Monthly Archives: July 2015

On Building Community In Our Own Neighborhood

Many communities across the United States will be celebrating “National Night Out” (NNO) on August 4, 2015. This intentional community-building event’s purpose is to build neighborhood camaraderie. NNO has been an annual event across the nation for 32 years. It is held on the first Tuesday of August (except for TX and FL, who hold it on the first Tuesday of October because of the heat of August), and offers an opportunity for neighbors to interact in a positive, community-building way. NNO events vary greatly and can be adjusted according to what a community needs and/or can make happen with the resources that they have.

Orthodox Christians, called to be the body of Christ to our world, should be among those participating in community events like this. We function as a community within our parish; helping each other, caring for each other, and loving each other. We must also function as community members in our neighborhoods, where the needs for help, love and care are even greater than they are at church! It is fitting that the Body of Christ should reach out to those around her, and not just keep to herself; it is to this which we are called by the Lord himself when he says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

But building community in our neighborhood takes more than just one evening’s community cookout or social gathering, although an event like NNO is a good place to start! Building community requires frequent interactions, even self-sacrifice at times, for the sake of being the hands and feet of Christ. St. John of Kronstadt admonishes us to “…avail yourself of every opportunity and occasion to show holy and sincere love.” In order to avail ourselves in such a manner, we must know our neighbors well enough to know what the occasions/opportunities are wherein they need that holy and sincere love. If we have not spent time getting to know our neighbors, we will not know when they have needs that we can meet, nor how to best help them.

So, how can we build community in our neighborhood? Here are a few suggestions; but of course every neighborhood has its own unique needs and flavor, so yours will need its own special set of ideas!

  • Welcome new neighbors as they move in, or visit soon after they do. Taking a small gift of food, flowers, etc., is optional, but is a kind gesture. Be sure to welcome them, introduce yourself, tell them where you live, and offer to help in any way that is needed.
  • Create a “welcome to the neighborhood” directory specific to where you live that includes local restaurants, grocery stores, etc., that could take a newcomer a long time to discover on their own. This makes a great gift and is an excuse to go introduce yourself to neighbors who are just moving into the community.
  • Gather your neighbors together by hosting a summertime neighborhood cookout. This could happen in your yard, in the street (if you gain permission to close part of the street), or on porches in the neighborhood. Everyone who attends brings/contributes something, and you all enjoy it together. During the event, play some games. See this link for suggestions (including “people bingo”) for different age levels: http://www.children-first.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/games-for-neighborhoods-2014.pdf
  • Organize a community cleanup. Invite all the neighbors to gather on a Saturday morning to enjoy coffee and donuts or fruit, and then work together to pick up trash and do anything else that needs to be done in the neighborhood to clean it up.
  • Organize a neighborhood yard sale, inviting everyone to participate. On the day of the sale, be sure to shop at your neighbors’ yard sales, chatting with each neighbor as you are able.
  • Plan a last-night-of-summer (or first-day-of-school) celebration, a first-day-of-(season of the year) party, a Christmas gathering, a beat-the-winter-blues s’mores-and-hot-chocolate-in-the-backyard social, a founding-of-our-neighborhood “birthday” party, etc., with food and activities related to the theme.
  • Teach your children how to build community. Need ideas? Check out this article: http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/12384540/list/6-tips-for-teaching-your-kids-to-be-good-neighbors

There are many, many ways to build community. This list is by no means exhaustive, but is meant to be a beginning place for you as you continue to reach out to your neighbors. St. Dorotheos of Gaza has encouraged us with these words: “The more one is united to his neighbor the more he is united to God.” Let us reach out even more to our neighbors, and in so doing, we will become closer to God!

The following links offer additional information on National Night Out and a variety of community-building ideas:

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Learn more about National Night Out at the NNO website: https://natw.org/about

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This pdf offers age-level-appropriate ideas for National Night Out which would also work for any sort of neighborhood/block party or gathering: http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@mpd/documents/webcontent/convert_281908.pdf

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Find a host of backyard games for neighborhood interaction here: http://www.listotic.com/32-best-diy-backyard-games/

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Find a long list of simple, basic suggestions for positive ways to interact with your neighbors here: http://mommygoesgreen.com/2013/07/40-simple-ways-to-build-community-in-your-neighborhood/

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This neighborhood doesn’t limit their interactions to National Night Out, but they plan events throughout the year and invite each other. Here’s a list of ideas of what they have done together: http://www.peartreegreetings.com/blog/2011/08/national-night-out-meet-your-neighbors/

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Find a host of summer party ideas (from games to food to decorating) to use with your neighbors, whether or not you participate in this year’s National Night Out, here: https://www.pinterest.com/Snappening/summer-party-ideas/

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Go beyond one night of neighborliness, and grow your neighborhood into a community using these great suggestions: http://www.sunset.com/food-wine/25-more-ways-to-make-your-neighborhood-a-community

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Read this article for more ideas on growing community in your neighborhood: http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/12798308/list/15-ways-to-make-your-neighborhood-better

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After Orthodox Christian Summer Camp is Over

An Orthodox Christian summer camp experience is a life-changing opportunity for our children. If you have not yet sent your child(ren) to an Orthodox camp, find a way to do so next summer. Orthodox Christian camps offer our children a taste of living in heaven on earth. What more do we want for our children than for them to successfully live their faith and surround themselves with friends who do the same?

