The Patriarch Of Alexandria Has Something To Teach Us

Did you hear about the Patriarch of Alexandria consecrating several woman to the office of deaconess? You can read all about it by clicking HERE. Readers of this article usually fit one of three categories: indifferent, appalled, or supportive. Which one are you?

consecration of eastern orthodox deaconesses
Consecration of Deaconesses by Patriarch of Alexandria, 2017

Biblical Precedent

I love that we have a history for this in the Orthodox Church. In Romans 1:1, St. Paul mentions St. Phoebe, who is known as a deaconess, and her service to the church. Even in apostolic times we had deaconesses! The Orthodox Church continues to amaze me. The world of Orthodoxy is bigger than most of us can imagine.

It is easy for both cradles and converts to think their own parish is the norm for Orthodoxy. However, I have visited about 100 parishes in the last three years as part of my work for the Antiochian Archdiocese. Most of those were Antiochian, but I have also visited Russian, Greek, and OCA parishes. What we do not realize is that there is a spectrum, and every parish is different in some way. There is no normal way to do the Liturgy, trust me I know. There is no normal way to sing Vespers on Saturday night, trust me I know. Maybe there should be, but I am trying to tell you that every parish is different in demographics, personality, and style.

We are a vast church with people and cultures all over the world. We are also known for incorporating parts of a culture into the worship and Liturgical cycle. Somehow we have almost perfected (or possibly perfected) the art of including culture without watering down theology. Have you ever seen a Divine Liturgy in Ghana? It looks familiar, but it also looks amazing and nothing like the Divine Liturgy at my parish. Click HERE to watch Ghanaians sing Christ Is Risen with amazing joy and passion. The video really takes off at the 25 second marker.

The Deacon And Deaconess

Visit as many parishes as you can. Learn about female readers. Investigate the Western Rite, its validity and value. Explore all the Orthodox churches in your city and when you travel. It’s a beautiful world waiting to invite you in.

Although their presence is rare in America, deacons or a deaconess is common throughout our history. The variety of Orthodox worship and style will stun most of us. This is not a bad thing, but rather opportunity. It speaks to the ability of the church, which is an expression of God’s love on earth, to meet people where they are. Jesus did this with each of his apostles. He met Matthew as a tax collector. Jesus did not accidentally call James and John “sons of thunder.” Peter denied Christ after following Christ for three years. The apostles were not all the same, and after Pentecost their personality continued in their leadership.

Our worship was not all the same in the first millennium. Although 99% of the Orthodox Church now uses the same Liturgy on Sunday mornings, we have still found a way to express our differences and remain united. What unites us is not our worship style or the presence or absence of a deaconess, but rather the truth handed down from the apostles.

 

My New Friend Wants His Loving Parish To Connect

My new friend, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church in Emmaus, PA, wants to help his parishioners connect with each other and those in Emmaus. I was honored when Fr. Andrew invited me to lead a pre-Lenten retreat at his parish. The topic we settled on was, “Why Do We Avoid Evangelism?”

From my perspective the retreat this weekend went well. And then, I was even more encouraged when I heard Fr. Andrew speak to his congregation about what I was sharing. He told them his summary of the retreat, that we need to connect with people, and when he used the word connect I knew that he totally got it.

holy trinity, perfect community, orthodox icon
The Holy Trinity Icon, a perfection connection.

Doctrine Is Scary

America is used to have people spew doctrine at them from many different places. The traditional method of evangelism in the Orthodox Church actually saves doctrine for later. The first step is to connect with people through fellowship, prayer, and self-transformation. Eventually people will want to know why we are the way we are, and then we can share the doctrine of Jesus Christ and how it has changed our lives. But the connection must always be there. We cannot start with doctrine, and we must maintain a connection once we start sharing doctrine.

For some of us our children have left the church, or maybe a parent has stopped attending church. The easy way is to ask them, “when will you come back to church?” However, the Christlike way is to say, “how are you? I want to connect with you.” I have been horrible at this, but I really do want to connect with those around me.

Do We Connect Like The Trinity?

When I think about the Trinity and how it demonstrates for us a perfect community, I think about the beautiful connection between the three of them. We are called to have this same beautiful connection with the humans in our lives. Not just friends and family, but all humans. For when we partake of the Eucharist, are we not entering into a connection with everyone else who is partaking?

