Considering St. Mary of Egypt’s Life of Repentance

Very little is known about the early life of St. Mary of Egypt, except that she was stripped of her innocence at the tender age of twelve. Over the next seventeen years, after having run away from her childhood home, she lived in a type of spiritual slavery to her physical passions, which led her to victimize many “young men,” likely in a similar fashion to how she was victimized when she was young.

Often times, persons who have been emotionally defrauded or physically abused early in life, will respond with similar destructive behavior toward others as a way of taking back the aspect of control that they were not afforded in their own lives.

The life that St. Mary lived during those years was one of separation from God and His assembly, and despite having indulged in such unhealthy pursuits, she still pined for a different kind of life; one that was void of such destructive proclivities.

St. Mary’s journey toward reconciliation is one that should be relatable to most, since her transformation did not take place in an instant. Rather, the process whereby she would become whole, would take many years and countless prayerful acts of repentance.

Today, psychologists and counselors might estimate that St. Mary suffered from a sexual addiction as a result of the trauma she endured as a child. Like many addictions, a person’s response to that which is perceived to control his behavior can often manifest negative habits. The results of these habits can be far-reaching and leave a trail of ruination. Often, through no fault of his own, a person may find himself living as a victim of someone else’s violent behavior, which can hinder his ability to pull himself up out of a desperate pit that has been created for him. But, just as a person can be victimized by the negative intentions of others, so too can he be healed by the positive actions of those who are looking to serve Christ in his brother.

At FOCUS North America, we look to ameliorate the plight of the poor because we realize that people are often suffering as a result of the choices that were thrust upon them without their consent. In an attempt to reverse the negative effects that have been forayed upon a person’s life, servant-leaders at FOCUS look to see Christ in, and be Christ for each person we serve. It is precisely because we understand the responsibility we have for our brothers and sisters that we act and respond with love toward people who may have been stripped of a fair shot at living a healthy and positive life—one that is oriented toward God.

Whether it is providing backpacks, stuffed with school supplies, to be distributed to home-insecure children and youth, so that they do not fall behind in school and in life, or providing families with toiletries and food, in order to help them avoid going into, or transition out of a shelter, FOCUS wants to be sure that we are doing everything we can to be a positive impact on the people we serve in communities across North America. Like St. Mary’s own journey, we understand that, for many, the process of becoming whole is often a slow and arduous one, but offering help along the way will ease the road of repentance for those who require it most.

During this Fifth Sunday of Great Lent, let us remember to see Christ and be Christ on our journey to Pascha.

John T. Moxen, Ph.D, National Programs Manager

FOCUS North America

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This Lenten Season, join our journey through “40 days with FOCUS,” a special weekly blog series where you will hear Lenten reflections from different servant-leaders who work within our organization. We are excited to share wisdom from the men and women who lead our ministries across the country with love and live out the mission of FOCUS every day in their work and lives. Thank you for reading! Make FOCUS part of your Lenten Almsgiving Today 

How We Can Unlock The Best In Others

You are the key that unlocks so many of the accomplishments achieved through our work at FOCUS.
Give during Lent and we’ll send you a free keychain!

Bring out the best in others and you can change the world

“Bring out the best in others, and you can change the world.”

Humans are meant to exist in community, we need each other by God’s design. In contrast to this, the design of our day to day existence in this world prioritizes individualism, selfish egos, and an “I-don’t-need-you” attitude focused on “ME.” (**Even though the “me” attitude can be unhealthy, self-care is important – check out Katrina Bitar’s thoughts here on the YES blog)

When we give into individualism, focus only on “me”, and isolate ourselves from community, we not only negatively impact ourselves, but also the people around us!

It’s important for us to be aware of how our lives, attitudes, and actions are connected to the people around us. When we choose to be a positive light, we can unlock transformative light in others as well!

Here’s some ways YOU can unlock the best in others, and yourself!

Trust others

Though the world may make us feel otherwise, generally people aren’t out to get you! We are so untrustworthy that we hesitate to even smile or say hello to people who are unfamiliar and different than us. If you don’t practice trust, the best part of both people will remain hidden.