What exactly is it that makes Orthodox Christian camp so wonderful? First and foremost, although it seems obvious, an Orthodox Christian Camp is so wonderful because it is ORTHODOX. Camp may be the only place besides church where our children are surrounded by other kids who are also Orthodox Christians. In this era where some Christians’ very beliefs are being swayed by whatever is currently popular in the culture, it is imperative that our children have friends who are also remaining steadfast in their Orthodox faith. Camp offers our children a safe and fun environment in which to meet these friends, worship together, and practice living out their faith each day of camp. It is a beautiful, heavenly experience.

And then all too soon, camp is over and our children need to leave there and come back home. Home to where everything is the same, despite the change they have undergone inside. Home to chores, to squabbles, to “real” life. It is not always heavenly, and our children, besides missing their camp friends, are also missing the peace-filled, Christ-centered atmosphere of camp. How can we help them to successfully make the transition home again? Better yet, what can we do to improve ourselves and our home so that the learning and growth can continue rather than stagnating until the next camp experience?

We want what is best for our children, which is why we send them to camp in the first place. So it is important that we not just write camp off as “a great chance for our kids to be in an Orthodox setting for a time.” Rather, we need to talk with our children about their experience after the fact. And together we need to make a plan for maintaining as much of the growth that they’ve experienced as is possible, and even growing it further, throughout the year.

The purpose of this blog is to offer some ideas of ways to do so. It is our hope that these ideas will help all of us. We also hope that you will share your own suggestions and ideas as comments below! My son reminded me that every camper is touched at camp in his/her own unique way, so there is no true “formula for after-camp success.” But here are a few ideas that can help to that end:

An excellent place to begin is to listen to our children’s stories from camp and ask questions about their experience, their learning, and their growth. Once we get a good sense of what our children have experienced, we can begin to get an idea of how to best support them in the days ahead. It is important that we ask them for their ideas of how to continue that learning and growth. They will be able to help us to think of ways to incorporate that learning into our family life.

It is important that we do everything that we can to encourage friendships that our children have made while at camp. We need to provide stamps, allow phone calls or skype/facetime chats, encourage emailing, etc. After all, God has provided our children with these fellow Orthodox friends, and we need to make it possible for them to maintain these friendships. Mind you, they will likely pick up right where they left off when they get back to camp again, but maybe they don’t really have to “let off,” if we afford them the opportunity to stay in touch throughout the year.

If possible, we can visit other parishes where camp friends attend. We can also visit a parish where one of the camp priests is the priest. What a joy to watch our children interact with these friends and spiritual leaders outside of the camp context! It is well worth the effort.

One friend said that sometimes her sons came home from camp missing all of the services and wishing for more. She suggested that we can help our children to adjust after camp by taking them to additional services such as vespers or matins. Along the same lines, we can go through our family calendar and block in all of the services that happen throughout the church year, prioritizing them in the family schedule and attending as many as we possibly can.

One of my friend’s sons suggested that one thing that has been helpful to him (both as a camper and a camp counselor) to stay strong in his faith after camp is to establish and maintain a prayer rule. My own son also suggested that it helps him to set up a prayer routine during the day. When children are younger, we can do this together as a family. As they age, children arrive at the point of being able to take over this responsibility for themselves. We can allow them opportunities to help with family prayers.

Correspondingly, we should provide anything that our children may need to set up a quiet place of prayer in their own room. We can purchase icons for them to establish their own prayer corner. We can provide them with prayer books, prayer bracelets, perhaps even candles. We must also allow our children some time in their schedule to be prayerful and quiet each day.

It is important that we help our children to gain access to Orthodox Christian books, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, etc. that can continue to stretch their faith. As we listen to their “after camp” talking, we will hear what they’ve been learning and perhaps a theme or a book that they began studying at camp. We can use these ideas as cues to know what to provide for them, and help to find/provide resources that will continue their learning.

We can send our children back to camp throughout the year, if the camp offers additional programming. The camp that my children attend offers a winter camp over a long weekend in the middle of winter. They also offer family camp for whole families to attend together during Memorial Day weekend. These “mini-camps” can be just what our children need to help them on their journey. (The anticipation of a weekend at camp during the school year, along with revisiting memories of the weekend after it is over, is well worth the extra effort it takes to get the children to camp on that weekend!)

We can also invite some of the camp staff to visit our parish at some point during the year. While they are there, they can offer a taste of what it’s like to go to camp within the familiar setting of our home parish. This is especially helpful to families who have not yet sent their children to camp because of the time commitment or the uncertainty of whether or not their children will like the camp experience. But a camp-at-our-parish visit is also helpful and encouraging to the children in the parish who have already attended camp, since it reminds them of what they have learned/gained at camp, and acts as a “booster” to help them continue growing in that direction.

All of these opportunities allow our children a chance to continue to walk in the great blessing that they receive at camp. As we pursue these and other opportunities for continued growth in their lives throughout the year, we will help our children not to “lose ground” on their spiritual journey. We will also likely be challenged to be better people ourselves, and to grow in our own faith along the way.
Author’s note: many thanks to my family and friends, all camp veterans and enthusiasts, for sharing their input as I prepared this blog. Their insights were heartfelt, and their ideas are invaluable. Some of them are friends that I met at – of all places – church camp!

The following links can help with the adjustment back home after camp. What other ideas or suggestions do you have? Please share them with the community!

