory of God – a man living to the fullest.” The mystic is the person always becoming more human as the Holy Sprit divinizes the powers placed in man when God made him “according to the Image and Likeness” of God. A fully realized human being has to be a mystic in the truest sense. We should not limit our understanding of mysticism to the aberrations that accompanied the prayer life of the great saints.

The Fathers of the Sinai taught that when we combine the name of Jesus with the regular flow of breath we find that our attention is more easily kept on the One to whom we are praying. These fathers came to be associated with the form of spirituality called hesychasm which developed in the monasteries of Egypt around the fourth and fifth century. Hesychasm refers to the inner tranquility of spirit needed for any deep communion with God. From about the sixth century, this practice called the Jesus Prayer was followed by the monks who lived this hesychastic way of life attempting to achieve inner rest and stillness by laying aside all earthly cares, by quieting the cravings of our fallen nature which get in the way of a deeper relationship with the Lord.

This coordination of the Prayer with the bodily activity of breathing became an important part of hesychast spirituality in the Middle East. Hesychasts would spend great amounts of time ‘practicing the Prayer’ so that it would move from being a conscious, vocal activity to a subconscious one. They wanted the Prayer to be literally unceasing (1 Thess.5:17) This is not something that happens over night, but rather in stages. In the first state, we pray with words on our lips. In the Jesus Prayer, we say the prayer over and over again. In the Second stage, the prayer moves from the lips to the mind. The prayer starts to become a part of us. We become conscious of saying the prayer when we aren’t thinking about it. We don’t will it. It just happens. This may be frightening because we are so accustomed to being in control, and now we hand over control to God in order to move on to the third stage, where the rhythm of the prayer is the rhythm of the heart In the heart we find the peace, joy and fulfillment of living in the overwhelming love of God.

The practice of the Jesus Prayer spread to other parts of the Christian East through the influence of monasticism. While many teachers and advocates of the Jesus Prayer seem to be monks, it is actually an anonymous layman who wrote the book The Way of the Pilgrim that has drawn the attention of Christians today. It tells the story of a simple, vagrant who tried to find out what “Prayer without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) could mean and came upon the Jesus Prayer. His story has touched countless believers in East and West and helped make the prayer a viable source of spiritual strength for modern man. We can know if the Prayer is giving us a true experience of God by observing what Jesus taught us: “By their fruit shall you know them” (Mt 7:16)

More learning takes place by doing than by hearing. We best learn to pray by praying. We should not think of the prayer as too difficult or not intended for lay persons. That is the beauty of the Jesus prayer, it is for all who wish to experience the Jesus Prayer as a Christian mystical experience.

The following are suggestions to begin to pray the Jesus Prayer.

  • Create an atmosphere that contributes to the experience by providing an environmental enhancement for stillness and relaxation as a psychological preparation for inward prayer. The quiet, structured environment removes exterior distractions.

The use of the traditional icon corner builds on the Byzantine understanding of the use of icons in prayer. We pray before an icon because the icon manifests graphically the presence of God and serves as a “window to heaven”, inviting us to personally recognize the presence of the One before whose image we stand.

  • Sit in a comfortable position, and try not to move so as not to be distracted or to expend unnecessary energy.
  • To feel that you are going down deep within yourself, you may use any of the commonly accepted countdown exercises Feel yourself as totally relaxed as you continue to go deeper and deeper into yourself.
  • Breathe deeply – inhale and push out with your diaphragm (repeat this several times. Feel yourself breathing in God’s life. Repeat these words to yourself “Jesus Christ, come into my life”
  • As we exhale, let us ask God to have mercy on us. We are going to breathe in Jesus’ life and exhale our sinfulness. Breathe in “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” . . .exhale, and say to yourself, “Have mercy on me a sinner”; breathe in repeat this and silently close out all distractions. Continue to pray in your mind . . .feel Him in your heart . . .breathe in God’s breathe . . .push out that which keeps you from God.
  • If you feel yourself surfacing, breathe deeply and start over again.
  • Continue to breathe deeply and sit quietly – allow God to speak in your heart.

In the tradition of the true eastern mystic, St. Gregory of Sinai (14th century) describes Christian transcendental meditation as man standing before God in prayer, with concentration by the grace of faith in the indwelling Trinity and he “forces his mind into his heart.” Man in prayer seeks to move beyond images and words to reach an inner stillness (apatheia) or tranquility where he is freed by grace to experience God at the depths of his being. The goal of such spirituality is not to reach a religious “high” or to have an ecstatic experience. It is to fulfill the injunction of the New Testament to pray always. It is to be re-created into the fullness of matured sons and daughters of God. It is to let go of our creaturely hold on our lives in order to enter into a conscious relationship with God as Creator but above all as a loving Father, and to live each moment in the light of that relationship. From the earliest Christians tradition, man has been encouraged to stretch forth to attain an ever greater awareness and honesty in his relationship with God.