Rules are good for us, but if there is no love, no connection, then the rules will be empty. I am glad the church teaches me how to live the Christian life, but if I simply follow the rules in  a Pharisaical way, then I am missing the point.  The rules are there so that I can shed my selfishness and begin to connect with those around me, and therefore connect with God.

Sheep & Goats

Helping people less fortunate than me always establishes a connection. I always hope for more than just, “here is a few dollars” because that is not enough. The dollars will help, or your time at a soup kitchen. However, while you are doing good works, consider trying to connect with the people you are helping.

Yesterday Fr. Andrew read the gospel of the last judgement during the Divine Liturgy. We see in this gospel lesson how to minister to those around us and how to connect with them, and in doing so, connect with Christ.

When we connect through ministry with those less fortunate, we are connecting with Christ. When we avoid the less fortunate in our lives, we are avoiding Christ. We all know what it is like to have a bad phone connection. We walk around, ask the ever popular “Can you hear me now?” until the connection improves. Re-position yourself in your life so that you can have a good connection. Move around, move closer to people, and make sure that they can hear you. Connect.

What To Do When Someone Leaves The Orthodox Church

What should we do when someone leaves the Orthodox Church? John left the church several years ago. After repeated negativity and bickering, he lost interest in the elitism so many in Orthodoxy like to display. He lost interest, not in this statement, but in the arrogance of, “we are the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith.”

perspective is everything, leaves of the Christian tree
This is how many Americans view Christianity. Leaves of the Christian tree

Leaves Stick Together

Please hear me clearly. John did not stop believing the statement above. He tired of the arrogance people displayed when saying the statement. Especially when these arrogant people lived a different life on Facebook. The arrogance, although said about a true statement, can be a source of division. This division pushes people away from Orthodoxy. I still pray for John and hope you will too.

What can we do when someone leaves the church? First, we need to follow up with people in a loving way and find out why. This does not mean you have to maintain a long term relationship (if you can that would help). Just inquire on how they are doing and that you miss them. Second, avoid anything that will impart guilt or shame. Just “love on them” and tell them you miss them. Spend time listening to their story. Let them know they can still be leaves on your community tree if they ever want to come back. You are a leaf, just like them, and they need to know you want them around. You cannot assume they know that you care.

Loving Thy Lost Neighbors

Several people have asked if they should reach out to John, “Absolutely! I worry that no one will reach out to him besides me.” Not one of those people has followed up. Maybe they are legitimately busy or some crisis took priority. I don’t know. However, I do know that there are many like John who need us to reach out. God uses people to express his love. God wants you to be a conduit of his love to those around you. We need to love our neighbors and our lost neighbors, those who have fallen away.

It can be easy to dismiss someone who leaves as an apostate. John chose to leave so what does that have to do with you or me? What if they left because of a sin you or I committed? Keep this in mind (from Dn. Michael Hyatt), “you are more likely to be hurt by people at church than anywhere else.” This means the opposite is true, that you are more likely to hurt people at church than anywhere else. We could be the very cause of our lost neighbors.

When The Leaves Fall

Many people are leaving because no one cares about them. They leave as a leaf falling from a tree. There were no calls to check on them. No one has even noticed they are gone. In so many of these situations no one cares.  Here is the good news. You can.

The Danger Of Becoming Orthodox, Part 2 of 2

There is a danger in becoming Orthodox. However, we can do something about this danger.

To summarize the first post, which you can read by clicking HERE, many of our converts are leaving as quickly as they join. Chrismation day can feel like a wedding, and after that the let down begins.

The good news is there are two ways we can make a difference. We need a pragmatic approach to this problem,  so I did some research to find tangible solutions. Both of these solutions can begin during catechesis, and I would argue should begin during catechesis. These two solutions help our new members participate at a deeper level, which can foster healthy relationships and a deeper zeal for the faith.

A Christian Community Is Important
Adult Christian Education

Adult Programming

Whether a Bible study or book study, having regular adult programming at your parish is critical in America. There is a myth in America that the eucharist is enough, and in my southern roots let me say, “it ain’t!” The way my friend, Fr. Jonathan Ivanoff, said it was this, “the eucharist is essential but not enough.”