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Find an Orthodox Christian camp near you here: http://orthodoxcamps.org/directory

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“Orthodox Summer Camp was a changing factor in my life story.” ~ Presvytera Vassi Makris Haros, in http://myocn.net/whats-your-summer-camp-super-power/

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“…Camp offers a simple lifestyle where the focus is living in community as Christian brothers and sisters. There is only one option for meals, church services are offered twice daily, and eight to ten campers live together in one cabin, sharing a bathroom. Yet it is a haven of joy for our young people.” ~ Khalil Samara, from http://www.antiochian.org/content/works-order-action-learning-christian-living-through-orthodox-camping-experience

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“Eternal salvation is the goal of our earthly life. This goal requires our constant striving to live as Christians—a task, in any age which is difficult to accomplish. The influences of our contemporary world with its atheistic, humanistic and secular approach to all aspects of human life has made it extremely hard to live as a true Christian. The parish church and the home are the only bastions where God can be praised, glorified and entreated. These are the only places where Christianity can be taught and where one can gain the courage to begin living a Christian life.” ~ from “Marriage and the Christian Home” by Fr. Michael B. Henning, http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/xc_home.aspx

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Prepare for listening to your teen’s camp experiences with these helpful hints: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/teens/tips-for-parenting-teens/tools-for-listening-to-your-teen

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Listening to this podcast from the Antiochian Village Camp can be one way to help our children stay in tune with the spiritual side of their life which they nurtured at summer camp: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/avillage

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Listen to this interview with Fr. Philip Rogers, director at Camp St. Thekla in South Carolina, on CAMP (Christ Awakens My Personhood): http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/goforth/camp_st._thekla_2015

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Listen to Elissa Bjeletich’s ponderings on her experience with Camp St Sava in Jackson, CA: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/raisingsaints/camp_st._sava_talking_about_miracles_and_the_butterfly_circus

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Find an audio snapshot of camp life from Camp St. Raphael here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/orthodixie/gotta_go_to_camp_now

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On the Mercy of God

Author’s note: I am in need of mercy. I need to better receive it from God. I also need to grow in extending it to my fellow Christians. So, dear community, forgive me: this note is for me. I’m sharing it in case it can help you in any way, too. Lord have mercy on us all!

Yesterday morning I noticed a rose blooming in my garden. I’ve had only a few roses this summer, and I love them. So I intended to go out, cut it, and bring it into the house for us all to enjoy. Unfortunately this is such a busy week for our family that I didn’t actually get to it until this morning. To my dismay, when I approached the rose, I found that it was already widely opened and also that it was full of holes. Apparently yesterday’s heat and a couple of voracious Japanese beetles nearly did it in before I got to it. My immediate thought was, “I won’t bother with this one. It’s too far gone.”

But then I thought about how precious this rose is: I’ve had so few roses in my garden this summer, it is one of only a handful! Then I smelled it, and the glorious aroma that can only come from a home-grown rose filled my lungs. So I cut it after all, put it in a favorite little vase, and brought it inside.

As I prepared to write this note on the mercy of God I thought again about my rose, and I began to see a parallel between the story of me and my little shredded rose and the mercy of God. Think about it with me, if you will: How often do we intend to do something and not get around to it until much later? How often do we meet a person or arrive at a situation only to discover that he/she/it is nearly too far gone and/or full of “holes;” imperfect or not to our liking? How often are we tempted to turn away from a task or an individual because it seems that it is/they are impossible or not “worth” our time? How often do we refuse to show mercy, love, acceptance of, and forgiveness to the people and/or opportunities that God sets before us?

Glory to God who does not give up on US for being so lacking in mercy. Instead, He abundantly gives us His grace repeatedly: through His Church, through the sacraments, through the Holy Scriptures, through fellow Christians, through the saints – I could go on and on listing all the ways in which God grants us mercy. His mercy is always there, whether or not we can (or choose to) see it.

But instead of “not bothering with us because we are too far gone,” God sees our preciousness. After all, He created us in His image and loves us with perfect Love. He sees what we experience; He knows what has put the “holes” in our souls, whether things we have chosen for ourselves or things that have happened to us; and yet He continues to love us and extend His mercy to us.

St. Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:15) I don’t know about you, but, left to my own devices, my life is anything but fragrant, as I tend to choose smelly attitudes and the stench of my own selfishness. But St. Paul’s letter says that, to God, that is, in His eyes, in His estimation, we are “the fragrance of Christ!” Wow! Only God’s mercy can make it possible for us to contain His aroma. Only through His compassionate grace can we feebly offer His fragrance to the world. But apparently it is right here inside each of us. (Incidentally, that means His fragrance is in others, too: but we must approach them despite whatever may deter us, to truly smell it.)

Just as I cut my imperfect rose and brought it into my home, by the mercy of God He has cut us from our sinful passions and brought us into His holy house. He has placed us in the right “container,” the Church, and filled it with what we need for nourishment. His aroma flows through us and can bring great joy to all around us if we allow it to,  and if we encourage others to approach us despite our flaws. Similarly, as we draw near to others and extend His mercy despite theirs, we will be blessed with the beauty of Christ’s aroma wafting into our lives through them!
By the way, in case you wondered, that rose is now sitting on our family’s prayer table. It is a perfect reminder for whatever days it has left, of God’s mercy towards us despite our imperfections. My shredded rose sits in our little holy space offering what it has, its glorious aroma, to all who pass by. May we do the same, by the grace and mercy of God.