The bottom line is that people who are looking for the experience of God will not find it in techniques and recipes. It is only the experience of God that will transform us.. Other practices can alleviate anxiety and stress and claim to provide rejuvenation and refreshment. Our society traditionally emphasizes the immediate, the new and the temporary. They are all fads of escapism. The true mystic enters into life not runs from it.

We all live lives of contemplation. The question is, what do we contemplate? Why not contemplate Jesus. Is it riches, power, prestiege, fame? Or do we contemplate the wonders of God, the glory of his creation, and the joys of the spiritual life. It is not necessary to go away to a monastery to live a life of contemplation. We are all contemplatives. And what we contemplate will play a significant role in the life we live. This is why it is essential that we help our students discover the tradition of the Eastern mystics.

One of the great Christian mystics of the 14th century, Jan Ruysbroeck in his Mirror of Eternal Salvation, writes:

“Above the reason in the depths of the intelligence, the simple eye of the contemplative soul is always open. It contemplates and gazes at the light, the Word. With pure gaze, enlightened by the Light itself, eye against eye, mirror against mirror, image against image.”

We as catechists are called to do more than teach about God, we are being called to help our students to know God –– To enter into a relationship with the God they love – a relationship centered in the heart - It is important for them to be aware of the great mystical tradition of the East that will enable them to live a truly spiritual life and not be deluded by fads that promise much and deliver little. It is also important for them to experience a transforming spirituality that will make them amenable to the generosity of God, who created them to be gods.

The person who is not exposed to the presence of God within will easily accept the absence of God as real. Gradually what the person accepts psychologically becomes real for him. So we should help are student acquire a sense of the reality of God.

The challenges facing us as teachers can be addressed only by a transformation of consciousness. We must encourage our students to push aside all the fads and follow the path of the mystics? God is very much alive in the hearts of those who seek him. How to have a relationship with God has to be treated seriously. It is about time that we stopped looking for something to keep us grounded and follow the way of the Fathers of the Church. Concentrate on the simple but powerful techniques that have been a part of our tradition. Meditation is second nature to the Eastern Christian. Our own conversion and the conversion of the world by the power of God’s love in us is our vocation.

Then that prophetic word moves us to our response. We move outward to build a like community of joy and love that we have experienced through the gratuitous love of the Father for His children. Having been accepted in love by God we have a sense of real identity.

Within our tradition, there is an understanding that the goal of religious education is to form a “whole person” and that achieving this goal involves a dynamic and endless process of growth. Growth and development are seen positively; in terms of personhood, they are endless. Growth in personhood has as its aim growth towards God-likeness, which is ultimately endless because God is a mystery: “ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, existing forever and always the same.” Growth in personhood is growth and development of one’s humanity and is consistent with growth toward God-likeness. St. Irenaeus asks, “How could you be God when you have not yet become human?” The human vocation;, in this view;, is to grow from God’s image towards God-likeness. Growth and progress are not only possible but essential to human existence. Each one of us is on a journey; “to be human is to be a traveler, always on the move. It should not surprise us that modern man yearns to be free to discover who he is and not be as many people encountered by him in the course of a day. Bent 0n Personhood implies constant discovery, ever new beginnings, increasing self-transcendence.” (Adversus-Haeresis4:20:6 Irenaeus of Lyons)

“Private interpretation” of the scripture with its roots in the “will of man” underlies heretical teaching (2 peter 1:20,21) So mind expansion techniques and exercises rooted in the “will of man” are false teaching. Simply because If man had the potential of infinite capabilities on his own why would he need God? Gnostic fads make many claim for peace and tranquility but the practices of the mystics go beyond the serenity of the world , but lead us to discover the ecstatic joy of a relationship with God.

 
Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917- Cell 201-417-3804
email - doccolie@yahoo.com

CATECHESIS FOR YOUTH: LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

What is our Catechetical mission for our youth in light of current trends in American society and the way they relate to our ancient past and tradition? Today, our world is radically different from that which shaped our mentality, our thought-forms, indeed our whole life as Melkites. Our world is deeply marked by a spiritual crisis brought on by secularism; an approach to life that eliminates God and His plan for humanity from anything we think or do and basically dispenses with God and the Church completely. Society’s ways all too frequently have more of an impact on the lives of our youth than does the church.

Moreover, we are confronted with the pervasive influence of the technology culture and its impact on relationships. In subtle ways the internet shapes our consciousness, our commitments, and even our faith. It tends to isolate our youth from relationships, creating a neo-individualism engendered by reliance on technology and limits human relationships that are necessary for the development of the nobler aspects of human life: Christian growth, maturity and love.

