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.

Want to share your favorite service project? Leave a comment, or send us a message JavaScript required to view address

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 

Compassion Is Divine

Prodigal Son Icon

Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, February 24, 2008

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

What is the opposite of fear?  You might say “courage” and you might be right. But it has been suggested that the opposite of fear is compassion.  I like that answer best.  Where there is no fear there is no need for defensiveness.  Judgment relies on fear. So does hate. Without fear compassion becomes possible.  If we are not defending ourselves, then the way is open to love.  Compassion, I insist, is not weakness. Compassion is strength.  Compassion is divine.

Let’s talk for a moment about the father in the story of the Prodigal Son.  He is fearless. He takes the risk of offering his sons their inheritance before his death. They could have taken everything!  When the younger son decides to take him up on the proposal, the father does not go back on his promise. He doesn’t try to stop him. He freely embraces his son’s freedom of choice.  How many of us could do such a thing?  How many of us, when presented with the opportunity, confirm the freedom of the other to act even in ways that are opposed to our own values and interests?  Most of us are afraid of freedom, but not the father. He demonstrates fearlessness of the highest quality. So high it is divine.  He is the perfect image of God, the One who cannot be pleased or displeased.  He is always the same in all things and towards the obedient and the disobedient,

We are meant to see in the father an image of God, of course, and what of the older brother?  When the younger son returns repenting of his sins and the father graciously embraces him the older son complains.  “How could you take him back like that?”  The older son believes that the father is too generous.  To us, this insane generosity is the source of our hope. God is too generous, too welcoming, too inclusive.  Why, God may even accept us, though we do not deserve it. It is sometimes very hard to accept. The “older brother” cannot accept it.  There are always some who base their belief on a God who is angry and infinitely offended. But how can this be?  The Gospels show us a very different God in the life of Jesus Christ, the living, breathing example of the God who is too generous.

We should note that the older son, in his complaining, demonstrates the opposite. He is wedded to and attached to his grudges.  He won’t let go of his anger.  God is definitely not like that.  The older brother is stuck in the past and we all know what happens when we get stuck in the past. We suffer because the past is an illusion, it is no more, and yet we are trying like crazy people to live in it.  God, on the other hand, is eternally present.

The father, however, demonstrates what it means to live in the present.  He rejoices that his son is home!  The important thing is that his son is now home.  The past is over and cannot be changed, but the present! Oh, the wonderful present!  The son returns with the necessary, miraculous words “I am sorry” on his lips, but the father runs to embrace him even while he is still a long way off. The young prodigal barely has an opportunity to get out his rehearsed lines. Remember what the Lord says?  “The angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents.”  How sad that the older brother was too wrapped up in himself, too self-interested to enjoy his brother’s homecoming.  Notice where he is when the father finds him. He is “out in the fields” in a less dramatic form of self-exile from his father’s house. Self-interest always gets in the way of!  Self-interest blinds us to what is good like nothing else can.

Are you beginning to see a pattern in the Gospels?  I am!  God is generous to a fault.  He has no ego to defend.  God is not offended because God has no ego.  The father in the parable is not offended because he has no ego to be offended!  Only the ego suffers offense. When we feel the pains of offense, the agony of fear, the fire of anger, the bristling of our defenses it is a sign that the ego is at work.  At that moment our ignorance comes clearly on display. Be thankful!  It points the way to repentance.  One of my dearest spiritual fathers and brothers once told me, “Your obstacle is your path.” So instead of getting down on ourselves for having such thoughts and feelings we should give thanks and learn the tools that will allow us not to attach ourselves to them.  That is, we need to learn and practice continual watchfulness so that we do not sin.

We also must not allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking we are justified and that those negative thoughts and feelings are an unavoidable part of who we are. Heavens no! We are made in the image of God!  That junk cannot define us unless we let it. Instead, we need to open our eyes and see the truth that our suffering comes when we give in to the temptation of self-interest.  “Don’t you dare stand in my way,” we shout.  Or like Madonna, we shout from the rooftops that, “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.”  But we do not need to go down that sinful path. No indeed. We can, if we choose, keep those negative thoughts and feelings from carrying us where we do not wish to go.  But we must catch them quickly before they do so that we can make the wise choice of turning aside from temptation while the freedom remains as an option.  The point of all this is to move beyond our own fearful limitations by becoming the love that God is.

I want to thank Tiffany for introducing me to this wonderful quote from St. Maximos the Confessor.

“The one who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of detachment knows no distinction between (what is) one’s own and (what is) another’s, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and freeman, or indeed between male and female. But having risen above the tyranny of the passions and looking to the one nature of men he regards all equally and is equally disposed toward all. For in him there is neither Greek nor Jew, neither male nor female, neither slave nor freeman, but Christ is everything and in everything.”