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”And now, O Master, let Thy hand shelter me, and let Thy mercy come upon me; for my soul is troubled and in distress at its departure from my wretched and defiled body. May the evil counsel of the adversary never overtake it and bind it in darkness through the sins which I have committed in this life, whether in knowledge or in ignorance. Be merciful unto me, O Master, and let not my soul see the dark forms of the evil demons, but may Thy bright and shining Angels receive it. Give glory to Thy holy name, and by Thy might lead me unto Thy divine judgment seat. When I am being judged, may the hand of the prince of this world not seize me and snatch me, a sinner, into the depths of hades; but do Thou stand by me, and be unto me a Savior and Helper, for these present bodily torments are a joy to Thy servants.”

— Prayer of St. Eustratius, Saturday Midnight Office

The following are quotes from the saints on the mercy of God:

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Let there always be a preponderance of mercy with you, even though you don’t feel such mercy in yourself, as God has for the world … A cruel and merciless heart is never purified. A merciful man is the doctor of his own soul, because as it were a by a strong wind from is heart he drives out the darkness of the passions.

(St. Isaac the Syrian, Homilies, 41)

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“The mercy of God is hidden in sufferings not of our choice; and if we accept such sufferings patiently, they bring us to repentance and deliver us from everlasting punishment.”

— St. Mark the Ascetic

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“A handful of sand, thrown into the sea, is what sinning is, when compared to God’s Providence and mercy. Just as an abundant source of water is not impeded by a handful of dust, so also the Creator’s mercy is not defeated by the sins of His creations.” – St. Isaac the Syrian (of Nineveh)

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“If at some time you show mercy to someone, mercy will be shown to you.

If you show compassion to one who is suffering (and of course, this is not a great deed) you will be numbered among the martyrs.

If you forgive one who has insulted you, then not only will all your sins be forgiven, but you will be a child of the Heavenly Father.

If you pray from all your heart for salvation – even a little – you will be saved.

If you rebuke yourself, accuse yourself, and judge yourself before God for your sins, with a sensitive conscience, even for this you will be justified.

If you are sorrowful for your sins, or you weep, or sigh, your sigh will not be hidden from Him and, as St. John Chrysostom says, ‘If you only lament for your sins, then He will receive this for your salvation.’”

+ St. Moses of Optina

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You see very clearly that it is extremely difficult, and without God’s grace and your own fervent prayer and abstinence, impossible, for you to change for the better.  You feel within yourself the action of a multitude of passions: of pride, malice, envy, greediness, the love of money, despondency, slothfulness, fornication, impatience, and disobedience; and yet you remain in them, are often bound by them, whilst the long-suffering Lord bears with you, awaiting your return and amendment; and still bestows upon you all the gifts of His mercy.

Be then indulgent, patient, and loving to those who live with you, and who also suffer from many passions; conquer every evil by good, and, above all, pray to God for them, that He may correct them—that He may turn their hearts to Himself, the source of holiness.

Do not help the Devil to spread his kingdom. Hallow the name of your Heavenly Father by your actions; help Him to spread His Kingdom on earth. ‘For we are laborers together with God.’

Be zealous of the fulfillment of His will on earth, as it is in heaven. Forgive them that trespass against you with joy, as a good son rejoices when he has a chance of fulfilling the will of his beloved father.

+ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ

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“If your heart has been softened either by repentance before God or by learning the boundless love of God towards you, do not be proud with those whose hearts are still hard. Remember how long your heart was hard and incorrigible. Seven brothers were ill in one hospital. One recovered from his illness and got up and rushed to serve his other brothers with brotherly love, to speed their recovery. Be like this brother. Consider all men to be your brothers, and sick brothers at that. And if you come to feel that God has given you better health than others, know that it is given through mercy, so in health you may serve your frailer brothers.”

— St Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue, 31 March

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“God is loving to man, and loving in no small measure. For say not, I have committed fornication and adultery: I have done dreadful things, and not once only, but often: will He forgive? Will He grant pardon? Hear what the Psalmist says: How great is the multitude of Your goodness, O Lord!

Your accumulated offenses surpass not the multitude of God’s mercies: your wounds surpass not the great Physician’s skill. Only give yourself up in faith: tell the Physician your ailment: say thou also, like David: I said, I will confess me my sin unto the Lord: and the same shall be done in your case, which he says immediately: And you forgave the wickedness of my heart”

— St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 2.6

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If you are truly merciful, then when what is yours is unjustly taken, don’t be sad inside, and do not tell of our loss to your neighbor. Let a better loss, inflicted by those who insult you, be absorbed by your mercy.

(St. Isaac the Syrian, Homilies, 58)

Learning About a Saint: St. Raphael, Bishop of Brooklyn (commemorated on Feb. 27 and the first Saturday of November)

Note: 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of St. Raphael of Brooklyn’s repose in the Lord. Parish Life Conference attendees in the Antiochian Archdiocese will notice that the creative arts festival theme this year is based on the life of St. Raphael. As a result, many of the children in that archdiocese have already studied his life so that they could complete their projects. Here is a brief synopsis of his life, courtesy of the Antiochian Village Camp’s website, for anyone not yet familiar with this saint.

Our holy Father Raphael was born in Syria in 1860 with the name Rafia. The exact date of Raphael’s birth is not known, but he estimated it to be on or near his Name Day, the Synaxis of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel and all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven, November 8.

