“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor 12:26)
On August 11th, 2014 the world mourned the death of the great actor and comedian, Robin Williams. It came as a shock that the father, friend, husband, and cause of so much laughter committed suicide. In the following days, news pundits, radio DJs, bloggers and more chimed in on this tragedy. Some called his final act to take his life, selfish. Others sympathized, saying, “It was his only way out.” Since then, we have witnessed suicide of many other high profile celebrities such as Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, and most recently Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. It’s absolutely tragic.
Additionally tragic is that statistics are showing suicide rates are up nearly 30% since 1999. For many of us, it hits too close to home. When a loved one takes his or her own life, in addition to the heartbreak, questions mount. Could something have been done? Is it preventable? Often times, survivor’s guilt sets in and one may be left wondering, could I have done more?
As we begin to understand depression more deeply, it becomes clearer that it is not a matter of selfishness; it is a condition that is overwhelming and often manifests itself in loneliness and ongoing hurt deep within. It does not always show itself publicly.
There are a number of reasons why depression can take hold of someone and cause such pain and anguish, and no one is immune. It can come from chemical imbalance, situational changes such as loss of loved ones, constant aloneness, unemployment and sense of worthlessness, and much more.
Suffering of the soul is indiscriminate. It has no partiality as witnessed by the deaths of these high profile celebrities to the many military veterans to our close friends, loved ones, and even ourselves.
For the Orthodox Christian who believes in eternal life, living in the world, I often hear the question, “What happens to someone who commits suicide?” How do we approach such a painful situation. How do we talk about the person who struggles with depression and takes their own life?
For many years, society and the Church almost exclusively discouraged taking one’s own life through levels of shame. A school might not recognize someone in their yearbook or a Church might reject a funeral. This was done in an effort to discourage people from taking their own lives. Knowing more about mental illness today and seeing how suicide rates are on the rise we need to return to the compassionate approach the Church has always truly had.
The answer to “What happens to someone who commits suicide?” is deep, and like any death, the Church does not regularly assign heaven or hell to anyone, leaving judgment to God. However, God is the source of Life. And Christ came that we may “Have life, and have it in abundance” (John 10:10). While suffering is a part of life, God wishes for us to live fully in Him. To cut off this life is seen as a rejection of the Life Giver. To lose hope makes no sense when Christ died to give us hope and in any moment we have the ability to turn to Him, ask for forgiveness and receive it. Sometimes we put hope in money or status. We raise other things as god above the One True God. Times when these false gods fail those who put their hope in them have been cause of suicide. That is that is the saddest and most problematic situation. It is, however, not the most common cause of taking one’s life.
The more common cause of suicide, as we continually discover is deeper than that. So what if, instead of losing a misplaced hope, rather, is an ongoing struggle with a mental illness? This we discover is a much more common reality. Here, the Church also remains consistent in understanding that there are times when someone is not in the right state of mind. Canon 14 of Timothy of Alexandria (381AD) states that liturgical services should be offered, “If a man having no control of himself lays violent hands on himself or hurls himself to destruction.” This is the compassion of the Church. As we grow to understand the science behind depression and its destructive force in many lives, we should grow in sympathy and love.
The fact remains suicide is never the answer. For the anyone who suffers from mental illness, there should be no shame. We must share our confidence and strength with those who suffer and lead them to seek help often in order to prevent a destructive act against themselves. For those who do not struggle with depression, there is no place for judgment, but only love. There is no room for us to love when we are judging. And how is someone able to come to us for help if we are judgmental? Furthermore, we must be there for the friends and family members of someone who has taken his or her life.
As is the case with these recent incidents, the Spade and Bourdain families, friends and even fans now go on with a Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain sized holes in their lives. Their families are wounded. Their friends are hurt. We must understand that when someone takes his or her life, they are not solving a problem and it often is then passed on to their loved ones. The problem, when shared together is the start of an on going solution in struggle together that becomes manageable.
Struggle is not to be shamed. Struggle is also not to be viewed as a bad thing. When we struggle to work past something together, it becomes less daunting and produces an indescribable level of love and understanding that sustains us. This applies to all spiritual, physical, and emotional ailments.
Christ is our hope and God has made us communal beings. We have to rely on each other for help. Like all physical and spiritual ailments, emotional ailments require a community of love. This is why the Church is such an important thing. The Church is community, community centered around Christ. We could talk about all the reasons why suicide rates are on the rise, but perhaps we can start with loving each other in communion with one another and Christ in the Church He designed to heal us.
Are you suffering? Ask for help. Are you hurting? Lean on someone. Do you know someone who is depressed and struggling? Love them. The rest we leave to God. Lord, have mercy. May their memories be eternal.