Who among us does not desire to live like that?  That is passionlessness. That is sinlessness. The person who has passed beyond judgment of any kind is one who has seen God. The one who lives like that is truly free. Nothing evil can touch her.  This is what I see in the Prodigal Son’s father.  A free man. A defied man.

Fear is the fertile soil of offense.  Self-interest is the fertilizer of corruption. God knows no fear. God has no self-interest. Therefore God knows no offense. Therefore, God is All-Compassionate.  Olivier Clement writes:

“In the crucified Christ forgiveness is offered and life is given. For humanity, it is no longer a matter of fearing judgment or of meriting salvation, but of welcoming love in trust and humility” (Clement, 1993, p. 49).

Like the father in the parable is, we must become for he is a perfect image of what God is.  As long as there is anything in us that does not reflect that perfection we must remain outside the Kingdom in the prodigal son’s “foreign land”.

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Sermon Transcript Originally published by St. Mary Orthodox Church, Cambridge MA

http://stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2008/prodigalson?fbclid=IwAR3Ubci5Ru3c0uO8dALW6JDGlJcCF7gz-1tOxgepmamQ00icR-buAw_ZnIY

What can we give? Where can we grow?

In a previous blog post, we answered the question “Who are the poor?” (Spoiler: it’s not always who you think it is). Why is this important? So we can open our lives to new opportunities to see and serve Christ in each other.  

There are countless ways to define and measure poverty. The idea that poverty is purely based upon financial status (or lack thereof) is shortsighted and limits our opportunities to serve “the poor.”  

Compassion International, a world-wide child advocacy ministry, defines poverty in this way:   

“Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom.” 

What do you think of their definition?  

We think it does a great job showing how poverty includes economic, environment, education, health, social and even spiritual components.  

These six aspects together create a poverty wheel, a visual tool that we can use to help us re-imagine poverty.  

 

For each person you put in the middle of the wheel, each spoke of the wheel is different.  

What would Oprah’s wheel look like?  

It’s safe to say, her economic spoke would be off the charts…but what about her social slice? We can speculate that maintaining fulfilling relationships with friends and family could be difficult.  

What would a homeless neighbor’s wheel look like? 

 

Their economic spike might be small. But what about the other spokes? We can’t assume that because someone is experiencing homelessness that they are uneducated, for example.  

The fact is, many of our neighbors and colleagues are one hardship or crisis away from homelessness themselves. A truth many of us saw and possibly  experienced during the recent government shutdown. 

What does your wheel look like?  

Many of us have much more than we need financially. Bills are paid (mostly) on time. We have access to health care. We live in a relatively clean, safe, supportive environment. Our comfortable lives make it easy for us to forget that we need to depend on God in good AND bad times. Our spiritual health suffers when we look to our possessions, worldly activities and environment for comfort and help. 

Now, think back to our homeless neighbor. Sitting on the street watching strangers’ feet pass by. Ignored by so many, he or she turns to conversation with God to get through the day and find the strength to wake up again the next morning.  

How often do we talk to God each day? 

The poverty wheel shows us that whether in times of need or times of excess, we should always be looking for areas to give and areas to grow.  

New Year, New Resolutions!

We are officially one week into the new year of 2019! Praise Be to God!

Did you make any resolutions for the new year? How are they going so far? Many of us make resolutions only to look back and realize a month or two later that we have already left behind our “clean slate” mentality and continued in our old ways.

Thankfully as Orthodox Christians, we believe in repentance and regularly pray for our hearts to be made clean, and renewed in spirit.

If we think of the new year “holiday” through the lens of our faith, as Fr. Steven Kostoff states:

“A ‘holiday’ is a more-or-less secular and watered-down version of a ‘holy day;’ so a resolution is a more-or-less secular and watered-down version of personal repentance.”

With this mindset, our new year’s resolutions are just another way for us to recommit our hearts to seeking Christ through repentance.

“As members of the Body of Christ living within the grace-filled atmosphere of the Church, we can, in turn, incorporate our resolutions within the ongoing process of repentance.”

Here are some of our resolutions from staff and friends of FOCUS. As you read through, please keep us and those we serve in your prayers! We hope you also consider your own resolutions and how they can be incorporated into our spiritual life of repentance.

Our 2019 Resolutions, from FOCUS Staff and Friends:

To be a good steward of the resources I’ve been given.

Create a center of hope and hospitality this year.

Deepen my repentance in order to cultivate more of the precious and life-giving Holy Spirit.

Be more creative, and specifically to spend more time making things with my hands!