St. Raphael attended elementary school, where he did very well, but in 1874 it appeared that his father would no longer be able to afford his son’s tuition. Fortunately, help came from Deacon Athanasios Atallah (later Metropolitan of Homs), who recommended to Patriarch Hierotheos of Antioch that Rafia be accepted as a student of the Patriarchate in preparation for the priesthood.

Since the Balamand Seminary had been closed in 1840, Patriarch Joachim III of Constantinople invited the Patiarch of Antioch to send at least one deserving student to study on scholarship at the School of Theology at Halki, and Saint Raphael was the one who was selected to go.

On December 8, 1885 he was ordained to the diaconate at the school chapel. Patriarch Gerasimos of Antioch was impressed with Deacon Raphael and often took him along on his pastoral visitations of his parishes. When His Beatitude could not be present, Deacon Raphael was asked to preach the Word of God to the people.

The Patriarch gave his blessing, and Deacon Raphael was accepted as a student at the Theological Academy in Kiev.

When Patriarch Gerasimos resigned in order to accept the See of Jerusalem, Archmandrite Raphael regarded this as an opportunity to free the Church of Antioch from its domination by foreign hierarchs. In November 1891 Metropolitan Spyridon, a Greek Cypriot, was elected as Patriarch of Antioch. Many Arabs believed that he had purchased the election by distributing 10,000 liras to several notable people in Damascus. Archmandrite Raphael refused to commemorate the new Patriarch during services at the Representation Church. As a result, he was suspended from his priestly functions by Patriarch Spyridon. Saint Raphael accepted his suspension, but continued to write articles in Russian newspapers in defense of the Antiochian cause. The Patriarchs of Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria and Jerusalem successfully petitioned the Tsar to forbid Russian newspapers from publishing his articles. With this door closed to him, Saint Raphael began to publish his writings in book form. Eventually, Patriarch Spyridon wrote to the Assistant Oberprocurator of Russia, a friend of Saint Raphael’s, asking him to persuade Father Raphael to ask for the Patriarch’s forgiveness. He did so, and the suspension was lifted. Saint Raphael was allowed to transfer from the jurisdiction of Antioch to the Church of Russia, and to remain there. He went to Kazan, taking a position as instructor in Arabic studies at the theological academy. He remained there until 1895 when he was invited by the Syrian Orthodox Benevolent Society of New York to come to that city to be the pastor of the Arab Orthodox community.

Archmandrite Raphael arrived in New York on November 2, 1895 and was welcomed by a delegation of Arab Christians who were awaiting their leader from Russia. On November 5, his first Sunday in America, he assisted Bishop Nicholas in serving the Divine Liturgy at the Russian Church in New York City. Less than two weeks after his arrival, Archmandrite Raphael found a suitable place in lower Manhattan to set up a chapel, and furnished it with ecclesiastical items that he had brought with him from Russia. Bishop Nicholas blessed the new chapel, which was dedicated to St. Nicholas of Myra.

In the summer of 1896, Saint Raphael undertook the first of several pastoral journeys across the continent. He visited thirty cities between New York and San Francisco, seeking out the Master’s lost sheep in cities, towns, and on isolated farms. He fed the spiritually hungry people with the word of God in each place where he stopped. He performed marriages and baptisms, heard confessions, and celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the homes of the faithful where there was no church building. In other words, he zealously fulfilled his ministry as a preacher of the Gospel, enduring many hardships and afflictions, and he was watchful in all things concerning the care of his flock (2 Timothy 4:5).

In 1898, with the blessing of Bishop Nicholas, Saint Raphael produced his first book in the New World – an Arabic language service book titled The Book of True Consolation in the Divine Prayers. This book of liturgical services and prayers was very useful to priests in celebrating the divine services, and also to the people in their personal prayer life. The English version published by Archimandrite Seraphim Nassar is still being used today.

In March 1899, Saint Raphael received permission from Bishop Tikhon to start collecting funds for a cemetery, and for building a new church to replace the chapel, which was located in an old building on a dirty street. In the spring he left on another pastoral tour of 43 cities and towns. In Johnstown, PA, he reconciled those whose personal enmity threatened to divide the Arabic community. Although civil courts had been unable to make peace, Saint Raphael restored calm and put an end to the bitter feud. While in Johnstown, he received a telegram informing him that Metropolitan Melotios (Doumani) had been elected Patriarch of Antioch. With great joy, Saint Raphael told his people that for the first time in 168 years, a native Arab had been chosen as Primate of the Antiochian Church.

After the new Patriarch had been installed, Archimandrite Raphael was proposed to succeed Meletios as Metropolitan of Latakia. The Patriarch, however, stated that the Holy Synod could not elect Father Raphael because of his important work in America. In 1901, Metropolitan Gabriel of Beirut wrote to Archimandrite Raphael asking him to be his auxiliary bishop, but he declined saying he could not leave his American flock. First, he wanted to build a permanent church and to acquire a parish cemetery. The latter goal was achieved in August 1901, when Fr. Raphael purchased a section of Mt. Olivet cemetery on Long Island.

In December 1901, Archimandrite Raphael was elected as Bishop of Zahleh. Patriarch Meletios sent a telegram congratulating him and asking him to return. Father Raphael thanked the Patriarch, but again declined the higher office. He said that he wished to complete the project of building a temple for the Syrian community of New York. The following year, he bought an existing church building on Pacific Street in Brooklyn, and had it remodeled for Orthodox worship. Bishop Tikhon consecrated the church to the great joy of the faithful in attendance. Thus, Saint Raphael’s second major project was finished.