The ultimate meaning of this crisis is that the world in which the Church lives today, is not a “neutral” one, but a world trying to reduce her to values, philosophies of life and world-views profoundly different from, her vision, and experience of God, man and life.

What is worrisome is our seeming inability to face up to the crisis and to seek ways of dealing with it. This inability has had a serious effect on the faith commitment of our youth who are hearing distortion, when they need catechetical direction and guidance. As a result many of our young people have no sense of real commitment to their churches and their tradition and are walking away.

The message of the Gospel may be timeless, but those under our care and guidance are very much products of a particular place and time. What are our kids becoming: God-Like or technocrats?

It behooves us therefore, to make our first catechetical priority youth and to implement programs that best serve their needs in secular American society. Without the participation of the young, we can be assured that all our work is in vain and that our communities will disappear. In our future vision of catechesis we must keep pace with what is happening in American society and culture. This means that we are called to provide the scaffolding necessary to counteract society’s influence and secular ideologies.

We have to go back to our sources. For the Patristic Fathers Christianity was above all an experience, or more precisely, the Church is an experience. Our catechetical focus in the future must include a paradigm shift from book learning to experiential learning.

This calls for the use of modern and exciting expressions that reveal the truths of our faith in a manner that corresponds to contemporary life and young people’s search for purpose and meaning. It calls for catechesis that relates the vision of the Fathers of the church to the real, concrete life, shaped and conditioned as it is now, by a totally different vision. We must seek to resolve the conflict we run into between the dogma we find in books and the practices we learn from the scientifically proven wisdom of the world.

We have a whole vision of man, world, nature, matter, entirely different from the one which shapes our secular world. It is a dynamic vision of never ending growth for all eternity. Most theologians before Vatican II, in teaching about the essence of eternal happiness in heaven, described it in static terms of “seeing God’s essence in the beatific vision.” Such immobility was deemed the ultimate of God’s perfection. Meanwhile our modern world explodes into fresh and exciting richness that for them to consider assent to the truth in any static and immobile terms has very little meaning today.

Our hope is that God has given us a vocation in this life to teach. He has also given us a magnificent tradition directly from the hands of the apostles and while ancient, it is compellingly contemporary by the power of the Holy Spirit to spawn an ever-newness to all things in the church.

Faithfulness to our tradition means, not only acceptance of formulae or customs from past generations, but rather – the ever new, personal and direct experience of the Holy Spirit in the present here and now. All the formulas about religious life will not change lives, only the experience of God. Not only must we appreciate the treasure we have, but we must accept this treasure as a way of life and believe that this is an opportunity to grow and become new men and women for all eternity and to live in the dignity of God and not in the misery of men.

We have to help our youth experience the Divine Liturgy and discover the hidden meanings behind the signs and symbols. They should experience the Church as a Theophany, the eternal breaking into time, and unfolding of the divine life through the deifying transformation of humanity in worship. In the mystery of the Church we are dealing with life being transformed..
We are a risen people, a people empowered by the Holy Spirit, a victorious people, and we celebrate the Resurrection at every Divine Liturgy. We celebrate victory over death and we are not defeated in life.

A Christian Spiritual Makeover?

Our youth must experience who they are before God. Our human vocation is theosis deification – divinization. As St. Basil the Great says the human being is a creature that is called to become God.

We are God’s “living icons”. Each of us is a created expression of God’s infinite and uncreated “self expression”. This means it is impossible to understand ourselves apart from God. Cut off from God we are no longer authentically human – we are sub-human. If we lose our sense of the divine we lose equally our sense of the human.

What may be needed to change the mindset is an extreme Christian spiritual makeover! Our faith is not only a set of beliefs; it is also a set of tools which have the power to transform. They must live the reality of the “image” of God within them making it possible for them to grow and discover the mystery of who they are. They must realize the dynamic potential within them waiting to be activated through a relationship with God in prayer. To function strictly on a human physical level without using their divine potential is functioning with half their God given potential and for all practical purposes, they can never succeed without God. They have to discover that they have a call higher than their own self esteem!

We have to guide our youth to the reality that religion is relevant for living a fuller life, an abundant life, a joyful life, not something they tuck away like an insurance policy to guarantee them heaven when they die. We should hope to involve our students in prayerful consideration of the interrelationships of traditional teachings so that these truths may become living realities affecting daily living. We have to invite them to go beyond the catechism of mere concepts to the insights of the Eastern Fathers that will elicit a “real” and not a “notional” assent to the truths about life and death.

