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Dec 20 11

A Nice Column of Churches!

by Anastasios Hudson

View Larger Map

I am always looking at statistics and maps as I plan out and pray about our mission strategy. Rocky Mount, Wilson, and Goldsboro, North Carolina are about the same distance apart, and we’ve recently had some interest from Mt. Olive, so I thought to add that to the map as well. The four towns form almost a straight line down the Western border of Eastern North Carolina. Let’s pray that by 2020 there will be Orthodox Churches in each place!

Dec 17 11

Orthodox Church in Pittsboro, NC

by Anastasios Hudson
Pittsboro, NC

The Historic Courthouse in Downtown Pittsboro

Last year, my family and I visited Pittsboro, North Carolina. We went shopping in their downtown area, and also drove around the area where Jordan Lake is (not being terribly outdoorsy people, though, we did not go on the Lake). I know two families that live in the area surrounding Pittsboro, and after my visit, I can see why.

Whenever I go to a new place, I pray for the people there that they will come to know Christ and the Church which He established: the Orthodox Christian Church. It is hard to imagine that residents of small towns like Pittsboro would have many opportunities to encounter Orthodox Christians, especially clergy. In my article “If Orthodoxy Is True, Why Have I Never Heard of It?” I give some reasons for why Orthodox Christianity is not well-known in the United States. However, it’s also true that Christ will ask each of us individually how we have worked to fulfill the Great Commission, and we will not be able to rely on any excuses.

A native of Pittsboro would have to travel 50 minutes in order to attend liturgy at St. Mark the Evangelist Orthodox Mission Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is currently a small group of faithful traditional Orthodox Christians meeting at my home chapel while we grow large enough to afford a building. Even the closest New Calendar Greek parish—St. Barbara’s in Durham—is 22 miles from downtown Pittsboro. It is highly unlikely that Orthodoxy will reach large numbers of people in Pittsboro and greater Chatham County until an Orthodox mission parish is established in Pittsboro.

Yet we also know that the Internet has been a great tool for linking people to other people, places, and institutions which would have been inaccessible a generation ago. Perhaps someone in Pittsboro is currently looking into the Orthodox Church after having read about it online. Perhaps this post may reach him or her at the time when he or she is thinking of moving from curiosity to commitment. Yes, it is quite possible that some day, you will be the one bringing Orthodoxy to Pittsboro! Send me an email or give me a call (919-827-4945) today if you are Orthodox or are looking into Orthodoxy and wish to bring the True Faith of Christ to your community. We at St. Mark’s will do everything in our power to help you!

Dec 13 11

Serving Proactively

by Anastasios Hudson

My godson recently posted this reflection on his blog: Seeking for More.  He notes for instance that:

[R]outines and the sticking to the status quo can also have drawbacks.  In our life as Christians, we might be able to do more.  Maybe we could be doing more to help the poor and the sick, or it could be as simple as maybe needing to be there more for a friend or family member who is need of advice or in need of our love and support…[P]arishes always need help from their parishoners to help keep things running, whether it be helping by sitting on the parish council, cooking food for Trapeza, or cleaning.  We should always be looking for more, each according to their abilities.  How many of us are eager to look for more when it comes to increasing our financial status, or look for more in regards to advancing in our careers?  We should be even more eager to pursue more in regards to our spiritual lives and in regards to our life in the Church.

Orthodox Christian spiritual writings caution us against pride and presumption, and we should not ever try to do spiritual things for our own glory, or without prayer and first consulting our priest/spiritual father.  However, we must not go to the other extreme and become inert, never acting to progress, never feeling empowered to step up, or worse, never noticing the things around us that need to be done because of too much of an inward focus.

Let’s be clear: the floors at Church need swept, the chanter needs someone else to step up and help him, the priest needs more altar servers, and the person in charge of coordinating a charitable event needs someone to relieve him or her when they become overburdened.

You’re reading this because you are the person God is calling to help. Whatever you are thinking right now that you could be doing to help at your Church is probably what you should go and volunteer to do next Sunday!