Since the number of parishes with the Diocese of North America was growing, Bishop Tikhon found it impossible to visit all of them. The Diocese had to be reorganized in order to administer it more efficiently. Therefore, Bishop Tikhon submitted a plan to the Russian Holy Synod which would transfer the See from San Francisco to New York because most parishes and individuals were concentrated in the East. Since various ethnic groups required special attention and pastoral leadership, Bishop Tikhon proposed that Archimandrite Raphael be made his second vicar bishop, with the Bishop of Alaska his first.

In 1903, the Holy Synod of Russia unanimously elected Archimandrite Raphael to be the Bishop of Brooklyn, while retaining him as head of the Syro-Arab Orthodox Mission in North America. The Holy Synod announced the election to Patriarch Meletios, who was pleased by their decision. Bishop Tikhon wrote to Saint Raphael to inform him of his election, and Father Raphael sent him a letter of acceptance. Meanwhile, Father Innocent Pustynsky was consecrated at Saint Tikhon’s first auxiliary bishop at St. Petersburg’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan.

On the third Sunday of Great Lent 1904, Saint Raphael became the first Orthodox to be consecrated on American soil. Bishops Tikhon and Innocent performed the consecration at Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn. The new bishop’s vestments were a gift from Tsar Nicholas II. After his consecration, Bishop Raphael continued his pastoral labors, ordained priests, and assigned them to parishes, and helped Bishop Tikhon in the administration of the diocese.

At the end of 1904, Bishop Raphael announced his intention to publish a magazine called Al-Kalimat (The Word) as the official publication of the Syro-Arab Mission. Bishop Raphael knew that he could not visit all Orthodox Christians across North America in person, but through the ministry of the printed word he could preach the word of salvation even to people he would never meet.

In July 1905, Bishop Raphael consecrated the grounds for Saint Tikhon’s Monastery and blessed the orphanage at South Canaan, PA. Three days later, he presided at a conference of diocesan clergy at Old Forge, PA, because Archbishop Tikhon was in San Francisco. Among the clergy in attendance were three who would be numbered among the saints: Fathers Alexis Toth, Alexander Hotovitzky, and John Kochurov. (The last two would die as martyrs in Russia.)

For the next ten years, Bishop Raphael tended his growing flock. With the growth of his New York community came an increase in the number of children, and he was concerned about their future. He wanted to establish an evening school to educate them in a Christian atmosphere because the future of the Church in this country depended on the instruction of the youth. Children who did not speak Arabic were already going to non-Orthodox churches, where Sunday School classes were conducted in English. Bishop Raphael saw the absolute necessity for using English in worship and in education for the future progress of the Syro-Arab Mission.

Taking heed of Saint Paul’s words to pray in language that people understood (1 Corinthians 14:15-19), Saint Raphael recommended the use of the Service Book of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Church, translated by Isabel Hapgood, in all of his parishes.

In March 1907, Saint Tikhon returned to Russia and was replaced by Archbishop Platon. Once again, Saint Raphael was considered for Episcopal office in Syria, having been nominated to succeed Patriarch Gregory as Metropolitan of Tripoli in 1908. The Holy Synod of Antioch removed Bishop Raphael’s name from the list of candidates, citing various canons forbidding a bishop being transferred from one city to another.

On the Sunday of Orthodoxy in 1911, Bishop Raphael was honored for his fifteen years of pastoral ministry in America. Archbishop Platon presented him with a silver covered icon of Christ and praised him for his work. In his humility, Bishop Raphael could not understand why he should be honored merely for doing his duty (Luke 17:10). He considered himself an “unworthy servant,” yet he did perfectly the work that fell to him (Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians).

Toward the end of 1912, Bishop Raphael became ill while working in his office. Doctors diagnosed him with a heart ailment that eventually caused his death. After two weeks he felt strong enough to celebrate the Liturgy in his cathedral. In 1913-1914, this missionary bishop continued to make pastoral visitations to various cities. In 1915, he fell ill again and spent two months at home, bearing his illness with patience. At 12:40 am on February 27, he rested from his labors.

From his youth, Saint Raphael’s greatest joy was to serve the Church. When he came to America, he found his people scattered abroad, and he called them to unity. He never neglected his flock, but traveled throughout America, Canada, and Mexico in search of them so that he might care for them. He kept them from straying into strange pastures, and he protected them from spiritual harm. During twenty years of faithful ministry, he nurtured them and helped them to grow. At the time of his death, the Syro-Arab Mission had thirty parishes with 25,000 faithful.

Saint Raphael came into contact with all sorts of people, and was a gentle father to them. He gained their love and respect by first loving them, and also through his charming personality and excellent character. He was always kind and merciful with others, but was strict with himself. He accomplished many good things during his earthly life, and now he joins the holy angels in offering ceaseless prayer and praise to God.

Above excerpts taken from The Orthodox Church April/May 2000
(Reprinted with permission from https://avcamp.org/st-raphael-of-brooklyn/)

Rejoice, O Father Raphael, Adornment of the holy Church! Thou art Champion of the True Faith, Seeker of the lost, Consolation of the oppressed, Father to orphans, and Friend of the poor, Peacemaker and Good Shepherd, Joy of all the Orthodox, Son of Antioch, Boast of America; Intercede with Christ God for us and for all who honor thee.

