Thursday, August 1, 2013

Bite your tongue!

"True escape from the world is for a person to know how to control his tongue, wherever he might be" Abba Tithoes

Recently, I came across an article about human sex-trafficking that really disturbed me. The issue itself is a major problem on its own, besides what happens as a result of it - to the family, the girls, their future. As I read the article, I kept getting more and more sick to my stomach. Why would someone make a beautiful young girl do this? You'd think that maybe a regular person would not be able to relate to something like sex-trafficking, until I continued to read on.

 "I've always been viewed as a h*. Once you’re called something enough, it’s like ‘Well, I already am.’

Can you believe that? From the amount of times she was called something, she kind of took on that form because it was all she heard! What I've seen recently starting with middle school kids, possibly even earlier, is that friends call friends with all these types of derogatory terms. It starts off with things that we think are okay, such as 'dummy, idiot, etc' and turns into 'b****, sl** wh***' - all common jargon in a public school hallway nowadays. Even being around that can hurt us. St Antony the Great said, "Whoever receives a man speaking evil or a calumniator, associates with a murderer." Did you catch that? Associates with a MURDERER!

One story my priest told me once, and I'll never forget, has to do with controlling what we say --
There was once a boy who used to curse a lot to others, and his father told him that for every curse he said, he had to put a nail in the fence surrounding their house. Before you know it, the whole fence was full. The young boy noticed his wrongdoing and tried to change. His father told him that for every day he didn't curse, he could take a nail out of the fence. Finally, after a long time, the fence was clear of all the nails. 'Daddy, daddy, look! the nails are gone!' His father was very pleased, but told the son, 'Now, take a look at the fence, all the nails are out, but those holes will remain forever'.

That story will always be in the back of my mind, alongside with what this young girl said. Maybe, if we start calling each other saints, it can work the other way--- ya think?

Monday, July 1, 2013


"Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor" - Truman Capote

Failure is relative. Of course not when it comes to an exam or anything of the like, but in many cases it is relative. Some people thrive from failures, some stay down, some are motivated, and some just frown. (Didn't mean for that to rhyme, but why not!).

In terms of service to God, several people have different ways of gauging whether they 'succeeded' or 'failed'. If a lot of people showed up, if there were enough chairs, if the prep was done properly, if people were baptized, or anything. God never ceases to amaze me that truly, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiaih 55:8-9

Yesterday in my parish, we held our first big local community event. We planned for a huge outdoor BBQ and a 'Movie under the stars'. We did EVERYTHING to make sure this day was perfect. From Google docs to Google hangouts, from early advertising to last minute Costco runs, we were ready. What we wanted to do was to just show our local community (Stony Point, NY) that WE as the Church were there for them. God cared for us, so we should care for them. We had no hidden agenda, no undercover Bible study, just wanted to share God's love with those around us. So from the preparation to the presentation, (man, i'm on a roll with rhyming today huh!), everything was executed perfectly. We split up into teams for games, decorations, food, welcome table, tour guides, parking, everything. We had pamphlets made, sign in sheets, individually wrapped chocolate. We EVEN had a bouncy house. After prayer and prep, we were ready - at 5:30, we were just waiting for the swarm of people to come in. The plan was to come in, meet some people, enjoy a free BBQ and watch Despicable Me on a huge outdoor movie screen that we rented, next to a bon fire with smores. There was not a detail left undone.

We handed out over 450 flyers, going from house to house and then the local police and fire department, the delis and bagel stores, the ice cream shops and shop rites, we did it all. We even went to the local library to hang up a flyer, and the people who worked there had already heard about the event, it had actually become to talk of the town! Now, what do you think happened? Not a SINGLE person showed up, can you believe that? Let's think about this, if we had spread the word so much and people had agreed to come and even to the point where people knew about it that we didn't advertise to, we would expect AT THE MINIMUM, one or two families. No, not one person from the community showed up. Is that a coincidence? I think the only way possible that nobody came, is that it was an act of God, it must have been. What are the chances that zero people show up, if we had verbal agreements from people, flyers, word of mouth, everything. In my opinion, God didn't want anybody to come that day.

What was my take-away? Unity. Throughout the book of Acts, the phrase 'in one accord' is said many times. That's how our team was. From praying together for no rain, to meetings, to dividing responsibilities, we were on the same page. One thing I'm very proud of, is that the group wasn't discouraged. We ended up eating some food and watching the movie on the lawn anyway, (just to get ready for Despicable Me 2 this week!). God has a plan for this group, a great plan, and I think without this SUCCESS, we wouldn't have seen it. We would've thought we did everything by our own efforts. Yes we would've 'thanked God', but inside we would've been so proud of ourselves.

