And when a great crowd came together and people from town after town came to Him, He said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.”
When I was a few years into my priesthood, and still in my late 20s, I told my Spiritual Father that I was becoming frustrated in my ministry because I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere in bringing people closer to Christ. He said to me, “What did you expect? That after a sermon people will run up to the altar and say they ‘are save’ or they ‘totally get it’”? I told him, basically that’s what I thought, that people would be stirred to action by a service or a sermon or a retreat, that I was working hard and I couldn’t see any results.
So, he took out the Bible and opened to the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8, and said that this parable is a metaphor for ministry. He said to me “Imagine that you have a large bag of seed. Every morning, you get up and walk down the road throwing the seed on both sides. At night when you are tired, you put the bag down, you sleep and the next morning you get up and start throwing the seed again. Here’s the thing though: you never get to look back over your shoulder at the seed you’ve thrown and it’s a one-way street, you never get to come back and see what you’ve thrown. You’ve got to be content with throwing the seed. If you are obsessed with seeing the seed grow, you are going to have a miserable life and probably a short ministry.”
That conversation changed my way of thinking about ministry. Of course it took years and a lot of heartache for that to happen. So, here is some advice to everyone who gets involved in ministry. You don’t necessarily see the seed grow. You have to be content to throw the seed. (As an aside, I’m writing this reflection while at summer camp. We have campers with us for seven days at a time. During this time, we infuse them with spirituality, encouragement, and advice on how to live a Christ-centered life. And then they leave. We don’t get to go home with them, or see them in school next month, or see if our work bears any fruit. That’s not the goal of summer camp. The goal has simply become to sow the seed. We cannot control the hearts that the seed will land in. We have to be content to simply sow the seed.)
In parish ministry, not every event is spectacular. I used to be obsessed with numbers, like how many people attend a Divine Liturgy. I no longer obsess about numbers. When the Divine Liturgy is celebrated on a weekday, I know that the church will not be filled, especially on minor feast days. Maybe 5-10 people will show up. And on those days, I still give a good effort in celebrating the Divine Liturgy. I offer a short homily to those who are present. (Another aside, I gave a lecture at the Seminary entitled “the top 25 things I didn’t learn here” and one of the things on my list was “how to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in front of three people.” The point was that when I was the Seminary, we always had many chanters, many altar boys and many congregants at every Divine Liturgy. We never celebrated Divine Liturgy with one chanter, no altar boys and three people in the pews. That was a change when I became a parish priest. It’s easy to have energy on Pascha when the church is filled to capacity. It is something entirely different to bring energy when there are only three people in the church.) I’ve come to realize that God is not going to ask me how many people showed up at a weekday Divine Liturgy. He’ll be more concerned with how many Divine Liturgies I offered, how many opportunities I gave people in my community to worship.
Many people who are reading this message are involved with church work—they sing in the choir, or teach Sunday school, or help out with the youth group or serve on the Parish Council. My message to you is don’t be obsessed with seeing the fruit of your efforts. The seed you sow may grow years after you are gone. Be content to throw the seed and throw it as much and as often as you can.
For work outside of church, it’s the same principle. Throw the seed of Christ—of love, kindness, encouragement, peace, etc.—to everyone. Say kind words, help others, show Christ-like love—these are the seeds we sow. How they grow is not up to us. The kind of hearts the seed lands in we cannot control. Christ is not going to ask us how much seed we grew, but how much we sowed. After all, the Parable of the Sower is not called the Parable of the Grower. The seed is God’s word. We all have the ability to throw it to others.
What is in our heart is the soil in which the seed grows. I have never converted anyone to anything regarding the faith. I throw the seed. The Holy Spirit then works in conjunction with the person who receives the seed to grow it in their heart. In addition to all having the potential to be sowers of the seed, we are all individually growers of the seed that has been thrown to us. Thus, we need to each be cultivating the seeds in our own hearts so that Christ grows in us and with Christ in us, we can “throw” Him to others.
It’s not about how many people come to an event that God is concerned with, but how many events, how many chances we offer for people to come closer to Him. This applies to our churches and to our lives outside of church as well.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then out mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; we were glad. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negeb! May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy! He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. Psalm 126
Grow the seed of God in your heart. Spread it to others. Don’t focus on the growth of the seeds you sow. Be vigilant in sowing them!