Be generous

Part of being a good steward is recognizing the gifts God has given you, and then being generous with those gifts! Give freely to others. Give your time. Give your energy. Give the benefit of the doubt. Share your talents generously, and recognize the talents in others!

Show appreciation

Has someone had a positive impact in your life? Let them know! Appreciate the good that is in others and don’t be shy to give thanks and show gratitude. We’re showing our gratitude to people like YOU who work daily to serve and open your hearts to those in need by sending out a keychain with every donation. Click here to get yours!

Be open minded

There are so many messages thrown at us every day to consume, good and bad. Some of the worst messages are those that build walls between us, messages that reinforce biases or stereotypes that cause us to cast judgement on individuals or even entire groups of people. Instead of judging, be open minded and filter these messages through a lens of compassionate thinking… you may connect with someone you never thought could be possible!

Live in the present

Pay attention to who and what God puts in front of you on a daily basis. We live in a fast-paced society and it is easy to go through the motions without seeing God in everything and everyone around us. Live in the present and acknowledge that every day, every human, every opportunity is a gift from God!

To sum it up, the first step in bringing out the best in others is recognizing that that your actions matter! Acknowledge your role in the communities you are a part of. Whether you are one of many siblings in your family, a member of a club or sports team, a layperson at church, or just a visitor in a public space…embrace community! Then, through ownership of your attitude, improving the way you interact with others and yourself, and taking the challenge daily to live in the present, be open minded, be generous, trust others and show appreciation, you will transform your surroundings for the better!!

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When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves. William Arthur Ward

"Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others." Samuel Smiles

Climbing at our Neighbor’s Side: A Reflection on the Sunday of St. John Climacus

So much of my personal journey in Orthodoxy has been a growing understanding of the Body of Christ, including the interconnectedness I have with each person around me as a fellow human created in God’s image. Equally part of this journey has been my study of The Ladder of Divine Ascent.

In The Ladder, St. John Climacus calls each of us to a life long journey, always moving toward Christ. This journey includes breaking our connection to the worldly cares, tackling our physical and spiritual passions that distract us, and refocusing our attention on attaining the fundamental virtues that propel us up “the ladder” toward the revelation of the eternal love and peace that can only be found in Christ.

As humans striving to live in the world, but not become part of the world, reflecting on the message of St. John Climacus can be challenging – or even daunting. Often, when we face our own shortcomings, we can become harsh and fail to treat ourselves with the compassion that Christ would extend to us. This, at least, has been my experience.

As my experiences have grown in the Church, I now see that my journey is not unique.  The Church has taught me that every human is created in the image and likeness of Christ – a living Icon worthy of veneration. The words of St. John Climacus, however, remind me that we all are still human. We are all still subject to temptation and sin, and we often need each other when we are climbing up (and trying not to fall off) the ladder.

As part of the Body of Christ, I am surrounded by individuals who struggle with similar weaknesses, fallacies, and passions as I do. None of us, as an individual, is strong enough to climb the ladder alone.  For this reason, we climb the ladder together… we climb together as the Church.

When I succumb to my weaknesses and passions, I separate myself from the strength of the Church and those brothers and sisters with whom I share this journey. However, I cannot become so focused on my own journey to ignore when my brother or sister has fallen. Even though my neighbor may be struggling with a different physical or spiritual passions than me at any given time -some of us with slander, others with lust, others with vainglory –  we must each see that these passions of my neighbor are not any less or worse than my own. It is that spirit that it becomes very important that we should not seek to fix or help each other, for this suggests an imbalance. Instead, as fellow climbers in the Body of Christ, we must serve each other in Christ’s example.

Are we willing to see in each person we encounter, even those we do not know, or even like?  This is our challenge… to serve the sick, the naked, the imprisoned, the stranger, and to welcome them in the Body of Christ, for the sake of each of our salvation. As we climb together, we strive to obtain the virtues of meekness, humility, and discernment, so that together, as the Body of Christ, we might all attain the unity found only in His Love at the top of the ladder.