Dec 7 11

Wake Forest Needs an Orthodox Church

by Anastasios Hudson

Wake Forest, North Carolina is a fast-growing suburb of Raleigh, the state capital. The population in 2009 was estimated to be 27,915, up from 12,588 at the 2000 census. Wake Forest has a family-friendly atmosphere, a reputation as a safe place to live, and offers many opportunities for recreation and shopping, with a mixture of national and regional chains and local small businesses. Wake Forest is also home to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, which I blogged about visiting a few months ago.

What Wake Forest does not have, however, is an Orthodox Church.

As readers of the blog know, I am the pastor of Saint Mark the Evangelist Orthodox Mission Church, which is currently a small chapel community meeting in North Raleigh. We are traditional Orthodox who observe the Patristic Old Calendar and do not participate in ecumenical activities. There are also three parishes which belong to the New Calendar Church here in Raleigh. The following map shows the location of Saint Mark Orthodox Mission Church in relation to the locations of these three New Calendar parishes:

View Raleigh Parishes in a larger map

I am interested in the process of establishing missions and parishes in general, so while St. Mark’s does not have relations with the three New Calendar parishes over the aforementioned issues, it is nonetheless interesting to see how they have organized themselves. The second map shows the three New Calendar parishes, with a ten-mile radius highlighted around each one:

View Raleigh Parishes – With NC Radius in a larger map

It is interesting to note that those living in the suburb of Cary, North Carolina, are at the intersection of the three parishes, and thus have the most coverage. Yet Wake Forest does not fall within the ten-mile radius of any of these parishes. From Downtown Wake Forest, the distance to these parishes is as follows:

Holy Trinity: 18.7 miles (28 minutes’ drive)
All Saints: 25 miles (36 minutes’ drive)
Holy Transfiguration: 25.4 miles (34 minutes’ drive)
(By comparison, St. Mark’s is 10.2 miles from Downtown Wake Forest [17 minutes’ drive]).

For many Orthodox, the prospect of a 30 minute drive is not too much in order to attend Church, but we also must recall that there are no other Orthodox Churches located up Capital Boulevard (Route 1) really until the Richmond area; thus, someone living in Henderson, North Carolina would have to travel 45 miles (54 minutes), whereas if there were a parish in Wake Forest, his commute would be shortened to 28 miles (33 minutes).

The Antiochian and OCA parishes are of a decent size, but not in a position to plant a daughter mission, while the Greek parish could plant a mission in Wake Forest or some other area of North Raleigh which would alleviate some of the pressure. However, they recently decided to expand their parish, a move which will cost several millions of dollars. They have their reasons for doing this, pooling resources being an effective way to manage their fellowship and charitable programs being one, also a desire not to split up a well-coalesced parish family into two, etc., but my concern and interest here is with missions and church planting, so further analysis and commentary is unnecessary.

In our Greenville, North Carolina mission, we are the closer of two missions to the city proper, and have more of an outreach and public visibility, and so we have grown by having people new to town come to the parish, even if they were not previously traditional Old Calendar Orthodox, or even Orthodox at all, but in Raleigh, with the existence of three established New Calendar parishes, mission strategy has to be different. Here, there is more of a need to highlight the distinctive nature of our traditionalist witness in order to convince new people to attend.

However, there is still a great opportunity to appeal to people in a geographic sense, as Wake Forest is not well covered by existing parishes, and there are people who cannot travel even 15 miles on a regular basis. Also, if we seek to have Orthodoxy grow, being able to invite family members and friends and neighbors is essential, and many are reluctant to travel so far for a visit. Finally, the proximity to the Baptist seminary is a good reason to have an Orthodox presence, as more and more Protestants discover Orthodoxy, which is the same Church established by Jesus Christ Himself and which has preserved all of the Apostolic doctrines without alteration, unlike the Western Churches.