+Fr. Stavros, St. John the Baptist GOC, Tampa, FL
Taken from the 'Transforming our Church' series
At Pentecost, we are reminded of the glorious gifts the Holy Spirit bestowed upon the faithful. We are reminded that God wants to be in relationship with us, and He wants the message of the “good news” that lives in our hearts spread to all nations. We are reminded that God wants to nurture and direct our thoughts, words, actions, habits, character, and destiny to the path of love and compassion.
A quote attributed to Frank Outlaw invites us to be concerned of the thoughts we entertain. “Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become action. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny”.
Indeed, we are created in God’s image, and we are the temple of the Holy Spirit: good thoughts and “life should flow out of us”! Thoughts do become our destiny and life! That is why our Church reminds us at Pentecost that the Holy Spirit wants to touch and ignite our hearts to be motivated and directed by thoughts that empowered the Holy Apostles, thoughts filled by God’s Holy Fire.
The simple fishermen became transfigured and were engulfed with the Holy fire of God’s love, and they changed the world with their thoughts and words. The same Holy Spirit wants to stir up our life, to rekindle and to fan the flame in our hearts to burn with His love so we can allow living water to flow from our hearts and irrigate the world with His virtues.
And to allow God’s living water to flow from our heart, we must desire it with all our heart. We must know that we are thirsty for His love and thirsty for His help so we can ask Him for drink to quench our thirst. If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and I will give him drink. This is a promise and Christ’s drink heals and changes lives.
One way of knowing if we are drinking of this living water, and if this life of living water is flowing out of us is to pay attention watching to see if our thoughts are feeding our soul or if our thoughts are eating at our soul. God wants our thoughts to be guided, inspired and motivated by the Holy Spirit to heal and feed our soul.
When we tune into this frequency we will speak with the fruits of the Holy Spirit, not from anger, anxiety, fear, worry. Please know that when we are constantly being fed by the frequency of fear, anger, frustration, panic, anxiety or depression, we are being tuned into thoughts that hurt and eat at our soul.
So the challenge and invitation at Pentecost and every day of our life, is to become a vessel of the Holy Spirit receiving that light so we can offer it back to God and the world. Elder Thaddeus said, “The man who has within him the kingdom of heaven radiates holy thoughts, divine thoughts.”
The Elder also says, “We have Divine power, Divine life, and Divine energy. On the day of the final judgment we shall have to give an answer for the way we have used this Divine power, life, and energy which have been given to us, whether we have contributed to the harmony in the universe, or have sown disharmony.”
Decide to radiate, offer, and emit into the world, kind thoughts, loving actions and a peaceful heart!
By Rev. Father Tom Tsagalakis, Proistamenos
Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church - Shoreline, WA
Archpastoral Message of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros to the Faithful of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
My Beloved Faithful of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America:
Χριστὀς Ἀνέστη! Christ is Risen! He is truly risen!
Even though I am, as the Apostle Paul once said, “absent in the body” from you, I am very much with you in heart, in mind, and in spirit (cf. I Cor. 5:3). I wanted to take this moment to communicate with you through this marvelous tool of social media, to express how much I desire to embrace all of you as spiritual children, and to manifest to you the love with which God has graced my heart for the precious flock of the Holy Archdiocese of America.
In the coming days and weeks, we will all be learning about one another. I have already received and continue to receive warm greetings and messages of congratulations from across America, and I am heartened by them all. You will be learning about me, but what I want all of you to know most importantly, is that that I am coming to America not only to be your Archbishop, but I am coming to be your spiritual friend and brother, your servant in the Lord, your co-worker in Christ, and your fellow steward of all the gifts of God that have been bestowed upon the Greek Orthodox Faithful of America. Together we will bring the Holy Archdiocese of America to the greater understanding that we are the Body of Christ, and each of us a precious member.
To you and to all our Orthodox Christian Brethren across America, I bring the blessing of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. I am coming to you as your brother in Christ. And, on June 22nd at my Enthronement, I look forward to embracing our ecumenical and interfaith friends as well, and the whole pluralistic American society that values freedom of conscience and religious liberty with such intensity.
Let this be a time of hope and positive expectation for us all. We have much to accomplish together, and by God’s grace and with His strength, we must surely be victorious.