Kenneth Kidd, Development Director

FOCUS North America

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This Lenten Season, join our journey through “40 days with FOCUS,” a special weekly blog series where you will hear Lenten reflections from different servant-leaders who work within our organization. We are excited to share wisdom from the men and women who lead our ministries across the country with love and live out the mission of FOCUS every day in their work and lives. Thank you for reading! Make FOCUS part of your Lenten Almsgiving Today 

To Die Before You Die

Great Lent is a crucial journey and a treasured gift.  It’s this extended, intensified period of time that reflects what can actually happen in a day, a minute…a moment. We are always living and making choices, always experiencing places of suffering and death in our lives, and always existing in the joy of the empty tomb.  When we step into this journey as a citizen of the Kingdom, then the journey is a movement towards the Lord and others.  If we allow the Lord’s Kingdom to be as present as it is, then we will seek it at every moment.

Kingdom moments show up every day. The Kingdom is touching us and everything around us.  When God’s design for us is realized, there His Kingdom is.  When we come together in love, when we allow ourselves to be drawn to someone’s joy or pain, when we eat and sit together in community…these are realities of the Kingdom breaking into this world.

Our lives are a compilation of movements we choose and the circumstances we find ourselves in.  If through all of it, we respond as one who is seeking to realize God’s call, then we will truly die before we die.  What I mean is that our lives are meant to be sacrificial offerings.  As the Lord voluntarily offered Himself on the Cross for the life of the world, so too are we invited to voluntarily die to ourselves so that others might live and thrive.

What does it look like to die before you die?

 

Take up YOUR cross.

In the middle of Lent, we are presented with the Cross.  It is given to us to boost our strength and remind us where we are headed.  We often say that everyone has a “cross” to carry…which is a way of saying that every person has a burden that they bear and struggle with as they walk through life.  This is very true but following the Lord to the Cross isn’t just about bearing our burdens.  It’s about bearing the burdens of others.

When we look at the Cross held high, we should also remember the victory and the power of our Lord’s sacrificial love.  The text of the baptismal service proclaims that we are baptized into His “death.” Taking up my cross means that I set myself aside and allow the Lord to send me into the world to die for it.  This dying before we die will look differently for each of us, as we are set apart for different offerings.  But it begins with our trust and hope in what the Lord can do with a willing heart.

Mary embraces Theotokos.

“I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be according to Your will.” These powerful words wake me up every time I hear them.  It is with these words that Mary accepts that she is Theotokos, God-bearer.  By answering this call, she takes her place in God’s salvation story for the world.  She takes hold of her role in God’s plan and lets go of herself.  By doing this, she becomes her true self. Our lives are a constant preparation to hear and to answer as she did, pushing through fears and setting aside what we perceive our lives should look like.

Discover Your Offering.

God speaks to us in our hearts.  He has placed pure desires there that draw us to people and places where His will is realized.  If our lives are clouded with pursuing our own rewards and successes, we may not be able to hear our Lord when His loving call comes.  Pursuing an occupation for sustainability is different than pursuing your vocation.  The wrong pursuit with distorted motivations will likely leave you consistently miserable, empty, and in a state of longing.

To discover your calling, there are some questions to explore.  What is the thing that, when you do it, people receive good things from it?  Your unique calling is the best kind of difficult and leaves you exhausted in a fulfilling way.  It brings you and others deep joy. Be open to discovering it, and when you do, let it evolve and take different forms.  Through it all, trust that you will be taken care of when you are living out who you truly are.

Maintain Inner Peace.

If you have inner peace, do whatever you can to preserve it.  If you don’t have it, pursue it relentlessly.  Look to the spiritual guides and mentors in your life to help you find the best ways to pursue it.  Different things will work for different people.  Ultimately, you want to be able to lay your head on your pillow at night with a smile, having closure and resolution on the things that cause unrest in your heart.