Food for thought? - "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good" Gen 50:20. God has different plans than we do most of the time. Whether its to be thrown in a pit to later become a leader - or to have no one show up to your party to later finding space to accommodate 3,000 people - God ALWAYS has a plan. Don't ever give up or be discouraged when you are serving God. So was this a failure? Nah, just one big step in the right direction!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pentecost 3000 - We're back in 2013!!

"...and the Lord added daily to the church those who were being saved" Acts 2:47

Hello all! I hope everyone is partaking of the Holy 50 days with feasts upon feasts - for your spirit of course, not just body ;)

Now its time to put to practice what we've gained during lent and are absorbing during these Holy 50 Days, which is also known as the Pentecost Period.

Last year, parishes from all over the world, including USA, Canada, Mexico, UK, Kenya, Australia, and many others partook of what the Lord commanded us to do and empowered the disciples and us on the day of Pentecost.

This year, we invite you all to help us continue the work that Jesus Christ started and lets fully anamnesis, (re-live) the Feast of Pentecost!

Excited?! I am! Just imagine if hundreds of parishes throughout the world, held an outreach event to share the love of God with their local communities, all on the same day - Pentecost! The possibilites are ENDLESS to make this Pentecost unforgettable. We'll declare with our actions that famous line of the Orthodox Creed "Yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit", and really see His divine ability to change the world and bring people to know the truth of who Jesus Christ is.

For more info on how to get started, please visit for all your needs. There is downloadable starter kits, information pamphlets, flyers to advertise, everything you need!

Any other questions, email

Monday, May 13, 2013

From Protestant to Orthodox - In search for Truth

Christ is Risen! I hope everyone had a blessed Feast of Feasts in celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ! 

I want to share with you a story of a friend named Markus who is Danish by nationality and Coptic Orthodox Christian by faith. I met Markus while celebrating Palm Sunday in the Coptic Church in Denmark, and we began to discuss how he found the Coptic Church and how things have been going for him. Please watch the video above, and I will share some of my thoughts on what he said.

The start of his journey, as he said, was that he was attending a Protestant church for a while but kept leaving 'hungry'. He didn't want to have this feeling. He read in the Bible and tried to, objectively, see what faith today most closely resembles what Christ had instituted. As he continued reading and learned about Orthodoxy, and read the Philokalia and Didache - he found the Orthodox Church to be his new home.

As he explains, when he learned about the Divine Liturgy and the richness of it, he said he always got 'full' and left stuffed, as he would from a 3 hour Danish feast :). This was just one aspect that stood out to him. The full sacramental life and how important it was to us individually as part of our daily lives really resonated with him. It reminds me of something St Gregory of Nazianzus said on Resurrection Feast - "Unless you relive the saving events that happen at the Feast, you have not celebrated it"

I don't want to add too much to what he said, but the last thing that really stuck out to me was about what he felt the most connected with and what key parts drew him to stay. As much as some of us may not agree on this - Language and Culture was a huge barrier for Markus. He explained to me that the priest who he was meeting with didn't take that away from him. He advises young evangelists and says "don't kill the culture, but Christianize it" His example was having a beer, which is a very big part of Danish culture. He says he will have one once in a while, and for him that is important in not feeling stripped of what he was used to. [I'm not saying alcohol was the thing he was used to, and I'm also not saying its okay for everybody, just giving his example;)]

The Bishop who prayed the Feast liturgy used Danish. This means SO much to the natives there. Markus said something that I won't forget. He understands English and Danish, but Danish is his first language. He said "When I hear in English it stays in my mind, but when I hear in Danish, my native language, it reaches my heart and that is very important in Christianity". Its like how some of us may never say a curse word in our native language, but know them in other languages and they flow freely off our tongue - "it doesn't count if its not in English" we'll say. =P

If we want to spread the Love of God and the news of His Resurrection, remember to meet people where they are at. From culture to language to social class to age to sports and favorite foods, there is always a middle ground where we all stand.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Holy Week.. Almost there!

"It is HIS cross that saves us, not ours" - Fr Alexander Schmemann

So, for many Orthodox Christians, Holy Week and Easter is just a week away.. we're almost there guys!

You know how it goes in lent, the first week goes by and you say to yourself, "Gosh this one is gonna be soooo long!" Then when there is a week left, you say to yourself, "I can't believe its almost over!" Well just over a week ago, I had one of those moments - but for a different reason. The latter thought continued like this "I can't believe its almost over, and I haven't benefited!" This is no ones fault other than my own. I was searching around my heart and mind the reason for this, and out of nowhere - BAM, it hit me! There was so much I was doing, but I wasn't actually doing anything.. I was fasting, only felt that I missed out on certain foods, I was praying, just felt that time was passing, I was reading, just as a duty...