For these reasons, Wake Forest needs an Orthodox Church. Saint Mark the Evangelist Orthodox Mission is currently meeting in my chapel in North Raleigh, but we are open to meeting wherever there is availability. Our Orthodox Church in Greenville, NC was founded when one family stepped forward and donated the land needed to have a Church building. Perhaps you are a pioneering Orthodox Christian living in Wake Forest who would like to donate land to establish a Church. Perhaps you are the pastor or a board member of a non-Orthodox Church which has been looking to relocate, and you would like to donate your current building to our mission efforts. Or perhaps you are just someone finding out about the Orthodox Church, and you want to talk about it with me. Whatever the case, send me an email or give me a call, and let’s see what the Lord has in store for His Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina!

Dec 3 11

Oops, Wrong Number!

by Anastasios Hudson

Today I was doing some chores around the house when the phone rang. It was my Google Voice account alerting me that someone was trying to reach me. For those who don’t know what Google Voice is, it allows you to have one number which can ring to all your phones, has voicemail, and call screening. I don’t actually use it that much yet, though, so when I didn’t recognize the number or the name that was on the call screening, I hung up and let it go to voicemail.

The caller left a voicemail, and asked if I was the person who worked on her company’s phones, and to please call her back. I could have ignored the call, but on the one hand, I didn’t want her to wonder why whomever she was trying to contact wasn’t returning her call, and on the other hand, I wanted to find out why my number was being handed out by a third party.

I called her back, explained  that my number was a Google Voice number which perhaps used to belong to the person she was trying to reach, and that I was an Orthodox Christian priest, not a phone technician.  At that point, she mentioned that she might call me back asking for prayers some time, and I referred her to our website and told her about our Orthodox mission work in both Raleigh and Greenville. After mutual pleasantries, the phone call ended.

I’ve come to learn that we can never know why things happen or what might result from the actions we take, and to not take any interaction for granted. I plan to send the lady a follow-up letter and invite her to services.  Something may happen, or nothing may come of it, but either way, I had a chance to pray for the woman and tell her about the Orthodox Church.  For this, I am thankful.  There are many stories of people coming to faith from the most unlikely ways.

Nov 29 11

Peace on Earth

by Anastasios Hudson

Dear Friends in Christ,

Over the Thanksgiving break, I heard about fights breaking out in stores as shoppers vied to get the best deals on merchandise on so-called “Black Friday.” Below are two excerpts, one locally in the Kinston area of Eastern Carolina, and the other from across the country in California:

Kinston, North Carolina, United States, AD 2011:

People waiting in line at the Kinston Walmart quickly found themselves covering their face after police shot pepper-spray into the air…“He was raining [pepper spray] over the whole crowd so that it would rain down on their heads. Some got on my granddaughter. When I was doing that kind of work, we would have never done that, not in a store like that,” said Jackson…Though Jackson was charged with disorderly conduct, cell phone video shot shortly after the crowd was pepper-sprayed shows Jackson being anything but disorderly.

Los Angeles, California, United States, AD 2011:

Los Angeles police Saturday said they have not yet decided whether to seek charges against a woman who doused a crowd of Thanksgiving night shoppers with pepper spray at a Wal-Mart in Porter Ranch…

Investigators declined to speculate Saturday whether the woman, described only as a Latina in her 30s, brandished the spray because she felt threatened by the crowd of jostling shoppers or to gain an advantage so she could grab an Xbox game console that was on sale.

Black Friday is the start to the Christmas shopping season, so presumably some of those who were engaged in disorderly conduct were attempting to purchase gifts, although there were undoubtedly many there seeking cheap deals for their own wants. For a refresher, let’s take a look at what happened on the first Christmas Day, over 2000 years ago:

Bethlehem, Judea, Roman Empire, AD 1:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth be peace. Today doth Bethlehem receive Him Who sitteth with the Father forever. Today the angels glorify, as worthy of God, the babe that is born, shouting, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth be peace, and goodwill among men.

Since Thou art the God of peace and the Father of mercies, O Lover of mankind, Thou didst send to us the great Messenger of Thy mind, granting us Thy peace. Therefore, have we been led aright to the light of divine knowledge, glorifying Thee as we come out of darkness.