Inner peace is a constant pursuit rooted in prayer and repentance.  There will always be external disturbances around us that we can’t control; things that are up in the air, crisis, transition, and the list goes on.  The state of peace in our hearts will determine how we process the external turbulence.  Pursuing your own inner peace benefits everyone.

Live one Life.

Our lives are not a bunch of boxes that are separate.  We have one life to live and one person to be.  There are different roles we have and different things we do.  But you will truly live in the Kingdom if you don’t draw lines in your life.

My spiritual Father once said that there aren’t times when our spiritual life is turned off.  We either live in the Spirit or we don’t.  Everything we do is spiritual if we do it as a servant of God.  The way we play sports, watch sports, watch TV, and even the way we exist in our church community.

Show up wherever you are as someone who is the Lord’s and you will feel oneness on the inside and, God willing, create oneness in your environment.

Heal divisions.

If you are able, work to heal the divisions that exist around you: conflict with others, unhealthy separation of groups, fear of unfamiliar people and places.  Choosing healthy relationships is different than being against someone.  It’s better to think about how you spend your time, rather than who and what you cut out of your life.  I choose to eat well.  I choose to exercise.  I try not to choose words or actions that foster conflict or division.  It’s the Lord’s design for humanity that we come together and exist as one body.  Look around and see if you can play a part in healing broken relationships or communities.

Check your motivations.

Take time to stop and ask yourself “why.” Then, with every step, focus your why on the Kingdom…and you will die before you die.

Katrina Bitar, Director

Youth Equipped to Serve

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This Lenten Season, join our journey through “40 days with FOCUS,” a special weekly blog series where you will hear Lenten reflections from different servant-leaders who work within our organization. We are excited to share wisdom from the men and women who lead our ministries across the country with love and live out the mission of FOCUS every day in their work and lives. Thank you for reading! Make FOCUS part of your Lenten Almsgiving Today 

Do Not Hesitate!

Kontakion – Tone 4

Now is the time for action! Judgment is at the doors!

So let us rise and fast, offering alms with tears of compunction and crying:

“Our sins are more in number than the sands of the sea;

but forgive us, O Master of all,

so that we may receive the incorruptible crowns.”

 

Marking the second week of Great Lent that commemorates Saint Gregory Palamas, we have entered into the church’s exhortation to act, and to react, to the pressing judgment that is at hand. As the penitential nature of our Lenten Journey prepares us to greet the joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, so repentance is the conduit that inspires us to open ourselves to the hope of redemption. Turning ourselves towards inward examination and an increase in spiritual preparation, we discover that the work of repentance inherently implies a change, some action that reflects our desire to progress beyond the foibles of human nature that confine us – but in fact, do not have to define us. During the season of Great Lent, the Church in her wisdom teaches us to pay even more attention to the Christian virtues of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But I would like to encourage another virtue in our Lenten efforts, and that is one of action.

Saint Gregory, through his application and deep immersion into the monastic practice of Hesychasm, was a living witness that men can become divine through an intense practice of “prayer of the heart,” and that even in this life, human beings can become participants of the uncreated light of God’s divine glory. Hesychasm is sometimes translated as a “calm silence” but imagine the intensity of this practice and the sheer energy that goes into a quietening of the heart and mind, focussing our senses, so that the Glory of the Lord can preside in His full ineffable glory. Here is “action” whose fulfillment can scarcely be described. Of course, as most of us cannot attain such synergy with prayer and oneness with God, the simple question is how can we participate in the divinity of God that we are called to seek? Brothers and sisters, it is through a thoughtful but un-inhibited movement towards service to one another!

Consider this: much of our salvation will be viewed through the prism of repentance that is transformed into action. To repent is not just to feel dissatisfied, but to take a decision and to act upon it. But action is not without cost. How many are times do we hold back when an opportunity for service to others is presented to us? What makes us hesitate – do we hesitate to run headlong towards the Resurrection? We do not! We eagerly reach out to partake of all that is made whole, all that is forgiven, and all that is redeemed. Who would hesitate to taste and experience unending Paschal joy? Yet for us to take action, perhaps we’re unsure how to proceed, unsure how much to “get involved,” possibly uncommitted to a cause, previously uninformed or unaware of a need, or un-used to volunteerism. This is where we must take the conscious steps to consider a need outside of our own experience and that we can, with Gods help, respond actively in faith and love.