Χριστὀς Ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς Ἀνέστη!
In the Risen Lord,
Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
Springtime is here, the fast is nearing its end, and Orthodox Christians look forward with joyful anticipation to the Resurrection. Pascha presents those who have participated in the liturgical life of Great Lent, observed the spiritual disciplines of the Church, and confessed to their spiritual father with a concrete opportunity to re-experience the new life in Christ, deepen their faith, and to recommit themselves to the relationship that was established on the day of their baptism.
For the faithful of the Metropolis of San Francisco, Resurrection, renewal, and reawakening are not theoretical terms, for, as the most recent Clergy-Laity Assembly revealed, the western seven States of the Archdiocese are living through an era of rebirth, resurgence, and renaissance. The conference employed formal and informal presentations from His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos, lectures from church growth and leadership expert Father Evan Armatas, and small group discussions to build and expand upon the Conference theme “Reclaiming the Great Commission.”
Jesus’ command to the Apostles to “make disciples of all nations” defined the mindset of those who participated in Clergy-Laity. Parish and Metropolis leaders recommitted themselves to making parishes healthier and focusing their attention on strengthening and developing ministries. Clergy and laity left the Ranch with an optimistic urgency that the best days of the Metropolis of San Francisco lie in the future.
Just as most Orthodox Christians begin Great Lent already oriented toward the Kingdom, only to arrive at Pascha with a more focused understanding of what it means to follow the Lord and deeper relationship with Him, the Metropolis of San Francisco is not beginning the journey toward “Reclaiming the Great Commission” from a standstill. The Philoptochos has a long tradition of putting love into action. Summer Camp, Young adult and GOYA retreats, FDF, and the Greek Village set the standard for Youth and Young adult ministries. The Family Wellness ministry helps to ensure that our parishes will be incubators of spiritual and emotional health. Recently instituted Clergy Koinonia Groups have become a catalyst for the Metropolis priests to grow closer to one another and Christ. The Missions and Evangelism Ministry (formerly COME) has been the leading edge of church planting and parish revitalization on the West Coast for over a generation.
From the above it is obvious that the Metropolis’s journey toward “Reclaiming the Great Commission,” does not require an institutional overhaul—far from it! Rather, fulfilling this lofty and life-saving vocation depends on an interior change of every member of the Body of Christ. Holiness must become a way of life, so that persons and parishes can bring a light to the world which is both comforting and attractive. Abundant generosity of time, talents, and treasures will fuel the engine of evangelism by providing resources of manpower and money upon which Church growth and renewal depend. Even though it might take some out of their comfort zone, the reality that the Church does not exist only for those “born or married Orthodox” must be seized upon and proclaimed clearly, confidently, and courageously.
April 28, the faithful will gather to proclaim: Christos Anesti!” In many ways, the Metropolis of San Francisco celebrates two Paschas in 2019--the literal Resurrection of the Lord on the Feasts of Feasts, and the metaphorical Anastasisthat was proclaimed during March’s Clergy-Laity Assembly: Reclaiming the Great Commission!
- Rev. Father Aris Metrakos, Proistamenos
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church - San Francisco, CA
"The Great Commission" was the theme of our recent Clergy-Laity Assembly: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20).
As we begin the Great Fast, these words of the Lord can enlighten our Lenten journey. We call this passage "The Great Commission" because with these words, our Lord and Savior, shortly after His Resurrection, sent forth His disciples into the world. They went from "disciples" or followers of Jesus, to "apostles" sent out by Christ to continue His mission to the world.
Our Lenten journey that will culminate in the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ will also prepare us for the apostolic work of going into the world to share the good news first proclaimed by Jesus. The Lenten practices of the Church will prepare us when we observe them: prayer, fasting, study, philanthropy and charity. Jesus Himself becomes our example. Jesus prayed to His father, so we must pray regularly during this season. The New Testament recounts many occasions when the Lord "went off to pray". The Church, in the parish, offers us many opportunities for prayer and worship.
Jesus fasted, especially during the forty days in the wilderness, before He began His public Ministry. The Church continued to observe a fast, especially before beginning significant work (Acts of the Apostles 13). The Church has taught us to fast for forty days in imitation of Christ, which also prepares us for the work of the Church.