Complete the Master of Arts in Applied Orthodox Theology through Antiochian House of Studies, Balamand University, Lebanon.

Respond positively to every personal, social interaction in which I engage.

Always strive to see the best in everyone.

Attend church services more regularly.

Find joy in the present, especially in the people that are immediately in front of me.

Experience and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation every day.

What are your resolutions?

In The Spirit of St. Nicholas

This Advent season, local Orthodox Communities across the country have been partnering with FOCUS to share their blessings. In Minnesota, moving to a new home provides the growing FOCUS Center a great opportunity to meet new neighbors and share in the joy of the holidays. At FOCUS Pittsburgh, neighborhood blocks become an extended family, where neighbors offer encouragement and build one another up in times of trauma, vulnerability and need. In Detroit and West Central PA, volunteers rally around the needs of local children by packing weekend meals kids who would otherwise face food-insecurity.

Aside from these programs, and more, happening at our FOCUS Centers, FOCUS has been busy serving this winter in new communities! Throughout Washington DC, NYC, Bridgeport, Chicago, and San Francisco, a pan-Orthodox effort has been made to connect with and serve neighbors who are homeless and in need.

Volunteers from each location have been hard at work this Advent Season filling and delivering nearly 1000 totes (aka “St. Nicholas Sacks”) stuffed with hygiene kits, snacks, toys and games to individuals, families, and children. In the spirit of the works of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker himself, FOCUS encourages all to worship God through offering selfless giving and sacrificial love.

The life of St. Nicholas offers us wisdom we can use to guide our own lives. Three lessons that stand out to us at FOCUS after reading a summary of his life are: 1) be kind-hearted, 2) distribute all your inheritance to the poor, and 3) do good deeds in secret.

Be Kind-Hearted

Kindness is a virtue. In order to serve each other, and treat others in a Christian way, we must be kind to each other! In today’s world, it’s more common to ignore people than be kind to them! How many times have you been out running errands, or on your commute to work and turned to a cold heart, instead of a kind heart, to get through it? We should strive to be kind-hearted every day and see every moment as an opportunity to let love radiate from our hearts to our surroundings!

Distribute Your Inheritance to The Poor

Jesus expects us to give up everything we have and follow him. If we want to inherit eternal life, we must give up our inheritance on earth. Today, it is easy to live in a bubble of security and ignore or even forget that there are people in need right outside our doors. Our society values “earning” what you have, and doesn’t trust the idea of giving without expecting anything in return. It’s our responsibility to fight this notion, and give freely to one another in times of luxury and in times of need.

Do Good Deeds in Secret

Of all of St. Nicholas’ lessons, this one may be the hardest! One thing humans like to do in this day in age is talk about ourselves. We can do it 24 hours a day with a live audience that grants positive reinforcement on various social media platforms. When we do good deeds, we want to share them – but the bible tells us to not let the left hand know what the right is doing, and to keep our charitable deeds in secret. When we give and say nothing, we allow our gift to truly serve God instead of ourselves.

FOCUS COMPETING AGAINST TOP 5 DETROIT CHARITIES-DONATE TO HELP WIN $20,000

Detroit, MI Dec. 14, 2018— An outpouring of votes and support for FOCUS Detroit from a city-wide network of volunteers, donors, and local community members earned FOCUS Detroit a spot in Round Two of Detroit News’ Cheer for Charity campaign. FOCUS Detroit is now one of only five top charities competing for the grand prize of $20,000.

Cheer for Charity is an annual fundraiser organized by Detroit News to support local, community focused non-profit organizations during the holiday season. For Round Two of the competition, supporters must cast their vote by making a donation to their favorite cause. Each charity keeps the money they raise, and whichever raises the most, wins an additional $20,000. It’s a win-win for the children, educators, and families FOCUS serves in Detroit!

FOCUS Detroit provides impoverished and at-risk children with tools and resources they need to access opportunities for success. By partnering with schools, churches and businesses, FOCUS Detroit ensures these at-risk children have all that they need to succeed in school and in life.

FOCUS Detroit’s programs target three areas of need: childhood hunger/food insecurity, educational insufficiency, and lack of life essential resources. These needs are met through programs that include after school classes and literacy tutoring, year round weekend food sacks plus summer feeding for kids, and essentials like hygiene kits and winter coats.

  • $20 helps our tutoring program reach more kids
  • $50 feeds 20 food insecure children a healthy meal
  • $20,000 would provide 8,000 weekend food sacks for children

VOTE for FOCUS Detroit by making a small donation ($10 minimum) through our Crowd Rise Campaign! Follow our Facebook and Instagram to keep up with the competition and see how your donation is put to action every day!

Donation Link: https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/focus-detroit1