As we travel again this year through the purifying experience of Great Lent, there is much to be done in the days ahead.  I ask you to stop and think about what you can do  – and then always, and without hesitation, do something. The world and all that is in it is ours to consider. Open your eyes to this knowledge and do not turn back from an opportunity to do an act of service or kindness for someone in need. Not every opportunity will be the right one, but there will be at least one opportunity that will be waiting for you. I will tell you, do not seek to “make a difference.”  Let your actions no matter how simple or humble, be the difference.  Collect cans of food, serve a meal to the hungry, and pray for the poor and needy. Whether you are an electrician, or a daycare teacher, an insurance salesman, banker, barista, or barber, worker bee or a dreamer – give, offer, donate, gather, feed, work, volunteer, and again, pray. Once, twice, countless times, whatever you can do. In this way, through action, and with intent we become more fully prepared, without hesitation, to run towards and embrace the Joy of the Resurrection.

 

Vera Proctor, Director

FOCUS Minnesota

 

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This Lenten Season, join our journey through “40 days with FOCUS,” a special weekly blog series where you will hear Lenten reflections from different servant-leaders who work within our organization. We are excited to share wisdom from the men and women who lead our ministries across the country with love and live out the mission of FOCUS every day in their work and lives. Thank you for reading! Make FOCUS part of your Lenten Almsgiving Today 

Who Are We Serving? A Reflection on the Sunday of Orthodoxy

On the first Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the restoration of the use of holy icons, holy images, in the Orthodox Christian Church.  In affirming the use of icons at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787, the church, at the same time, was affirming the incarnation of Jesus Christ, affirming the fact that the eternal Son of God became truly human and could, therefore, be depicted in His humanity just as surely as we can be depicted in our humanity.  Painting an icon (or writing an icon as many iconographers prefer to say) of Christ in his humanity in no way limits or denies His divinity, which cannot be depicted (to attempt to depict Christ in His deity would, in fact, be idolatry). Sadly, there were those who continued to war against the use of holy icons for the next six decades.  However, after the death of the last iconoclast emperor, Theophilos, his young son Michael III, with his mother, the regent Theodora, and Patriarch Methodios, convened the Synod of Constantinople in 843 to bring peace to the Church and resolution as to the use of icons.  At the end of the first session, all made a triumphal procession to the Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom, restoring the icons to the church. This occurred on March 11th, 843 (which that year was the first Sunday of Lent). The Synod decreed that a perpetual feast on the anniversary of that day should be observed each year on the First Sunday of Great Lent, and named the day, “The Sunday of Orthodoxy.”

It is this triumphal procession which strikes me as I write today.  A procession of faithful believers, holding icons or images of Christ, Mary His Mother, the Saints, scenes from the scriptures including the cross and the resurrection on the third day.

The imagery of the procession reveals something profound – the more notable icons in the procession are not the ones made by human hands at all, but rather, the very people who were carrying the icons themselves.

Each one of them was created in the image (eikona) of God, “And God said, let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness…So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

The historical scene was a procession of icons carrying icons, images carrying images.  In honoring holy icons, we show honor and respect to humankind, God’s greatest creation.  In fact, God is the first and chief iconographer, and we are his masterpiece.

This is how we at the St. Herman House – FOCUS Cleveland and more broadly, FOCUS North America, see everyone we serve, as a masterpiece created by God.

We do not deny the brokenness of the masterwork, but if Christ Himself voluntarily suffered for the sake of His broken masterpiece, then so must we.  Sometimes it is hard to see what God sees. We must rely on what we believe and our spiritual eyes.  And what we believe is true, beneath the hurt – a masterpiece, beneath the addiction – a masterpiece. Beneath the mental and physical maladies – a masterpiece, beneath the anger, despair, sorrow, grief – all of it – a masterpiece.  You must see it, you must strive to see what God sees, what Christ died for, what all of us are – created in His image.