I've been in Europe for the past few weeks and have really gotten the chance to spend time alone. (Side note: It was pretty funny actually because I was talking to one of my friends the other day and was telling him that being alone in another country is tough, he responded saying 'yea it must be tough but spend time with yourself', and I clarified saying 'That's not so much the issue, but I literally speak about 20-30 words the whole day!'. Hotel receptionists, waiters, co-workers, all but a few words in English.) Back to what I was saying, spending time alone. So I spoke to my Father of confession telling him that lent is almost over and I don't want it to pass without me gaining anything. He told me to pray more, fast harder, and read more diligently. At first I said okay that's the typical answer, but then I thought about it and it was just what I needed! Not just to simply do the tasks more, but to use them as tools to strengthen my relationship with God, and realize just how much I need His saving-ness. "Save us now!," we will cry out on Palm Sunday, and it isn't until we realize that it isn't because of the prayers or fastings or prostrations that we will receive salvation, but by them we will be able to "see ourselves" and truly notice where we are sick, and be able to go to the True Physician to heal us.

Which leads me back to the beginning quote by Fr Alexander Schmemann, "It is HIS cross that saves us, not ours"... Don't give glory to yourself for being able to abstain for a certain time, or for reading a certain amount, or disciplining your body harshly - for these will only allow you to think you've done something that deserves a reward. God did, is doing, and will do the work for our reward.

I will end on a quote from St John Climacus from Ladder of Divine Ascent on detachment, "Derided, mocked, jeered, you must accept the denial of your will. You must patiently endure opposition, suffer neglect without complain, and put up with violent arrogance. You must not be angered by contempt and you must show humility when you have been condemned. Happy are those who follow this road and avoid other highways. Theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lent! - Woohoo!!

"He who has been able to see himself has accomplished more than one who has seen the angels." - St Isaac the Syrian

So as we begin Lent, I just wanted to think out loud a bit as to what is in store this year.  Lent means different things to different people. Giving up certain foods, practices, routines, among other things. Everyone has experienced different things, grew up in different places, and made their own decisions about what to do during this time. Initially, I thought, there was a cookie-cutter way of doing things --everyone has to abstain till 3pm, no TV, no radio, no meat or dairy-- and we'd be set. Everyone has their own modifications as well, some with cheese, some with milk, etc. This is between the person and their father of confession of course, and is not a bad thing. Its good to personalize it to make it real to us individually. I'm by no means giving any rules or guidelines here, just expressing what I am trying to do this Lent period.

Fr Thomas Hopko wrote a book called Lenten Spring, which discusses the journey of Lent. There are a few reasons it is correlated to Spring. From spring cleaning (getting rid of the junk laying around), to flowers and plants budding and being watered and growth - we can learn so much from this. From the quote above by St Isaac, we can see there comes a lot with knowing who we really are. And this is my focus for lent.

Once we know who we really are, we do that spring cleaning, we will really be able to see where we lack. We may get a lot of advice to focus on reading, alms giving, helping the poor, less TV, this and that - if we focus on everything, we are focusing on nothing. That's what St Isaac was talking about, about seeing ourselves - self examination. If we sit with ourselves and really focus, then we will see what we need to focus on. Some will need to read more, some will need to care for the homeless more, and that's the beauty of it. We shouldn't judge others if they are not doing the same things we are doings - because we are all "fearfully and wonderfully made" Ps 139:14

The last thing I want to share is a personal reflection. Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander is a pretty rough book in its instruction. One of the chapters called On Obedience was telling the reader to search for opportunities to be obedient, so that we may grow in virtue and submission. My goal is to look at fasting the same way - I don't want to say ''ugghh, the fast is starting'', I want to say "Yes! Lent is here baby, lets do this!" Seeing the importance of fasting, why I personally need it, and seeing the real benefit of it, will make me go through it and really benefit.. what do you guys think?

Also lastly, this is a post called "I want real food" that I wrote last year before lent. Enjoy!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Zambia Mission Trip Video

This is just a small video I put together that captured most of the trip.

The first thing I said when I came back from my first mission trip was "What I learned about serving in Africa is that you don't have to go to Africa to serve" Of course I went back!

What I meant by that is that there is so much going on around us and at times we feel that we just can't do anything. I reached that point and needed to go back to get recharged to better my service back here. This of course doesn't mean we forget about our brothers and sisters abroad.

