Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Preparation for Martyrdom

The holy martyr Julian of Tarsus was a young man when he suffered and died for the Christian faith. Born into a family of wealth and influence, from his youth, he was taught the Faith; and so, when the time of his suffering came, he was ready, and despite being taken from town to town and being out to torture in each one, he would not deny that Jesus Christ is Lord. After a year of enduring torments, he was sewn into a sack filled with sand, snakes, and scorpions, and thrown into the sea. He was eighteen years old when he departed this life.

Our holy father John of Shanghai and San Francisco, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, was also born into a noble family; and he also, from his youth, learned the Christian faith, embracing the Orthodox way of life, inspired by the asceticism of the monks he saw living near to his village. His family fled from his homeland during the Russian Civil War for Serbia. He left Serbia for Shanghai when he became a Bishop. Forced to flee from Shanghai once again ahead of the Communists, he led his flock to the Philippines, from where they were resettled, some in Australia, some in South America, and some in the United States. He knew of his impending repose some four days before it happened, and foretold as well the place where he would die. He was seventy years old when he departed this life.

Both of the holy fathers whom we celebrate this weekend experienced what our Lord spoke of in the reading today from the holy Gospel according to St. Luke. Both experienced persecution; both knew that a martyr's death was a very real possibility, and one achieved a martyr's crown.

What about us? Although none of us has been born to a family of power and influence, we live in a time and place with riches and conveniences that we take for granted, which not even emperors had of old – and they could have almost anything they wanted. In addition to the prosperity we enjoy, we also live in a time of relative peace, and in a place where we are not suffering for our faith – at least, not yet. But the words our Lord spoke to warn and to encourage His disciples remain as true today as when He first uttered them. The apostles saw the armies of Rome arrayed against Jerusalem, and their defeat of that city. The faithful were persecuted again and again across time and space – and there are places around the world today where Christians suffer for the Faith, and martyrs are killed all the time. We don't see it happening on the evening news; we don't see it happening in our neighborhoods – but it is taking place all the same, and we are na├»ve if we think that it will never happen here.

What, then should we do? We must be instructed by what our Lord tells His disciples – and we are His disciples if we follow His teachings, and His example. By enduring, we will win our lives. Not in this world, to be sure – but this world, this age, this life will not endure. Only that which is established in heaven will endure. If we will embrace and live the life of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us in baptism, fed in us by His Body and Blood, taught to us by the holy Fathers and Mothers, shown to us in the lives of the saints, then our lives, too, will be established in heaven. Above all, it is by so pursuing the life of Christ being expressed in our own that we can endure even betrayal by friends or family, to say with our Lord, "Father, forgive them," even as we are being put to death.

Brothers and sisters, let us ask God for the grace and mercy He gives to us from His love for us, that we may not love our lives in this world, but rather desire the life to come, so that we will not fail in the time of trial, but may also come, with our holy father Julian and our holy father John, to a blessed repose, and a place in His kingdom that shall never end.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Are Your Doors Locked?

EasterImage via Wikipedia

2nd Sunday of Pascha: Thomas Sunday

We are all familiar with the story of “Doubting Thomas,” the disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ who was not with the others on the day of our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead, and so would not accept the testimony of the others that they had seen the Lord. No, Thomas wanted proof; and, of course, as we have heard in the reading today from the holy Gospel according to St. John the Theologian, it was on the Sunday following Pascha when Thomas himself saw the risen Christ, and knelt before Him, saying, “My Lord and my God!” But today, let’s look instead at the other disciples of our Lord.

Probably one of the most notable things said about them in this account is that on both occasions when our Lord appeared to them, the doors to the room in which they were gathered were locked. Why? We are told that the doors were locked “for fear of the Jews.” Their fear was the same fear that caused Peter to deny that he knew the Lord at the time of the arrest and trial of our Lord Jesus Christ. They feared that they, too, would be arrested by the Jews, would be accused before the Romans, and would be put to death as criminals and rebels. For this reason, they hid themselves, and locked the doors. Locked doors, of course, did not prevent our Lord Jesus from coming into their midst.

The disciples did not remain in a state of fear. Indeed, they went forth in boldness to proclaim in word and in activity that Christ is risen from the dead, that He has trampled down death by death, and has given life to those who were in the tomb. All of them except one, St. John the Theologian, came to suffer the very death that was the initial source of their fear; all of them except one were martyred because of their faith. If they had not overcome their fear, we would not have today the testimony to the life, death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; we would not have the knowledge of the good news of our salvation, of the forgiveness of sins, and the hope of life without end in the presence of God, if they had remained behind those locked doors.