—Hymns from the Orthodox Service of the Nativity of Christ

God became man—a baby, at that—as an act of utter condescension, in order to bring peace, mercy, and light to us humans. And yet some of us celebrate His birth by disturbing the peace of those around us and showing no mercy to others. While I do believe that things are gradually getting worse in our society, I also know that the seeds of this rebellion were planted in previous generations; while perhaps less frequent, there have always been instances of humans mistreating each other for such petty reasons.

In fact, all humans harbor sinful passions which, left unchecked, give birth to sin, and lead to death. We cannot solve this problem ourselves, but must be born again of water and the spirit, and put on Christ, in order to experience the light, peace, and mercy that he offers. We can’t rely on being “spiritual” or being “a good person” because even good, spiritual people have committed sins which separate them from God’s peace and from their fellow humans. The answer lies outside of ourselves. This also means that we can’t do it from the comfort of our own home, as salvation occurs in community, not in isolation.

This Christmas season, let’s take a serious look at Christ on His own terms, and if we see that our lives do not reveal His presence, let us give ourselves over to Him without reservation. If you are not sure how to make this happen, please don’t hesitate to contact me. If you have not attended our Church previously, we will be happy to welcome you on your first visit.

In Christ,

Fr. Anastasios

Nov 22 11

Why I Wear My Cassock to Wal-Mart

by Anastasios Hudson

Orthodox priests wear distinctive clothing: an inner robe (called a cassock), an outer robe or vest, a cross in the practice of some Churches, and properly a hat. The Orthodox canonical tradition makes it clear that this is not optional; the 27th Canon of the 6th Ecumenical Council states:

None who is counted with the clergy should dress inappropriately, when in the city, nor when travelling. Each should use the attire which was appointed for clergy members. If someone breaks this rule, may he be deprived of serving for one week.

Fr. Anastasios With His Daughter

Fr. Anastasios in Full Priestly Attire with His Daughter

In our missionary experience, however, there are times when I must go about my activities in civilian attire, for instance when I go to work at my secular job. The Metropolitan has authorized me and other working priests in our diocese to do this if necessary. It is not something that I enjoy, though, because it tends to create a feeling of split personality. After I arrive home from work, if I need to go back out, I put on my cassock.

Many of my Protestant friends have no understanding as to why an Orthodox priest is required to wear distinctive clothing, but unfortunately, even some Orthodox in our times have asked why it is necessary. More than once, I’ve heard or read a remark along the lines of, “well, is it really necessary to go to Wal-Mart in a cassock?” The implication being that somehow it is “too much” to wear a cassock while shopping.

I wear my cassock to Wal-Mart.

Fr. Anastasios and His Father

Fr. Anastasios in Informal Priestly Attire with His Father

An incident last week illustrates why this is the right thing to do. There is a Wal-Mart 5 minutes from my house, and one evening after work, my wife asked me to go pick up two or three items. I knew that I would be in the store for a maximum of ten or fifteen minutes. It would have been tempting to just go in my civilian garb; after all, I had just gotten home from work, was still wearing a shirt and pants, and could have easily just hopped in the car, taken care of business, and been back before I knew it. Instead, I put on the cassock and went.

When I arrived, an employee there approached me, and asked for prayers. She knew I was a priest, even if she was not Orthodox, and I asked her what she needed prayers for. This woman has suffered three great losses in the past few months. I blessed her, and went about my business shopping. I thought to hand her my business card just in case, and when I could not find her, I gave it to her co-worker. She called the next morning, and we met a few days later to discuss her circumstances more in-depth.

If I had not been in my cassock, I would have missed an opportunity to provide comfort to someone who needed it. Wearing a cassock is not always convenient, and the added attention can be hard at times. But it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus Christ, and the Church which He established. I am a minister of the Gospel of salvation, and if I do not present myself as such, an opportunity could be missed, and in this case would have been missed.