Jesus knew the scriptures. We remember how He used the words of the Scripture to respond to those who would challenge Him or merely ask a question, whether it was the Scribes, Pharisees, lawyers, even Satan himself. We should devote time to studying the Scriptures and the Teaching of our Holy Orthodox Faith during Great Lent so that we may edify and equip ourselves for the mission ahead.
Jesus' philanthropic acts were seen in His many miracles of healing the sick and feeding the multitudes. His ultimate philanthropic act was His death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day. Great Lent is our time to increase our philanthropic and charitable acts to support reconciliation, healing, and care for those around us. Our parishes offer many opportunities for service and giving during these days.
We typically think of Great Lent in individualistic and pietistic terms. It
is a time of turning inward personally. And indeed, it has these strong elements. Yet, when we consider the goal of our Lenten journey, we can see how the inward dimension is preparing us for the outward work of sharing the Gospel with all. The first people we must share the Gospel with is our children, both at home and in your parishes. Witnessing our example, our children will see the significance of Great Lent in our lives. We should also instruct our children in the ways of the Church, connecting Lenten discipline and practices with our faith in Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, "The Great Commission" has been given to each of us, just as it was given to those first followers of Christ. The Church, during Great Lent, shows us the way to prepare ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and for our apostolic work in the world.
May our Lord grant you and your families a Holy Season of Great Lent filled with soul saving experiences as we proceed to witness His Glorious Resurrection.
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
We have the habit in our Church of saying the Preparation Prayers for Holy Communion during our cell rule, and the Thanksgiving Prayers are said at the end of the Liturgy. But I've often found that taking those prayers and spreading them out over the days after Communion is a good way to start reminding yourself that gratitude for receiving the Holy Gifts is not just momentary. It doesn't just happen in that instant while you can still taste Them in your throat but is to extend and fill the days ahead. So, of those collection of prayers, we can read one in our cells that night, and another in the morning when we get up, continuing to give thanks for what He has done for us. It is not a momentary thing but continues on.
Likewise with the Preparatory Prayers: not all of them have to be read the night before. If you know you're going to receive next weekend, in the days leading up to that, you can begin your preparation ahead of time, with a sense of pending gratitude, to be grateful for what is about to happen. If we do that regularly then the whole week becomes a continuation of giving thanks for what we have received and giving thanks for what we are about to receive (instead of being grateful and then going about our way for a while, then getting ready again, and repeating that cycle). Extending the preparation and the giving of thanks, through these prayers, extends the gratitude into the whole of the week. So with the Eucharist we have a practical way to begin cultivating gratitude.
~ Bishop Irenei, excerpted from an impromptu talk on cultivating gratitude.
“Let us flee the vainglory of the Pharisee, learning instead the true humility of the Publican, so that we may ascend to God and cry to Him: forgive us, Your sinful servants, O Christ our savior: you were born of the virgin and willingly endured the cross for us, raising the dead by Your power as God!”
–From the Triodion for Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee-
I recently discussed the following quote from C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity with a group of high school students, “Wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong… Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.”
The resulting conversation was spirited as they wrestled with this idea. What became apparent was their concept of good and evil was pretty black and white – some people are inherently good and others inherently evil. However, this is not the Orthodox view of the world. God did not create evil people, instead he created each of us in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). So how then is there so much evil in the world?
In Lenten Spring Father Thomas Hopko explains, “[…] By rebelling against God ourselves. We listen to the serpent, the spirit of evil, instead of God. We do things in our own way. And we experience evil for ourselves, by our own volition, and bring corruption to our total being: mind, soul heart, and body. To the extent that this wickedness is in us, we pass it on to those who come after us, and they too become infected by evil from their very conception.”
We experience evil voluntarily as we rebel against God’s will and make our own will the authority. And one of the greatest temptations is to justify our actions, to say to ourselves, “What I am doing is good.” However, none of us has any authority to make that call, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is where we go wrong. This is how goodness becomes spoiled. As we continue down this path of separating ourselves from God through sin, we infect and are infected by those around us. The bottom line is that even if we were able to follow the law to perfection we would still be lost because without Christ we are subject to the death and corruption of this world.