Why Two Easters?
If you're an Orthodox Christian, you're definitely aware that you often celebrate Pascha (Easter) on a different day than most of your friends. If you're Protestant or Catholic, you may not know this, but your Eastern Orthodox friends often celebrate Easter on a different day. If you're Christian, you understand the resurrection of Christ to be the most important thing that has ever happened in the history of the world. Wouldn't it be nice to celebrate this event all together?
So why do the Eastern Orthodox celebrate Pascha (Easter) on a different day than the West.
In short, during the first few centuries there were disputes on when Pascha should be celebrated. The First Council of Nicaea in 325 determined that it was important for all churches to celebrate this “Feast of Feasts” together on the same day. What's ironic is, this feast seems to be the one that we don't celebrate together (we'll get to that).
First, it wasn't about being right. It wasn't about making sure it was on the exact day that it took place centuries earlier. It was about following a pattern in congruence with church practice. So we can stop arguing right now about who's more accurate or who's right or wrong.
At the council, they decided that it would always be on a Sunday. Further it would come after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
Pascha Equation: First Sunday after first full moon* after Vernal Equinox.
This is still the equation for both the East and the West. So what’s the problem? The problem is the set day of the equinox and the calendar. First, depending on various calculations, the equinox could move, so the Church gave a set date for the equinox, March 21st. All celebrated together until it was realized that the calendar was becoming inaccurate and in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII of the Catholic Church introduced a more accurate calendar which included leap days every four years. Also to correct the issue, the calendar jumped 11 days in September of 1750 (I would not have had a birthday that year). The East did not accept this calendar and remained on the Julian calendar (named after Julius Caesar). At the present time, the Julian Calendar is now 13 days off. As a result, March 21st on the Julian Calendar is equal to April 3rd on the Gregorian (what we use in the USA). If a full moon happens between March 22nd and April 3rd then our Easters are not together. If the first full moon* after the equinox happens after April 3rd, our Easters are together.
*Note: To complicate things further, the full moon refers to a “Paschal full moon” based on a different equation. This might happen 2-5 days after an observed astronomical full moon (used by the West). This could cause a week difference if the full moon happens after April 3rd, as was the case most recently in 2015.
**Also Note: The biggest problem with this calendar change that some contest is that for there to be a major change in the liturgical life of the Church, which includes when we liturgically celebrate feasts, it needs to be a conciliar decision. Much of the issues the East has with the West is the primacy of the Pope, in that, the Pope can make such decisions regarding the church without a council coming together and determining if it is a good idea or not. The idea of conciliar decisions would prevent poor decisions being made by one man.
What's interesting is, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, along with the Antiochians, Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and many other jurisdictions all follow the Gregorian calendar most of the year. But when it comes to Pascha, they follow the Julian calendar. Why is that? The reason for the calendar switch is that these Orthodox churches continue to believe in the decision of the First Council of Nicaea, that the churches all celebrate together. It's most important for the Orthodox churches to celebrate together. For the churches that have not jumped onto the Gregorian calendar, the rest of the Church joins them in celebrating Pascha on the Julian calendar.
Liturgically speaking, most "Orthodox Countries" still use the Julian Calendar liturgically. While here in the United States, Western Easter is often celebrated with pastels and egg hunts, in some cities in eastern Europe, cities are shut down, celebrations are had in the streets. Our experience here in the United States is very subtle but if we ask those who REALLY celebrate in other parts of the world to conform to fit our experience, you'd find it's a little more difficult.
One thing that is important to point out: Contrary to popular belief, modern Jewish Passover plays NO ROLE in determining when Orthodox Pascha is celebrated. While Pascha (meaning Passover) is the fulfillment of Passover and took place during the period of Passover, the modern Jewish calculation and calendar play no part in determining when we celebrate Pascha (Easter). The fact is, Orthodox Easter has happened before Jewish Passover was over numerous times.
While it's not the biggest issue in the life of the Church, it would be nice to celebrate with all those who believe in the resurrection of Christ. Hopefully this sheds some light on the issue so that when you're asked, you might have an answer. Perhaps one day that will be one more thing that unifies us all, rather than divides.
If you need to give a real short answer: The Orthodox Church uses a more ancient calendar.