Each day the procession begins, God’s broken masterpieces processing through the doors of St. Herman House and FOCUS North America’s outreach centers seeking food, clothing, shelter, compassion, hope, love, and something of which they may not even be aware, the God who made them, the Savior who died for them.

So let us venerate these icons!  Let us greet these images with a holy kiss!  Without such veneration our work is vain, our efforts are misguided, and our understanding of the great nature of our work on behalf of Jesus Christ, the Lover of humankind will be void.

May God richly bless you all on your journey to the empty tomb!

-Paul Finley, Center Director

St. Herman’s FOCUS Cleveland

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This Lenten Season, join our journey through “40 days with FOCUS,” a special weekly blog series where you will hear Lenten reflections from different servant-leaders who work within our organization. We are excited to share wisdom from the men and women who lead our ministries across the country with love and live out the mission of FOCUS every day in their work and lives. Thank you for reading! Make FOCUS part of your Lenten Almsgiving Today 

FOCUS Turned 10! Help Us Celebrate With These 10 Service Ideas

Here are 10 ideas we think would be great ways to kick-start serving others in your communities!

  1. Organize a drive for your local food bank! When you drop off the items, ask about other ways you can get involved throughout the year.
  2. Cook a meal at your local homeless shelter. Don’t be afraid to sit and talk with residents after meal service is done…you might meet a new life long friend.
  3. Volunteer as a tutor for children in need after school (If you’re in Detroit check out FOCUS’ work in the local schools!)
  4. Connect with your local women’s shelter – inquire what their regular needs are and see if your women’s group can offer to help once a month.
  5. Decorate cards for veterans during Sunday school and deliver them to your local VA office.
  6. Young professionals – organize a workshop to help craft resumes for job seekers who might need help putting their best foot forward. Host it at your parish hall OR go to a local vocational school, shelter, or community center.
  7. Buy a pack of index cards and write inspirational messages on each one! Keep a few in your purse, pocket, glove box, etc. so if you encounter someone in need of a little extra joy – you have some to spare!
  8. Host a free community meal once a month at your church. Invite anyone in the community and embrace the chance to serve whoever comes by. Be sure to sit and eat with your visitors – you might be surprised by what you learn from who you meet. (If you’re in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Paul, St. Louis, Beaver County or Orange County then check out what opportunities may be at your local FOCUS center!)
  9. Collect new socks and underwear for your local homeless shelter – simple basics that we often take for granted!
  10. Keep $5 on hand to give to a homeless stranger or anyone you may meet in a time of need! Challenge yourself to remember that “need alone is a poor man’s worthiness” (St. John Chrysostom).

See an idea you like? Take Action! Help us celebrate our 10 years of serving others and join us in embracing your community through Christ-inspired service.

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Do Our Relationships Offend Divine Love?

Forgive me, a sinner.

God forgives, and I forgive.

Every year we bow before each other, with these words on our lips. We exchange the kiss of peace with friends, family, and even strangers (have you ever been a guest in a parish on Forgiveness Sunday?!)

Why do we do this?

Why ask forgiveness from someone I have not offended?

Why offer forgiveness to someone who has done nothing to offend me?

“The Church reveals to us that there are much subtler ways of offending Divine Love. These are indifference, selfishness, lack of interest in other people, of any real concern for them—in short, that wall which we usually erect around ourselves, thinking that by being “polite” and “friendly” we fulfill God’s commandments. The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize – be it only for one minute – that our entire relationship to other men is wrong, makes us experience that encounter of one child of God with another, of one person created by God with another, makes us feel that mutual “recognition” which is so terribly lacking in our cold and dehumanized world.