Just like in my marriage, there are different components of the marriage which are essential, but any one component is not enough. Regular adult programming (outside of worship services) creates relationships and challenges us to internalize what we are learning. We need to be challenged intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

There are many forms of adult programming. The easiest way to get started is with a Bible or book study. These can be scheduled at any time. Find out what time people from your church would appreciate, whether a Tuesday morning at 6:30 AM or a Thursday evening at 6:30 PM. Every parish is different, so a schedule in one parish may not be a good fit for the next parish. Remember the goal is for people to participate, so you may have to be flexible on your schedule.

My Ministry

Several of our parishes do this, so it is hard for me to give credit to one priest. Once someone is a catechumen, help that person find a place to serve in the church. This might be coffee hour, or at the altar, or even in the nursery. Every person should find a way to have a ministry related to the church.

Of course there are exceptions, such as someone taking care of a loved one at home. However, most of us could be doing more to serve the church. If our priest is pro-active at engaging us, we can accomplish so much more for the Kingdom of God. Some people are waiting to be asked to serve, and do not feel comfortable volunteering. Ask them to participate in the life of the church, because so many of our new members are scared or nervous about what to do. Ease the fear or apprehension by offering ministry options.

Becoming Orthodox

We are always becoming Orthodox. We area also always in danger of unbecoming Orthodox, and this organic relationship with the church (and God of course) will forever be changing. We are either moving deeper into our relationships or not. Catechesis never really ends, and in a way we will always be catechumens. Let us not forget that are new members are fragile and delicate. They need attention, direction, and gentle love on helping them become apart of their new community.

 

 

The Danger Of Becoming Orthodox, Part 1 of 2

Just because there is danger does not mean I am criticizing the Orthodox Church. I want everyone to be Orthodox.  However, we have a problem with new people not hanging around and not many people are talking about it.

Yesterday I was speaking with a gentleman about the number of new members who disappear after chrismation. What happened? Where do they go and why? Well, I know where some of them go. If you were not aware that this is a problem, then talk to your priest and you will quickly learn about those who disappear from our faith after chrismation.

Many people enjoy the chase of life. I am one of those always looking for something new to chase. From the outside looking in, the journey to Orthodoxy can be intriguing and unique. But what happens after that journey is over? The day after everyone is yelling “seal” and “welcome home,” the excitement can begin to die. There are danger signs all along the catechumens journey, but maybe they are difficult to see.

orthodox wedding rings
Wedding day is the beginning, marriage is the journey.

When The Danger Appears

More than one wise person has compared joining Orthodoxy like getting married. There’s a courtship, engagement, wedding day, and then the marriage. You might have the greatest wedding day of all time, but that does not determine the health of your marriage. The same is true of becoming Orthodox. There’s a courtship while you inquire, an engagement when you become an official catechumen, and then chrismation day can very much feel like a wedding. So now what? This is when the danger reveals itself.

A good marriage takes focus, attention, and labor. I can be lazy and ignore my wife or focus and ask her how her day was. I can spend time on things I care about (guilty) at the expense of my marriage, or be a Christlike servant and care to her needs. Being married and being Orthodox are so similar it’s almost creepy. I have to work on my Orthodox faith at all times. I have to keep improving towards a better version of myself, almost like chasing a carrot. The difference is there is no carrot. The real version of me is waiting for me at judgment day. That is when my true self will be revealed.

Marathon Training

I wonder if we are making a bigger deal out of chrismation day than we are the journey which comes after. St. Paul compared our earthly journey to running a race more than once (Heb 12:1, 1 Cor 9:24, 2 Tim 4:7). Chrismation day is like the gun going off at the start of a marathon. Now we have to run, and run, and run until we reach the end. Some runners only make it a few miles before dropping out. Becoming Orthodox can be similar. How many newly chrismated are dropping out of the race after a few years because they didn’t train properly. They focused more on the gun going off than they did the actual race.

We can do something about this. If you are a priest, make sure your catechumen is developing healthy relationships with people who are further along in the race. If you are laity, make sure you are helping your priest with the new people. These new people need you. You do not have to be a godparent to have a positive impact on someone new to your church.