What about us, who claim to be followers of the risen Lord? What about us who, in our baptism and chrismation, have received the Holy Spirit, as the disciples present in that locked room received from our Lord? Like them, we have been given the mission to tell the world that Jesus Christ is the Son of God Who died to set us free from death; that Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of lords, and that those who follow the way of life He has given us have the hope of a place of rejoicing in His kingdom. Are we going about our lives in the world making this good news known in what we say and in what we do? Or do we kept it to ourselves, locked in our hearts, because we are afraid of what people around us may say or do if we take the chance, and open our hearts to them, and tell them of the hope in us, the life of Christ?

Brothers and sisters, let us not allow fear of what others may think of us, or say to us, or do to us, keep us from doing what we are called to do. May God grant us grace and strength to go forth each day with the love of Christ in our hearts, so that we may show Him risen from the dead and living in us, so that others may come to know Him through us, and sing with us the triumphal hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life!”

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Friday, January 22, 2010

The Situation in Haiti: How You Can Help

Nicholas Ohotin, who oversees the Fund for Assistance (FFA) for our Synod of Bishops, reports:
ROCOR donors have collected over $50,000 and more donations are coming in daily.
We hereby remind our faithful and other potential donors that every dollar allocated by donors to a specific project goes to that particular cause. This has been the trademark distinction of the FFA since its inception. A donor could designate funds for a particular church, monk or nun and they would be sent. FFA overall expenses are kept to a minimum and are funded out of general contributions. The ROCOR provides the office and equipment. We remind all of you of this history and renew our pledge to you that your contribution to Haiti will go fully to Haiti. Please feel free to contact us by email atinfo@fundforassistance.org or at 917-817-2925 with any further questions.
Our efforts are being coordinated with the IOCC outreach to Haiti, as well.

Please take a moment and consider what you might be able to give to help our Orthodox brothers and sisters, and all those in need, at this time of crisis in Haiti.

Report From Earthquake-Ravaged Haiti

Today, I'd like to share with you a report from Deacon Matthew Williams, who is now in Haiti to assist our parishes there. I received this as an email; but thought it worth sharing with you all.

Dear Fr. Victor,


I arrived in the Dominican Republic on Friday, Jan 15, determined to provide as much aid to Haiti as possible. At the time that I left the US, we had received no word from the clergy in Haiti. Thank God, while I was en route to Haiti, we received word that the clergy were alive and in good health and that there were no confirmed fatalities among the parishioners.

Due to many complications, it was only Monday when I arrived in Port-au-prince, by which time I had been joined by a German medical officer, Lars Stuewe, who practices medicine in Belfast Ireland. After some discussion of the obvious need, he decided that he would like to work with our Mission to provide medical attention to our parishioners and the surrounding communities.
We arrived late Monday night, driving through large areas that had been destroyed to such an extent that no one remained in those places. Other places, large groups of people would be gathered in outdoor camps, sleeping on the ground without shelter.

On Tuesday, the feast of Theophany, we opened a small clinic near Fr. Gregoire`s home, where we were able to treat 42 patients with medical supplies purchased by FFA that we brought with us from the DR. A few patients were treated after dark, with stitches being performed by flashlight. Careful records were kept for every patient and health cards were issued to help reduce the risk of duplicated health care. Twenty patients were referred to the hospital due to injuries that we did not have materials or equipment to treat. Unfortunately, the situation with the hospitals appears dire, as we were finding that patients with complicated fractures were being turned away from the hospitals due to lack of space. However, the need for a more significant clinic at Fr. Gregoire`s home in Fontamara appeared limited, and we determined to assess the situation in other areas, including Jacmel. At that time there was news that no aid had yet arrived in Jacmel, a city of 110,000.

While Lars was treating the patients, I made initial contacts at the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) and learned that the UN assessment of public health would only begin assessments of the situation on the ground on Friday, Jan. 22.