Read a more in-depth telling of St. Raphael’s life here: http://oca.org/saints/lives/2015/02/27/100610-repose-of-st-raphael-the-bishop-of-brooklyn

In case you wondered why St. Raphael has two different commemoration days listed, read this: http://www.angelfire.com/pa3/straphaelcanonized/lives/DateFeast.html

Here are additional ways to help your family learn about St. Raphael:

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Find a timeline of St. Raphael’s life here: http://orthodoxhistory.org/2015/02/09/a-timeline-of-the-life-of-st-raphael/

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Download sheet music related to the life of St. Raphael here: http://oca.org/liturgics/music-downloads/north-american-saints

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Watch one of the winning videos about St. Raphael from the Antiochian Archdiocese’s creative arts festival, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGnuRE_O464

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“Several themes emerge as the story of St. Raphael’s life unfolds. The first is the mysterious way in which God led him from his native homeland to the shores of the American continent. The second is his submissive attitude to the providence of God. And the third is his love for the people of God. Though during his lifetime he was neither a wonder-worker nor a clairvoyant elder, St. Raphael embraced a life of total abandonment of self for the service of God and his fellow man: a life of true spiritual asceticism.”

(from The Life of Our Father among the Saints Raphael Hawaweeny, by The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, available here: http://store.antiochianvillage.org/Our-Father-Among-the-Saints-Raphael-Bishop-of-Brooklyn-Good-Shepherd-of-the-Lost-Sheep-in-America.html)

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“Bishop Raphael was a ‘rare man,’ reminiscent of the Apostle Paul himself, sitting in the lowly quarters of Rome, receiving all visitors in patience, sympathy, and hospitality. ‘I consider Bishop Raphael,’ [Episcopalian Reverend T. J.] Lacy wrote [in 1913, in the pages of a Brooklyn daily], ‘as one of the most outstanding men in our city, a worthy prelate, an outstanding scholar, a selfless Christian, a friend of the poor and a social worker among his compatriots a man of whom our Brooklyn can be proud.’” ~ from http://www.angelfire.com/pa3/straphaelcanonized/lives/Garrett.html

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Read the account of one miracle brought about by St. Raphael since his repose, here: http://www.antiochian.org/content/college-student-tells-story-miraculous-intervention-st-raphael
Read Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick’s blog post about St. Raphael, including stories of other miracles St. Raphael has worked, here: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/roadsfromemmaus/2015/02/27/st-raphael-and-me-on-the-100th-anniversary-of-his-repose/

Learning About a Saint: St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco (commemorated on July 2)

Author’s note: as I read “The Life of Saint John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco,” I was especially struck by the life and love of this saint. I began to research further and found online many accounts of his life on earth and of miracles resulting from his prayers both during this life and since his departure from it. What a blessing to be able to learn about such a recent saint! I feel as though I have met a dear (and very holy) old friend.

On July 2, we commemorate St. John Maximovitch, the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco. Who is this saint, and why do we commemorate him? This blog will offer a small glimpse into his life, as cited in the book The Life of Saint, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco, compiled by Maria Naumenko and illustrated by Gabriela Moustardas.

Born in southern Russia on June 4, 1896 to well-off parents, John Maximovitch (baptized “Michael”) was a frail boy who loved to study. Throughout his growing up years, Michael was exposed to true holiness as his family attended church regularly and took him to visit holy icons and the relics of holy people. These experiences had a profound and lasting impact on his life.
He studied in a military school and then got his law degree before his family was forced to leave Russia because of the Russian revolution. When the revolution happened, his family escaped to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where Michael studied theology and got his theological degree in 1925. During these years, he met and was mentored by Archbishop Anthony Khrapovitsky, who tonsured Michael as a monk named John, and ordained him to the diaconate.

John was a very humble man all of his life. For example, when he was summoned to Belgrade to be consecrated as a bishop, he told someone who he met on a streetcar that he had been accidentally summoned to see another monk named John be ordained bishop. The next day, when he met up with the same woman again by chance, he told her that the mistake was even worse than he had originally expected, for they actually wanted to make HIM the bishop, but he felt unworthy of the position!

After his ordination, Bishop John was sent first to Shanghai to look after the many Russians who had fled the Soviets in Russia and ended up in China. While he was there, he tenderly cared for his flock. Besides his pastoral work, he assisted in the completion of a cathedral, improved religious education, and cared for many orphans.

In his extreme humility, the bishop did not care about how he looked. Despite his status in the church, he wore clothing made from inexpensive material and usually walked barefoot. Even when he was told to wear sandals, since the Russian word for “wear” means “carry,” he fulfilled the decree by tucking the sandals under his arm so he was, indeed, “carrying” sandals!

Bishop John visited the sick daily, praying for them and doing whatever he could to help them. For example, once a woman who was thrown from her horse. She had her skull crushed but couldn’t be operated on (to remove the skull pieces pressing into her brain) because her pulse was so faint and the doctors knew she would not survive surgery. The bishop visited her and prayed over her for 2 hours. The woman’s pulse returned to normal. The surgery was able to happen, and was a success, through the prayers of the holy bishop. To this day, he cares for the sick and he intercedes for people who ask for his help, whether or not they are Orthodox!