In the next post I will share some ways we can develop those healthy relationships and avoid the danger of becoming (and unbecoming) Orthodox.

My Blog Has A New Purpose

My blog has a new purpose. It started out with a focus on listening back in 2013-2014. I enjoyed that, but then my career transitioned into full-time ministry. Since July of 2014 I have been teaching an outreach ministry on behalf of the Antiochian Archdiocese.

The next transition involved focusing on helping clergy equip laity for the purpose of evangelism. I did not realize I was leaving out a core group of people who care but are not clergy. Once the laity showed interest in what I was writing, I realized I had a new audience, again. That is how I arrived at “80/20 Orthodoxy.” The text below is permanently posted on my website on the page “What is 80/20?” I have pasted it below to save you some hassle.

What is 80/20 Orthodoxy?

80/20 Orthodoxy is a problem. Don’t know what 80/20 is? This is my favorite definition of the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, as written by Joseph Juan.

“for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.” Joseph Juan

…or you might prefer a more complex definition:

“Mathematically, the 80/20 rule is roughly followed by a power lawdistribution (also known as a Pareto distribution) for a particular set of parameters, and many natural phenomena have been shown empirically to exhibit such a distribution.” M.E.J. Newman

My Purpose & Its Source

To give proper credit, this idea came to me from The Very Rev. John Finley, Chairman of the Dept. of Missions & Evangelism for the AOA. After speaking with Fr. John, this idea brought to mind a whole host of questions about Orthodoxy in America. I wonder if any of these are true for you.

80/20 Orthodoxy is a problem.

Are You Scared Or Inspired To Read On?

The 20% which is doing the work, donating, helping, and growing spiritually, is your core group. What if you could grow your core group? What if that was your definition of Orthodoxy evangelism? Helping you answer these questions is my purpose.

Have you heard of 80/20 applied to a church’s physical size? When a church is 80% full,  then 20% of the people should go start a mission. Except of course if you are in a temporary facility and have not moved to your permanent location.

Let’s do an exercise! We will call our sample parish “AOC” (American Orthodox Church). AOC averages 200 people on Sunday mornings. Per the 80/20 rule, AOC can comfortably seat 250 people . If we drew a map of potential areas to start a mission, we could probably find an area where 20% of the members are located. These 20% are probably not fully engaged because of how far they live from AOC. They are probably not the 20% relied upon for 80% of your budget, so you safe there too. The reasons continue to pile up that explain why a church which is 80% full should look into missionary solutions.

The Data

80/20 Orthodoxy is not exact science, and the scenarios mentioned above may only partially apply. Maybe at your parish 90% of the work is done by 10% of the people. However, you can see how the rule is a great starting place for doing a parish evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses.

In a research study performed by Alexei Krindatch, we learned that we have about 800,000 Orthodox “adherents” in America. An adherent is someone who is connected, even loosely , with Orthodoxy. Just over 20%, or just over 200,000, of them are regular weekly attendees. Of those, the 80/20 rule tells us that the core of the American Orthodox Church is about 40,000 strong. This number is not statistically proven, but may be deduced by applying the 80/20 rule to the number of regular attendees. You can read the full report by clicking HERE.

Stephen Covey gave the world great information in his famous book on 7 habits. One of the habits is to “put first things first.” To demonstrate this idea, big rocks are placed in a jar, then smaller rocks, then pebbles and finally sand. And then water. It all fits if we focus on the 20% that matters. However, if you fill up the jar with water, or sand, or pebbles, there is no room for the big rocks in our life, such as God, family, relationships, and so on. What if we tried to focus 80% of our time on the 20% which matters, the big rocks? The “what ifs” continue about confession, stewardship, and more. That is why I write this blog. That is my purpose.

 

 

3 Shocking Things I Tell Every Protestant About Orthodoxy

Last summer at Camp St. Thekla, the site director for the Methodist camp that we rent (who was not Orthodox) struck up a conversation with me. He was curious about our worship. As the conversation started to increase, I warned him that I needed to tell him a few things before we moved forward which would help him understand the big picture of Orthodoxy.

The Three Things On Orthodoxy

First, I told him I believed that the Orthodox Church was the fullness of Christ’s intention when he established his church with St Peter as the rock. Then I warned him that it gets weird from there.