Sometimes people ask me if I am Orthodox; they are familiar with our Church. As Orthodoxy grows here, I expect that there will be more priests ordained, who will likewise wear their cassocks. As this occurs, Orthodoxy will become more and more known, and more and more people will become used to us, and seek us out. We priests should not deny them this opportunity.

Nov 3 11

Fall Reflects the Fall

by Anastasios Hudson

Dear Friends in Christ,

Four years ago this month, Bishop Christodoulos came to Raleigh and served the first liturgy at the Chapel of St. Mark the Evangelist. A half a year later, I was ordained a priest, and our parish here in Greenville was also established.

At the liturgy, the bishop gave a sermon which certainly was not designed to remain in the confines of our comfort zones. Looking out the window of the chapel at the trees whose leaves were changing colors, whose green leaves were being replaced by gold, red, and orange hues, he remarked that we would not see the leaves change colors if Adam had not brought death into the world. Every time we see the leaves changing colors, we are seeing death and are confronted with the fall of man, he remarked.

While some remarked afterward (somewhat exaggeratedly!) that they would no longer be able to enjoy Autumn the same way again, the sermon impacted me in a profound way. I realized that something that many consider to be a great thing of beauty is actually tied to the greatest tragedy of man: bodily death. The Orthodox Church teaches that death was not established by God and is not a punishment afflicted on man, but rather is the direct consequence of man’s sinful nature and fall. Death reigned supreme through the ages, as we can see in the Old Testament, where everyone, whether righteous or evil, went to Hades (Sheol), a land of shadows and separation from life. To deliver us from this condition, Christ became incarnate, and after suffering on the Cross, he descended into Hades to liberate the captives and deliver them into the Heavens. The icon of the Resurrection depicts Christ pulling Adam and Eve out of their tombs, and death personified is crushed under his feet.

Yet this event took place 2000 years ago—how do we participate in it now? The Bible tells us:

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection (Romans 6:3-5).

Just as all of us are born into this fallen world and are subject to death because of the actions of our forefather, so likewise though the actions of Christ can the effects of death be undone in us. To participate then, we must be born again; we cannot save ourselves by good works, since our nature is fundamentally damaged. The only remedy is a new birth: “Except a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Notice here that no distinction is made between belief and action, between spiritual and physical; one must place his faith in Christ, and he must be baptized in water, in order to be born again.

Baptism then is not a symbol as some non-Orthodox Churches teach, but an actual participation in the saving events of 2000 years ago. To see it as a mere symbol is to intellectualize it, to fundamentally shift the meaning of faith from participation in God’s very life to an internalized, mental acceptance of factual data. The important aspect becomes the acceptance of Christ, and all the events that follow such as baptism are seen as symbolic rituals that manifest a salvation already present. Baptism becomes an ordinance instead of a sacrament, something done out of obedience because Scripture says to do it, but which does not have any real intrinsic value.

In this latter model, salvation moves from being a process of restoration of the original nature of man and his transformation into a bearer of Divine Grace through participation in the Divine Mysteries of baptism, the Eucharist, marriage, anointing, etc. to the acceptance of Christ’s saving act as an internal, mental act, a surrender of the will, which then accounts the person “covered” by Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross in an act reminiscent of a bank transaction. Such a man is still intrinsically a sinful being, ontologically the same, but now God the Father sees him through a different lens, as it were. Martin Luther once remarked rather crassly that man is like a pile of dung, only in Christ now this pile is covered by white snow. The Orthodox Church rejects this dim view of the effects of salvation and proclaims that through baptism and the other Holy Mysteries (Sacraments), we actually participate in God’s Grace and are transformed, not just accredited as being righteous while fundamentally remaining the same—getting off the hook for the consequences of our sins, but nothing more. (Of course, Western Christians believe in a sanctification process that happens after one is saved, but a contrast between this and the Orthodox view is outside the scope of this message).