We have a whole vision of man, world, nature, matter, entirely different from the one which shapes our secular world. It is a dynamic vision of never ending growth for all eternity. Most theologians before Vatican II, in teaching about the essence of eternal happiness in heaven, described it in static terms of “seeing God’s essence in the beatific vision.” Such immobility was deemed the ultimate of God’s perfection. Meanwhile our modern world explodes into fresh and exciting richness that for young people to consider assent to the truth in any static and immobile terms has very little meaning today.

Relationship: Interlocked and Intertwined

A contemporary philosopher argues that relationship is constitutive of personhood and that there is no true persons unless there are least two persons communicating with each other. In other words, I need you in order to be myself (John McMarry 1951)
All creation is intertwined in relationship because the same uncreated energy of God infuses all creation with life that would not exist without God’s energy. We have seen that by splitting the atom that nothing is static. Everything is interrelated. We can’t live without interrelationships and so there are two reactions to this exciting exploding world - we can run away or we can enter, participate and be transformed by touching the mystery.

St. Maximus the Great Confessor centuries before Einstein discovered the theory of relativity, saw that God in His uncreated energy - the Holy Trinity burst out of that tremendous community of love to share themselves with us and to make us ‘participators of God’s very own nature’ (2Peter, Ch1,v4) This God is within us. But where are we? What do the young think about relationships?

Spirituality and relationship

Young people don’t want to just learn about relationship with God – they want to personally encounter God in relationship. Teaching them spirituality is teaching them about relationship with God. Have your students ever pondered in amazement how mortals can have a relationship with God. How did God make that possible?

It is essential to unlock the rich treasury of our Eastern Christian Spiritual heritage so needed to offset the pagan pessimism that exists in our secular society. How to pray, meditate, be silent, and listen, how to be modern ascetics, how to combat spiritual warfare, how to pray in the heart using the Jesus prayer are spiritual paths to deepen our relationship with God. That is why the Jesus Prayer is called the Prayer of the Heart.

The word heart is not an easy word to understand – the heart is deep. St Isaac the Syrian tells us that “hidden within each one of us is a secret treasure house an inner kingdom, amazing in its depth and variety a place of wonder and joy – a place of glory – and a place of meeting and encounter.” The inner kingdom is best described as the kingdom of the heart. Heart is the fundamental word in spirituality both East and West. St Isaac tells us to “enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you so you will see the things that are in heaven for there is but one single entry to both that of the keys of the kingdom is hidden within your soul.”

There is no head/heart contrast. The heart means not just the motions or feelings, the heart in the bible means the spiritual center of the total person – the place of insight – vision and wisdom. (Matt6:21 “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also”)
These spiritual experiences move us to live more purposefully and not to just exist, driven by the winds of destiny. They compel us to be faithful and dedicated to something greater than ourselves they allow us to transcend our physical limitations and as God’s icons, become co-Creators with Christ and lovers of mankind. It opens a path leading to infinite potential not only for success in this life but forever!

The heart is the place where we formulate our primary aim – our hope – the heart expresses our purpose in life and the heart is what determines our behavior and our action the heart in this way is the moral center of the person.

As we continue to grow in the process of becoming like God, we continue to discover our true selves in God. We discover our true identity in God, as we are being transformed into new men and women. We discover the key to our personhood according to the Trinitarian image is not isolated self awareness but relationship in mutual love. The Romanian theologian Fr. Dimitrios Staniloe writes “insofar as I am not love, I am unintelligible to myself”.

Beyond books to living experiences . . .

As our youth grow in their parishes, they need to be brought together where they can freely speak their faith, share their lives as Christians and hear with their “new ears” the teaching of the Spirit so that their own commitment may be deepened. Our young people want to dialogue, discuss, learn from one another and confirm their own beliefs and faith and hope in whatever the Spirit leads to restore Christian living and sensitivity for what is important in life and an awareness that they don’t relate to things only to people; and in that relationship they realize who they are and grow in psychological and Christian maturity. Faith development is a life-long journey, rather than a static point of arrival. Our young people need to be sustained along the way.

Insular attitude

Our youth must overcome their insular attitude and develop pride in their church. They must be confident that our religious tradition is capable of enriching American life. Are we not an example of what a Christian world view and social order should consist of? Haven’t we learned something about communal life, respect for the individual, toleration, and openness in which the disheartened of the world can find some solace? When we speak of preservation of our tradition, we must avoid acting as if they were museum pieces. Our tradition is not to be isolated from mainstream religious America – but part of it.

Although our truths are ancient, they are ever modern, exciting, relational, dynamic and boundless, and offer a good defense against the spiritual crisis brought on by secular lifestyle.

Shopping Cart

Your shopping cart is empty
Visit the shop

Questions? © 1995-2021 Melkite Eparchy of Newton  ·  All Rights Reserved RSS Feed