On that unique evening, listening to the joyful Paschal hymns, we are called to make a spiritual discovery: to taste of another mode of life and relationship with people, of life whose essence is love. We can discover that always and everywhere Christ, the Divine Love Himself, stands in the midst of us, transforming our mutual alienation into brotherhood.”

This excerpt from the introduction to the booklet, Forgiveness Sunday Vespers, published by Department of Religious Education of the Orthodox Church in America, says regardless “offense” to our neighbor, we are all guilty of offending Divine Love when we build walls around ourselves and fail to encounter and recognize Christ in each other.

Let’s read again: “The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize – be it only for a minute – that our entire relationship to other men is wrong”

Let these words sink in. The way we are used to relating to each other on a day to day basis is wrong!

We offend Divine Love when we are content with living lives that are separate from each other.

We build walls around ourselves. We build walls around groups of people “different” than us. We build walls that keep us from experiencing and sharing Christ’s Divine Love.

Trying to overcome this offense, which we have grown numb to in today’s society, is what inspires the approach FOCUS takes to living and serving, both in the church and in our surrounding communities.

In order for us to serve and have that service become anything meaningful in our lives or the lives of those we serve, we must break down these divisive walls.

How do we do this?

Strive to learn instead of assuming

Have you ever heard the saying about what happens when you assume? Let’s just say – the outcome is not good! Our assumptions can lead us astray if we do not take the time to learn about the reality of a situation.

It might be easy to look at someone begging on the street and assume that they are too lazy to find a job, and therefore to blame for their situation.

However, when we take the time to learn about homelessness and employment, the reality is between 40 and 60 percent of the homeless population participates in either part- or full-time work throughout the year.

Don’t fix your neighbor, Serve them

Has someone ever come to you with a problem and your immediate reaction is to spew out advice or take aggressive action in a failed attempt to fix their problem for them?

When someone is in need, fixing isn’t always the right approach for a few reasons. First – it assumes that the person you’re trying to fix is broken. Second – it assumes that the “fixer” is not broken. The truth is, we are all broken and in need.

Advice and action are sometimes needed, but only after offering a listening ear. Stepping in stride beside someone who is going through troubled times allows for us to recognize our own brokenness and truly SERVE in the spirit of Christ’s love!

View life through a lens of compassion

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37

We have written before about stereotypes vs. compassionate thinking. In every encounter, we have to challenge ourselves to reach out with compassion instead of judgment.

To judge others requires separation. If we recognize that each of us is made in the image and likeness of Christ, there would be no room to judge because we would be venerating and loving each other instead!

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This Lenten Season, join our journey through “40 days with FOCUS,” a special weekly blog series where you will hear Lenten reflections from different servant-leaders who work within our organization. We are excited to share wisdom from the men and women who lead our ministries across the country with love and live out the mission of FOCUS every day in their work and lives. Thank you for reading! Make FOCUS part of your Lenten Almsgiving Today 

Why We Are Called to Serve

 

A man once asked some of his friends the following question: “What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘ministry’?” He received many answers to the question, but two of them were rather unfortunate. “That’s Father’s job,” his friends replied. Ministry simply defined is serving others. The fact of the matter is that every Orthodox Christian is called to ministry. That is, we are all called to serve.

Every year on Meatfare Sunday, two Sundays before the beginning of Great Lent, we hear the Gospel account of the Final Judgment (Matthew 25:31–46). Christ gives a sobering account of the judgment of the righteous and the wicked.

The righteous inherit eternal life, having acts of mercy as evidence of their faith in Christ. The Lord places them at His right hand, stating “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” The wicked, on the other hand, are sent to eternal punishment for their lack of mercy.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to Me.” Our Lord identifies with those in need, and our response to them is an indication of our response to Him.

Some people may ask, “Why do I have to serve the less fortunate? Why can’t I just worry about my family and friends?”

While it is important to look after our friends and relatives and to serve them during their times of need, Jesus clearly states that we benefit when serving those who cannot repay us. In the Final Judgment passage, He uses the following people as examples: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned.

Let us also consider the Savior’s words in Luke 6:34: “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.”