So it is no mistake the pre-Lenten period begins with the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. As he prayed “I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (Luke 18:11), the Pharisee’s mistake was believing that he had no sin, that he was immune to the corruption of this world. Unable to recognize his own sin he continued to wallow in it and become infected by it. The Publican’s posture is a recognition of the wickedness in the world and our complete separation from God. In complete humility he beats his breast and cries, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)
It is unsettling to think that even our most pure thoughts and desires, left to our own devices, can become corrupted and wicked. The Church tries to awaken us to this fact, not that we may despair, but that we may thirst and hunger for communion with the only One who is good, Jesus Christ. When we abide in His goodness, we are filled with His gifts and able to share them with those around us.
- By Rev. Father Daniel Triant, Assistant Priest
Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church - Seattle, WA
From the Monthly Meditations published by the Metropolis of San Francisco
Beloved in the Lord,
The Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov wrote, “We prove God’s existence by worshiping Him and not by advancing so-called proofs.” At the Great Feast of Christmas, each one of our churches become a symbolic Bethlehem, carrying us to the manger where we find the newborn child, Jesus. In our Vigil and Liturgy we will sing praises to the Almighty God as we hear the story of the Birth of our Savior. The news that Christ is born, once again, will fill us with joy and hope and we will take this message from our parishes to our homes and the world around us. That is the proof of our faith! This is how the Birth of Christ makes a difference in our salvation; that we are able to share with action this wondrous message from above. In the Holy Liturgy during our celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, we will receive Christ the Lord as we sing the Communion Hymn that teaches us the purpose of the Incarnation: “The Lord sent redemption to His people.”
In this cynical age when various pundits regularly question the existence of God, what better response can we offer than filling our churches with hymns of praise? When the world around us makes Christmas all about searching for “the right gift”, what better response can we offer than sharing the Good News that the Savior is born? When we encounter those who sow seeds of division and relish in polarization, what better response can we offer that working even more diligently to strengthen the unity of the Body of Christ? Arguments will not change hardened hearts. Only our faith, our love for our neighbor, and our compassion can soften them.
In the Nativity of Christ, the Kingdom of God enters this world and we celebrate that “God is with us”. He came humbly, as an infant, reminding us that the Kingdom of God enters in places and ways that are not always dramatic or revolutionary, but rather quite ordinary. The Kingdom of God is at hand in the ordinary activities of our lives: in our homes, at our family gatherings, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods. When we treat people with kindness, justice and compassion in our day-to-day activities, we bear witness to the Kingdom and grow closer to God. Saint Gregory the Theologian wrote, “God comes to live with human beings, that we may journey toward God” (Oration 38). Our journey to God begins with our journey to the symbolic Bethlehem, where we may meet the Savior, who “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Then we can return to our daily lives filled with hope and begin to work to make all things new.
There is much work to be done. When we see the many sufferings of our neighbors, in the Alaska earthquake, the fires in California, as well as the ongoing injustices that continue to be perpetrated in our society, we must turn our minds and hearts to the Good News that the Savior is born and redemption has come to His people. We must ask ourselves how we will bear witness to the Kingdom of God in the face of these tragedies and the conditions of so many. Our first action should be prayer for those who suffer. Second, we can make charitable and philanthropic gifts to offer support. Third, speak the truth to those who are sitting in places of authority. Fourth, we can involve ourselves in the work of assisting those who have no voice and need help through our parishes and as responsible citizens of our country.
Beloved in the Lord, this Christmas Holiday is a new opportunity to go to our symbolic Bethlehem, see the newborn Christ, acknowledge Him as your Savior, and take His message of salvation into the world through your words and actions. Let us go to Bethlehem, the city of David, and meet Christ the Lord.
Beseeching the Blessings of our Almighty God upon you and your loved ones, I wish to all of you a Blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with the Joy and Grace of our Newborn Savior.
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
'Tis the the season to be....busy! With all the hustle and bustle of the Advent Season, it is important for us, as Orthodox Christians, to pause and reflect upon what is truly important. Here are 10 suggestions to help prepare us for the Incarnation of our King, the Lord Jesus, this season!
10 Suggestions to Help Us Prepare for the Feast of the Nativity
Let us all thank our Holy Lord Jesus…who took on flesh for our sake and gives us eternal life…by becoming like Him in all we think, do and say this Advent Season!
With Love & Warm Wishes,
The Eikona Sisters