When communism moved into China, (the now Arch)bishop John moved with his people to Tubabao, Philippines. This island, usually regularly buffeted by typhoons, was calm for two years and three months. During that time, Archbishop John walked around in the refugee camp every night, praying for his people and blessing the camp. (His prayers were powerful, for only two months after he and most of his flock left the island, a typhoon came through that flattened the entire camp.)

When the Russian refugees were relocated to the USA and Australia, Archbishop John was assigned to Western Europe. He oversaw the French and Dutch Orthodox Church, and gathered information on saints from that region that were part of Orthodoxy before the Latin Church left. Living in Europe didn’t sway the archbishop’s manner of dress: he continued to dress simply, and as a result, the French called him “St. John the Barefoot.”

Eventually, Archbishop John was sent to San Francisco, California. He worked hard to care for his flock, and also to enable the construction of the cathedral dedicated to the icon of the Theotokos, “Joy of All Who Sorrow.” He had plenty of opportunity for sorrow with that project, as opponents falsely accused him and stood in the way of the building. He patiently continued on with his work, blaming only the devil for the troubles once the cathedral was successfully completed.

During this part of his life, the Archbishop wrote sermons and encouragement to his people. Some of these have been published in English as well as Russian. All are full of his wisdom and contain answers to many questions about the Orthodox Faith.

Throughout his years of ministry, the archbishop always arrived early to church and stayed late. One reason it took him so long to leave was that, each time he left the church, he reverenced the icons as if he were saying goodbye to dear friends. On July 2, 1966, he stayed particularly late – 3 hours, to be exact – praying in St. Nicholas’ Cathedral in Seattle. He was visiting the cathedral along with the “Kursk” icon of the Mother of God. After he left the cathedral, he went next door to a parish house, and reposed in the Lord.

For 28 years, people visited his remains, which were buried in a chapel below the cathedral in San Francisco. When they visited, people would often ask Archbishop John to pray for them. They would also write petitions on slips of paper and place them beneath his mitre. Archbishop John continued his work after departing this life, and even today he continues praying on behalf of his people. Many miracles have happened because of his prayers. Glory to God for His work through the prayers of His servant!

In 1993, Archbishop John’s relics were discovered to be incorrupt. His relics, along with the way that he lived and the miracles God has performed in response to his prayers both during this life and since his repose, were evidence enough for him to be recognized as a saint of the Holy Orthodox Church. He was glorified as such on July 2, 1994. Today, his relics are housed in a special shrine in the cathedral in San Francisco. His prayers continue on for all who request them.

St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, please intercede for us and for our salvation!

The Life of Saint John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco is a book for young people that was compiled by Maria Naumenko and illustrated by Gabriela Moustardas. It is available here: http://www.holytrinitypublications.com/en/Book/64/The_Life_of_Saint_John,_Wonderworker_of_Shanghai_and_San_Francisco_for_Young_People.html_

Find a dvd about St. John’s life here: http://hvcbookstore.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=54

Find the troparion and kontakion to St. John here: http://antiochian.org/node/37811

Find the supplication service to St. John here: http://hvcbookstore.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=350

The following are additional resources to help your family learn more about St. John the Wonderworker:

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Read the life of St. John the Wonderworker here: http://www.pravmir.com/living-proof-burning-faith-st-john-shanghai-san-francisco/
or here: http://www.orthodox.net/saints/john-maximovitch-brief-life.html

or here: http://www.saintjohnwonderworker.org/life-of-st-john/

or here: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/johnmx1.htm

or here: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/54575.htm

Listen to this concise recounting of his life: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday/st_john_maximovich_archbishop_of_shanghai_and_san_francisco

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See photos from (and related to) St. John’s life here: http://www.pravmir.com/in-the-footsteps-of-st-john-of-shanghai-and-san-francisco/

Find more here: http://www.orthodoxphotos.com/Holy_Fathers/St._John_Maximovitch/

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Hear Fr. Serge Kotar tell the story of St. John, including Fr. Serge’s experience with the uncovering of St. John’s relics, told in the chapel where the relics were first housed, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p94cQYHBQJY&index=10&list=PLCA40F9190CF902EA

Read more about the uncovering of St. John’s relics and watch the glorification service here: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/80365.htm

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Read this book written by St. John the Wonderworker: http://store.ancientfaith.com/products/Orthodox-Veneration-of-the-Mother-of-God.html

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St. John Maximovitch prayed constantly for his flock during his life on earth. Although he has fallen asleep in the Lord, he continues to intercede for the lives of those who ask for his help. Here are a few examples:

Read blogger and author Matushka Constantina Palmer’s blog on how St. John intervened in her family’s life after she asked for his prayers, here: https://lessonsfromamonastery.wordpress.com/2012/07/02/how-st-john-maximovitch-became-our-slava/

Listen to these episodes of Ancient Faith Ministries’ podcast “The Illumined Heart” which recount the stories of St. John the Wonderworker’s continued intervention in the lives of people, even since his repose. http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/illuminedheart/my_days_with_st_john_the_wonder_worker_-_part_1

http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/illuminedheart/my_days_with_st_john_the_wonder_worker_-_part_2

http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/illuminedheart/my_days_with_st_john_the_wonder_worker_-_part_3

http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/illuminedheart/my_days_with_st_john_the_wonder_worker_-_part_4

http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/illuminedheart/my_days_with_st._john_the_wonder_worker

http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/illuminedheart/my_days_with_st._john_the_wonder_worker_-_part_6

http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/illuminedheart/visited_by_st._john_maximovitch_-_an_epilogue