Second, I let him know that not every Orthodox Christian will go to heaven, and that I don’t believe that you have to be a visible member of the Orthodox Church to go to heaven. This usually inspires a weird expression, as you may have now. I explain that just because I am Orthodox does not mean I am Orthodox on purpose (borrowed from Fr. Barnabas Powell with permission). Also, we have not been given information about non-Orthodox, so I really don’t know.

Third, and this is the weirdest, I believe that from a certain perspective it is harder to get to heaven if you are Orthodox. This is my favorite because it adds the humility we all need. It is very easy to say the Orthodox Church is the true church with pride and arrogance. However, I am responsible for what I know, according to St. Paul.

So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. Romans 14:12-13

God Is A Perfect Judge

Well, if I have been blessed to be a part of the one holy and catholic apostolic church, then I am responsible for that. The site director is not Orthodox and therefore does not carry that responsibility. God is a perfect judge and will judge each according to his path and heart.

These three items generate enough interest and humility for the person to genuinely be interested in the Orthodox Church. From there, I try to focus on that person’s background and how that relates to what I just told them. At all times it has to be a genuine conversation without an agenda on my part. I just like to start with my disclaimer, which usually serves as a great discussion starter.

What is the first thing you say about Orthodoxy?

I Am Not A Professor Of Evangelism

Some of you may have heard of Dn. Michael Hyatt either through his podcast on Ancient Faith Radio or from his business accomplishments associated with www.michaelhyatt.com. Recently someone described Dn. Hyatt as a professor (in his business setting) because he takes complex ideas and breaks them up into small edible pieces. That’s so true! Follow him for some time and you will be amazed at his ability to translate from complicated to simple.

This reminded me of what priests do for me. They, the theologically trained, take complex theological ideas and break them up into small edible pieces, either in the homily or one-on-one. As much as I love that, that’s not what I am doing.

You may find lots of great ideas on this website which appear simple, but I never assume the topic of evangelism is too complex for an Orthodox Christian. Instead, I assume (safely I hope) that I have been given something precious and I should share it with you. I spend about half the year traveling to Orthodox churches across America. In each one I learn something new, whether a way to greet visitors, or a protocol for parish council meetings. As I learn, this inspires me to share what I am learning with all the other Orthodox churches who have never heard these great ideas.

I am no longer the rookie in evangelism. However, my goal is not to be the expert, but the experienced journalist always seeking new ideas from our wide variety of Orthodox parishes across America. By experienced I mean doing a better and better job finding these ideas and sharing them with you.

May these ideas be a blessing and fill you with the love of God.

The Priest Is More Than A Liturgical Celebrant

A priest’s ministry can take different shapes and sizes depending on your strength. Some are better at individual counseling while others give amazing homilies.

Recently I was speaking with Fr Anthony Messeh, who has a large internet ministry. With over 20,000 followers on Periscope and over 7,000 on Twitter, Fr Anthony has found that he has strength on the internet. However, not every priest has this strength.

Maybe your strength is in one-on-one sessions, or humanitarian efforts in the community? Whatever your strength is, make sure you are putting it to good use in your parish. Make sure your parish understands your strengths and how you want to utilize them to build up the kingdom of God.

I have tried two different personality tests and appreciate both. The first is Myers-Briggs, but only if the instructor is excellent. The second is inniogram. Both of these have given me insight and on my strengths and weaknesses.  There are many more tests out there, but I only want to speak on my experience.

As Orthodox Christians we are repeatedly reminded that we must know ourselves before we can know God. Whether it is a personality test or a gifted father confessor, identifying and dealing with your strengths and weaknesses is critical to your ministry. Also, this is not something you can do on your own. We all need outside help when exploring who we are.

Oh yeah; I am an ENFP and a 7.

New Episode “Fr Anthony Messeh”

Fr. Anthony serves at St. Timothy & St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church in Arlington, VA. Including a Periscope following of over 20,000, Fr. Anthony has built a large internet ministry which is glorifying God. Learn how Fr. Anthony has embraced his strengths, overcome some weaknesses, and done wonderful things on the internet on behalf of the Orthodox Church. You can follow Fr. Anthony by visiting his website, www.franthony.com.

Click HERE to listen.