Yet we still die physically, even after being baptized. How then should we view the fact that we are no longer under death’s hold? The answer is that now when we die, if we die in Christ, we enter a state of blessedness, awaiting the Last Judgment and the restoration of our bodies, at which point we will be able to enter the Heavenly glory fully. Having this hope in us, we no longer fear death, because it is a mere temporary separation, and we have the ability to live our lives boldly. The early Christians gladly accepted martyrdom, understanding that they would go to be with Christ, and not to the gloom of Hades. Those who die in Christ are still part of the Church, which as the Body of Christ exists in Heaven and on Earth. We are all one body, all are aware of each other and our prayers affect one another.

In this new reality, the changing leaves are no longer just a symbol of death, but point to the renewal that will come in Spring, when the green will return. Each spring is a mini-Resurrection, a restoration of life. The Fall and Winter no longer symbolize a descent into Hades, but rather a temporary rest. We can thus find beauty in something that was formerly horrific. We can see the aging process and reflect on the cycle of life without fear, knowing that all things will be restored.

If you are reading this message and have not placed your faith in Christ, or perhaps once believed but have fallen away, now is the time for you to return, so that when Spring arrives and we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, you can celebrate as well this new life. In my ministry, I have seen how conversion and baptism changes people’s lives, having performed numerous baptisms in my three years as a priest. Faith in Christ and the ensuing life of participation in the Grace-bearing sacraments of the Church can work the same transformation in you.

In Christ,

Fr. Anastasios

Oct 4 11

Four Types of Magical Thinking in the Modern World

by Anastasios Hudson

Dear Friends in Christ,

October is upon us already! The Fall season has begun, and the temperature is finally starting to drop here in North Carolina. September was a busy month, with the feast days of the Nativity of the Holy Theotokos (our parish feast) and the Holy Cross, along with the secular holiday of Labor Day. But those days have passed, and now we begin to prepare for Thanksgiving, the Nativity Fast, and the “Holiday Season,” hoping to accomplish all of our resolutions by the end of the year.

Nestled in October is the feast day of Saints Cyprian and Justina (October 2/15). Early martyrs, they contested sometime in the mid-third century. Their story is remarkable; Cyprian was a pagan sorcerer, while Justina was a pagan maiden who, having learned of the truth of Christ, converted and succeeded in bringing her parents to Christ as well. She endeavored to live a life of chastity and to remain unmarried, but she attracted the unwanted gaze of a local wealthy youth. He enticed Cyprian to perform magic to attract Justina to him.

Amazingly, although Cyprian was able to engage in all sorts of dark arts, he could not succeed in coercing Justina to succumb. Asking the demons why he failed, they remarked that it was because Justina signed herself with the Cross. Cyprian realized that the power of demons was nothing compared to Christ, and in a dramatic gesture, burned his magical books in front of the local bishop before being baptized. Eventually, he became a bishop, Justina a nun, and both were martyred for converting many to Christ, probably in the year AD 268.

In our present day, under the influence of science and rationalism, most people have ceased practicing outright sorcery (the rise of neopaganism notwithstanding), but magical thinking continues, often with a thin “scientific” veneer. The demons continue their work of assisting man to live autonomously and without faith in God, adjusting their methods to the times by taking a more subtle role in this age of skepticism. In this message, I will briefly cover four ways that people engage in magical thinking today.

Like Attracts Like. Made popular by books such as The Secret, New Thought is a belief system that teaches that reality is a manifestation of our thoughts. By thinking positively and visualizing what we want, we make these things a reality. Negative occurrences are a result of our negative thoughts. This New Age belief system claims to describe a scientific “Law” that can be learned and practiced. It ignores the fact that this world is fallen, and chaos reigns. We cannot always control what happens to us, but in Christ, we can face all challenges and trials with courage. We will not always know “why” bad things happen, but we will know that when we suffer, we are co-suffering with the Lord Himself, and thus suffering has meaning and purifies, and we are not alone in it.