On Wednesday morning we were awakened by a second quake measured at 6.1. The house we were in was undamaged, but other houses in the area were seriously damaged. After resolving numerous logistical issues, we began the long and arduous task of locating the WHO medical supply warehouse. The medical director and pharmacist were very supportive and issued the required drugs and medications after verifying our charity status and practitioners license. We received adequate medical supplies to treat 1000 patients. Further medical supplies can be obtained now as needed. Immediately we headed toward Jacmel from whence we had received word that 30 members of the parish of St Augustine were sick and wounded. By this time we had also learned that the Canadian military was on site in Jacmel, but were unable to determine what, if any, aid they were providing. Arriving in Jacmel late in the evening, we immediately began the task of assessing the situation here. Everywhere we went, we received contradictory reports or even total lack of knowledge of the situation. On the one hand, we repeatedly heard report of 2,000 fatalities, yet at the hospital there were only 83 patients. The senior house officer (SHO) there reports that he is the medical officer in charge and has 17 more medical staff. However, they have no X-Ray film and no orthopedic surgeon. Therefore they cannot provide any bone surgery at that hospital. They were assessed several times by various organizations, but have received no medical supplies and is running short of antibiotics and pain relieve such as morphine, etc. They have received food and water from the World Food Program (WFP). At the Police station no useful information could be obtained at all -- not even the population of the city. At the Canadian base, the situation was similar -- they were not even aware of whether they were providing any medical care to the area. Our last visit on Wednesday was to the football field where an IDP camp has been set up and appears to be housing approximately 800 families. There we learned that medical treatment was being provided by Canadian doctors. Which organization they are from and what type of treatment they are providing is yet to be determined, as the local representative of the United Nations did not know the answers to these questions.

Today, Thursday, Jan 21, we will be completing the assessment of Jacmel and meeting with the mayor and other personell whose contact information we received from the hotel. We will also meet with the faithful at the church for prayer. After this we will make a decision as to whether the parish and others in the area are in fact in need of our medical care. This decision will determine whether we move on now to other parishes or stay here.

We have the opportunity, with sufficient funding, to establish a permanent clinic with Lars as the directing medical officer. Here is a brief note from Lars:
I have experience in Emergency Medicine and Pre-Hospital Care. I graduated in 2003 in Germany with a BSc in Medicine and Anaesthesia. After my internship I served as an Officer to the Olympic Games in Athens as a Teamleader in the HOC and OLV. After the Tsunami I was deployed by the German Medical NGO EMT International Aid to Sri Lanka (Trincomalee) in the early days with a response team. We provided Emergency Response in affiliation with the catholic church. We treated more than 5000 patients initially. For the long term we built a Medical Centre in the Holy Cross Grounds (caritas funding), During the building period I provided Medical Aid to the public and the international community. In the rising violence and full scale of war, I was appointed UN-MEDEVAC leader. I was acting Chief for the Field Hospital in Kantale during the defense action on Mutur district. I have the expertise to deal on all kinds of Trauma and Tropical diseases. I am familiar with Primary Care and Minor surgical procedures in difficult environments.
The situation in Haiti is worse than expected. Due to no coordination, lack in communication and planning, the situation is extremely difficult to find the right location to set up treatment to avoid duplication. I recommend a long term project. In what way it has to be determined. Initially I see importance to help the suffering and injured people wherever help is needed.

I will attempt to prepare a rough proposal as to the cost of such a project as soon as possible.

A brief summary of the situation in each parish follows:

In Port-au-prince, the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin is still standing but damaged. One reader, Vladimir, is missing and cannot be located. There are no confirmed casualties in the parish. The school operated by Fr. Jean was completely destroyed, along with his home and vehicle.

At Fontamara, Fr Gregoire`s home withstood both quakes, but the chapel of St Moses sustained some damage. The school operated by Fr Gregoire is damages as well.

At Jacmel the house where services are held is standing without damage. About 30 of the parishioners are injured, with three admitted to the hospital.

At Leogogne, the Church of Sts Peter and Paul and many houses were destroyed, but no details regarding the situation of the faithful is available.

The parishes in Cayes, Cap Haitien, and Maissade were unaffected.

Later today I will meet with an organization (I don`t have the exact name) that is working with IOCC. They are receiving a container today from IOCC with aid for the parishes.

In summary, the situation is very complicated and chaotic. Even within our parishes, We are determined to provide aid to the faithful and to the population at large. I will continue to report on our activity.

Please pray for all of us here.

In Christ,
Dcn Matthew

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

An Excellent Article About Church and Family

I want to bring to your attention an excellent article entitled, "On Consumerism in Church." It was written by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov, who is the priest at the church of New Martyrs of Russia, in Mulino, Oregon (just outside Portland). Fr. Sergei writes very well! He has said clearly some things that need to be said and understood; and I hope you will take a moment and read the article referenced above.