So if serving is important for us as Orthodox Christians, how do we lead our children to it? Children can be quite impressionable.

Parents, grandparents, and godparents often have a profound impact on the younger members of their families, particularly in matters of faith. Their example, or lack thereof, has the potential to shape children’s attitudes toward the Church and serving others.

It is essential to make Orthodoxy a regular part of a child’s life as early as possible, both on Sunday in church and throughout the week at home. In addition to praying together daily as a family, it is also wise to reinforce your child’s Church school lesson from the previous Sunday.

Furthermore, families should make charitable service a regular component of their lives. If your son or daughter happens to ask why your family is visiting the sick, attending Orthodox prayer services at nursing homes, or volunteering to feed the hungry, you may simply respond that “Christ wants us to do this.” Stated another way, genuine Christian faith influences our actions. Orthodoxy is not just a religion; it is a way of life.

There are numerous ministry opportunities for Orthodox Christians both in the parish and in the community at large.

Most parishes have ministry opportunities such as altar servers, choir members, chanters, readers, greeters, church school teachers, and many more. It is also important for us to serve those who are beyond our home church’s walls: the community at large.

Though opportunities may vary from one city to another, there are many Orthodox ministries that are in need of volunteers and/or donors.

Ask your priest how you may get involved in one or more ministries at your home parish, and discuss the possibilities with your children.

Come up with a project that works for your family.

Christ teaches us about mercy: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

May we emulate the mercy of Christ as we serve those around us.

Gerald Largent is ministry coordinator of the St. Panteleimon Orthodox Christian Outreach, a tax-exempt, pan-Orthodox ministry under the spiritual protection of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Lakewood, Ohio (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA–Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople). He regularly visits residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other group homes. You can contact Gerald atJavaScript required to view address

Our Foundational Inspiration: A Message From FOCUS’ Executive Director

This Sunday is a special one for all of us who serve, work, support and pray for the ministry of FOCUS.

If you’re reading this, no doubt that includes you.

Today’s Gospel, the famous account of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25, is the foundational inspiration for all of our work. As our Lord says to those who provided compassionate service and care to those less fortunate: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).

What a beautiful and yet sobering maxim! 

How often, given the atomized patterns of modern civilization, are we truly attentive to those who are “the least” in our lives and neighborhoods? Yet Jesus calls us to serve not only those who are close, those whom we already like and know, but precisely those who might be least on our minds, who might be ignored or alone or not blessed with the love and support of friends and family. 

Further, in today’s Gospel reading Jesus calls us to pay special attention to the very practical, corporeal needs of those without sufficient food, clothing, and financial resources. Doing so is an inherently spiritual act, because when we give freely and generously, we actually experience a glimpse of God’s very person. In the words of the Apostle Paul: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Giving of ourselves ultimately conforms our minds to the image of Christ. As it says in “A Prayer for FOCUS,” which I certainly hope you will make part of your Lenten journey: 

Help us to strip ourselves of our earthly adornment,
that the poor may be sufficiently clothed and fed.
And, by so loving our neighbor,
adorn us with the everlasting pearls of virtue instead.

Where there is suffering, help us to bring Your mercy.
Where there is despair, Your hope;
Where there is pain, You who are the Comforter;
Where there is hatred, You who are Love.

As a Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve, our goal is to empower and walk alongside those who want to follow the calling of our Lord in Matthew 25. Throughout the country, we are feeding, clothing, housing, and serving our neighbors in need every day. Thank you for being a part of that mission, as a volunteer, advocate, or supporter.

With prayer and love in Christ, and wishes for a blessed Lent,

Seraphim Danckaert

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This Lenten Season, join our journey through “40 days with FOCUS,” a special weekly blog series where you will hear Lenten reflections from different servant-leaders who work within our organization. We are excited to share wisdom from the men and women who lead our ministries across the country with love and live out the mission of FOCUS every day in their work and lives. Thank you for reading! Make FOCUS part of your Lenten Almsgiving Today