Karma. An ancient Hindu belief, it is more commonly known in the West as the concept of “what goes around, comes around.” A system of cause and effect, it is assumed that man will have evil repaid by evil and good by good in a perfectly-balanced system. A person can thus keep track of his good and bad deeds, and create his own destiny; he can assure blessedness by being good. This is contrasted with a life of faith in Christ, where a person recognizes that he can never pay back the debt of even one sin, and must rely solely on the Grace given by Christ through the Cross. We are called to live a transfigured life, to repay curses with blessings, to pray for those who persecute us, and to be Christ to all in our lives. For instance, St. Justina saved the man who pursued her by praying for him when he was about to suffer a disastrous fall.

Modern Business Culture. Hard work is certainly a virtue, but in the modern business world, seminars and classes are routinely held (and often obligatory) which seek to produce better producers by creating a certain way of thinking and approaching things—the “can do” attitude. In this system, problems are the fault of mental and psychological blocks which can be overcome through coaching and the right attitude, by following the system taught in the seminar. Such events even contain quasi-spiritual exercises such as centering exercises, which seek to induce a relaxed and receptive state in the learner, and visualization exercises.

The Lord Told Me… Many Christians have developed a bad habit of assuming that any religious-sounding idea that enters the mind must be from God, and in a misguided desire to be obedient to God, they base their lives around these thoughts and hunches, and even off of dreams (which the Church Fathers have warned us to not pay attention to). These ideas are often an unoriginal mix of common sense solutions and self-serving purposes. God becomes an excuse and a justification for such people to do as they please. What is a simple coincidence is given meaning by ascribing it to God and His will. Instead of relying on the frequent reading of Scripture and consultation with the clergy and fellow believers, answers are found within, in a personalized way.

The root problem of all four examples of magical thinking is man-centeredness, rather than trusting in God and being obedient to His will. All of these philosophies present the solution to the problem of evil and failure as internal to the person, rather than external in Christ. Man is assumed to be in control of his own destiny, and the deception that he is an autonomous being is not challenged head-on. The solution is Christ, the God who came and suffered for our sake, in whom we must place our trust if we wish to be saved.

St. Cyprian learned that he could not alter the will of God or control his own destiny when the faith of a teenaged girl overpowered all the tricks of the many demons who assisted him. All of his effort to learn the secrets of success in this life evaporated in a most unexpected way. When people in modern times follow any of the above ways of magical thinking, they are setting themselves up for despair when things happen to them that are beyond their control. Being a member of a Church does not make one immune from these false philosophies, and indeed, especially in the last example, they use God, the Church, and religiosity as covers for their continued self-will.

Let us not follow any false philosophy that teaches the answer is within us, whether it appears religious or secular. Let us humbly approach the Lord in prayer and ask for the forgiveness of sins and the Grace necessary to have a relationship with Him. When we receive Grace, we will know we are not left alone to find the answers. We will find real transformation through Christ and through His body, the Church, where our fellow believers are there to stand with us in times of struggle.

In Christ,

Fr. Anastasios

Oct 4 11

Hurricanes and Charitable Vision

by Anastasios Hudson

Dear Friends in Christ,

Hurricane Irene came through the area of Eastern NC with a vengeance. Ironically, Irene means peace in Greek! I am grateful to God that none of our parishioners lost their lives—downed trees and flooding are truly dangerous. Property damage did affect our community, however. One family lost their home, having to ride out the storm in a treehouse as the waters rose. Another family lost their pier, and another had trees all over their backyard. I am sure that some of you reading this also experienced damage. If any of you reading this would like to share your experience with me, I’d appreciate hearing from you as well. I can be reached by email at and by telephone at (919) 827-4945.

Hurricane Irene went on to ravage New York. On Long Island, several of our families lost power and suffered inconveniences, but the real damage was in the Catskills, where our monastery dedicated to the Holy Ascension is located. While the monastery itself was spared, the entire town surrounding it was flooded out, and all the businesses and homes on the main road were significantly damaged. The local grocery store lost all of its stock, and will not be replenished for at least a month. To put things in perspective, the acting abbot of the monastery, Fr. Maximus, has to drive 30 minutes each way just to get food of any kind now. For those who have lost their appliances and homes, this only adds to the misery. Fr. Maximus reports that it is the worst flooding he has ever seen in New York in his lifetime.