Whether its your calling to give your life as a missionary in another country, or to experience it a few times - I urge EVERYONE if God gives you the opportunity to go on a trip anywhere to serve, DO IT! Just don't stop when you get back home, it should be just the beginning!

For more information about serving in Africa, visit

or email me any questions:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The heart of a child - Lessons from Zambia

Click to watch my interview with him!

"Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!" - 1 John 3:1

How awesome is that? Looking into the original Greek word for children is the word τέκνον pronounced tek-non. It doesn't just mean child - but it more accurately means someone who depends upon something. More leaning towards a child rather than a son/daughter

If you check out the video here, my friend Rapson allowed me to interview him shortly on his life in Zambia and what the Church has done for him.

Before I get more into it, just a little background of the service in Zambia. The Coptic Church has a health clinic, (free to those who can't afford it) a school, (also free to those who can't afford it) and most importantly an open heart to anyone who needs comfort.

Upon asking him what the Church has done for him, he talks about the school, learning, etc.. and closes with saying "teaches us to be a good servant". I continued with other questions, but in my mind I was screaming, WHHATTT?!? How old is this kid? This is what he thinks about? When I was 11 years old I was picking my nose and playing Super Mario Bros. It's pretty amazing that he is on this thinking level, but let's take a step back and see what caused this.

He said the Church has helped him learn these things and give him a home among other things. I would rather focus on how we can do that, as opposed to criticizing our kids and churches here, especially the latter.  We would see a video like this, or hear it anywhere, that churches provide many things for people, and we could just become bitter towards our church that it may not do the same things, and leave it at that. 

What about the fact that WE are called to be the church? Yes, we may not have all the resources to start our own school or hospital, but look past that. When can we become the place for nourishment for yearning souls? When can we become the well to draw from? When can we become what we are called to be like - created in the Image of God? "God is LOVE" 1 John 4:16

"For to love is to give, give until it hurts. Because when we have nothing, God becomes everything" - Mama Maggie

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Freedom in Prison - Lessons from Zambia

Fr Abraham preaching to prisoners in Zambia - click for video!
"It was the first time in my life that I felt prisoners had more freedom than I did" - that was the thought that kept resonating in my mind as soon as we walked out of that prison.

Just a few days ago, I returned from a mission trip to Zambia where I spent just under two weeks. I will spend the next few posts talking about the amazing experience I had, not only to share it with others but also to not just make it an experience for me but something to bring back and turn into daily life practice.

"How could I bring a mission trip back home?" was a question I had asked myself since my first mission trip to Kenya in 2009. I had my thoughts and tried a few things, even had some success (in my own opinion) - but there was something else.  I learned the full answer to that question this past trip, upon meeting one of the greatest guys I now know, Fr Abraham. Fr Abraham is a missionary who lives in Zambia with his wife Dalia and their son, Josiah. They moved to Zambia about 7 years ago after hearing God's call for them. Maybe I'll spend another post on them and their journey, but maybe after I get permission from them :).

I learned about two prisons when I was in Zambia. First, the actual prison we went to visit. We had a hard time getting in and bringing all the other missionaries in, so we prayed kept our head up, and about an hour later they let us in! Once we were in, it was a different world. We were praising God like no other. We sang some songs, did a skit, and shared some messages. (Refer to video for Fr Abraham's message above). Everyone was so eagerly sitting and listening to the Word of God. Fr Abraham was telling them about freedom and forgiveness and God's mercy and that we are all deserving of a second chance. "If you want to be free, make Jesus' presence known inside this prison" That statement led to cheering and clapping and revival inside! After this, Fr Abraham prayed for everyone enclosed in those walls, and I have never felt a prayer like that in my life. The best (or worst) part about it, is that it was nothing I haven't heard before. The best because such simple words, with a simple accepting heart like those in the prison, can do WONDERS! The worst part, is because those words have become numb to me.. but not that day. "These are Your children, you can never abandon them.. put Your hand of Mercy and Grace upon them".. Those words have never left my ears since then, and why?

That's my second prison - the prison I live in. Being so caught up in the world back here, so numb to HUGE promises from God, and not noticing it for a second.. So back to my original question of "How could I bring a mission trip back home?" - That's what I learned from Fr Abraham and his wife Dalia. The simplicity of God and obeying His word will change your life. That's why when I saw them, it seemed as though they had been there for just a week, not 7 years. Why? Their love for God, acceptance of His promises, and their obedience to Him no matter what, has given them such zeal and passion to serve Him faithfully and with a huge smile :)