A serious matter such as this provides a natural opportunity to discuss a serious matter. One of my friends is a Protestant minister in Greenville. His parish has perhaps two times the number of people that our parish does—in other words, it is small by Protestant standards. Their denomination has a crisis response team, and people from neighboring parishes flew in to North Carolina and did work for the people who were suffering. People in their local Church community helped each other, helped their neighbors, and even people they didn’t know to help them recover—out of love for them, and a desire to share Christ with them. One of our families was served by such a group of mobile responders from Arkansas.

Our parish has doubled in size since last year, and all indications are that the growth will continue—subject of course, to the will of God. However, we are still small. It’s not a surprise that when the main families have suffered debilitating loss, that some of the damage at the Church (which is minor, thank God) was not addressed immediately. It’s understandable that some families had to receive help from non-Orthodox volunteers, who are better organized and have the financial resources to do so. Our diocese did organize some relief for the people in the Catskills, as it did in Joplin and Alabama during the tornados, but to be honest, it probably would have been impossible for it to manage two crisis responses at the same time (i.e. New York and North Carolina). All of this is very logical and understandable.

However, what is it about our faith which is average, basic, or exists with an attitude of “just getting by?” The Church exploded in the early centuries for two reasons: the holiness of its members was so great that God worked miracles through them readily, and they had the mentality that we are a community that needs to work together and live together. Our community in Greenville is made up of people who live far and wide; we are spread out. That sometimes makes it hard for us to serve each other. Yet there are core families who live 90, 70, and 30 miles away who make the effort to serve the community of Greenville. At the same time, there are many families who live in Greenville who have come to the Church occasionally but never significantly contributed to the maintenance of the property or the charitable outreach of the Church. We see in some the early apostolic spirit of doing whatever it takes to keep the faith spreading, and we see in others a desire to attend the Church when it suits them, when they need comfort, or prayers for themselves, but when it is not convenient to them, they do not attend.

I do not imagine that this problem is unique to our Church community, but I want to emphasize that this recent crisis only highlights the fact that the Church will only be able to do good in the lives of its members and the community surrounding it in proportion to the effort that the members put in to it. A few families cannot bear the brunt of all operations at the Church all the time, and when crisis strikes, if these families are affected, the Church’s mission is impacted. The work of maintaining the Church property and of organizing and staffing its ministries needs to be more equitably distributed.
Again, it is perfectly understandable that a small parish would not be able to have the kind of response to a crisis that other Churches were able to do. However, we have the grace of God, and we can do amazing things with this blessing, so we cannot be content to be average. We’ve seen amazing things happen at our parish in the three years we have been here, so there should be no doubt that any effort put in to the Church will bear astonishing results many times over.
Instead of simply admonishing you all, dear readers, I wish to encourage you. Let me paint a vision of the future. In three years’ time, Nativity of the Holy Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church will be three times the current size it is now. It will have members local to Greenville, and members from far-flung areas of Eastern Carolina who come and are served by the Orthodox presence here. When a crisis occurs, not only will the Church be able to meet the needs of its members, but it is able to make a positive impact in the community, and after the next disaster is over, people will remember that our parish was on the front lines of the response.

Are you reading this and wondering what you can do to help? I frequently invite readers to attend the Church liturgies, because this is where our conversion and spiritual growth begins. However, there are some of you reading who have attended infrequently—please come regularly, and sign up for the property cleaning and maintenance schedule. Next, you can help us manage our clothing distribution program, so that we can perhaps offer it more frequently.
For those of you who have been hesitant to attend a service for whatever reason—come to the next charitable event, or give me a call and let’s discuss ways you could help out at the Church during the week as a first step. The bottom line is, we all expect the Church to be there for us when we need it, but we need to be there for the Church and for others when they need it, too. We can’t just rely on others, because there will be times when they cannot do it alone.
We’ve weathered this storm, but we have some steps that need to be taken to reach the vision outlined above. Take the first step today! We will travel this road together in Christ.

In Christ,

Fr. Anastasios