The Eagle Has Landed
Merry Christmas! Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
“In the beginning God made heaven and earth. The earth was invisible and unfinished; and darkness was over the deep. The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water. Then God said, ‘LET THERE BE LIGHT’ and there was light. And God divided the light from the darkness.” - Genesis 1:1-3
Christmas is a celebration! Over 2000 years ago, something miraculous happened. The long awaited messiah was born. This is a big deal! We’re talking about the Messiah, Christ - the Chosen One. He who was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the world 2000 years before. Living after Christ’s birth we sometimes forget the actual importance of this event. The wait is over. The Christ Child, is born. Everyone that went before His Nativity was waiting for this exact moment “in sin and error pining” (as beautifully explained in the carol, O Holy Night). No other moment in time held such significance to the world since God said, “Let there be light” and placed us in the Garden. What is interesting is that today, we are about as far on the AD side of the timeline from Christ’s birth as Abraham was on the BC side. The difference for us is, that the waiting is over. All the evil things that are in this world hold no power over us.
You see, we all get tired and many of the things that are happening in the world today are sad and frustrating. People die everyday by what we call natural causes and also because of tragedies of violence and catastrophes of earth quakes and hurricanes, etc.
And we are constantly voting in new leaders that make some of us happy, but frustrate the rest. We look to leaders to do the good that we expect them to do. The divide on what they are supposed to do is getting bigger and bigger. Sometimes we get so drawn in and put too much hope into these leaders. And nearly every time they disappoint in some way or another.
What do we expect though? What do we want in a leader? We want someone who understands our struggles and yet rises above them. We want someone who brings peace and sets that example for us to follow. We want someone who will put the citizens of the nation before even himself. And we want a leader who would not be afraid to put his or her neck on the line for us, not just someone who sits behind some lofty desk and sends others to do his bidding. I’m not just talking about any politician. I’m talking about every leader we’ve had, has disappointed. All but one. The leader we, living in the AD, have always had. For God is Christ and He did those things when He entered into this world as a human baby. And He grew as we grow and felt our pains. He knows us, He knows our struggles. He preached peace in place of terror and brings peace to the hearts of those who believe. And instead of only sending prophets and saints, He lived and died for us. By this, the saints are able to follow His example. You and I are able to follow His example. This is Whom we’ve always wanted. And He is Whom we have. And as such, we can be assured that this perfect leader has conquered all the horrible things this world can bring.
Yeah, I’m tired and sad by some of the world events, but Christmas is a wondrous time. It gives us cause for us to lay rest to our worries and hurts. We have a sense of relief for a time. We celebrate, as we should, because Christ came and we feel is the thrill of hope, and the weary world rejoices!
The Word of the Father appears in the flesh! He enters into our tragedies and lifts us out of them. Let us come and adore him!
The Lord of all creation lies humbly in the manger. Our savior is here! Thank God!
At Christmas time, we celebrate the light entering into a world of darkness. He who, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him.” (John 1:1-3) That same word and God became flesh and said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)
Today, “the Eagle has landed.” This is a big deal, but it should be noted that the mission of the Savior is completed on Pascha (Easter) which is why that is a greater celebration. But Light has come into the world. Just as it was said in Genesis 1:1 Christ Himself is that light that lit up the world and now it has come into the world! Today you have a choice to live in the light and have life. Because Christ is born!
The choice you make is how you glorify him in the life you live. The pagan three wise men followed a star because they searched out God and became some of the first believers of Christ. Let Christ live in you and be the star in other people’s lives, that lead people to Christ. At the same time, find that someone in your life who exemplifies Christ, and follow that star. Lift each other up and let’s journey to Christ and meet Him in heaven on earth together.
The beauty of this is while the eagle has landed, the mission has only just begun. And He stops at nothing until we are together with Him at the resurrection.
Merry Christmas! Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Why are there so many Nicks (and other variations)?! Why is St. Nicholas so well loved?!
Most people know that scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the non-Greek parents meet the Greek family. It might be the truest thing from the film. How many “Nicks” are there?
Even in my family, we have five people named “Nick Lionas,” not to mention my mom’s side and all the other Nicks who don’t have the same last name.
The Church is blessed with so many Saints with all kinds of different names, yet there are so many people connected to St. Nicholas and St. Nicholas churches around the country. Why? Who is this Saint that get so much playing time?
Some of us know his story, and some of us know him only as Santa Claus. For me, he’s so much more.
When I was a kid I was told that St. Nick helped some girls get married by secretly giving them money for their wedding, and that he was honest and told the truth at First Ecumenical Council. Yes. very sweet. Very jolly.
It wasn’t until I was in undergrad that I realized how watered down that version of history was. St. Nicholas didn’t just help out a family of daughters so that they could get married, he saved (at least) three women from a life of sex slavery. The sad reality of the situation was that if the father of these women could not provide a dowry, they would be forced to become prostitutes. St. Nicholas battled the sex trade by giving these women freedom. He also did it without desiring any sort of thanks in return.
St. Nicholas stood against things that were wrong and divisive. At the First Ecumenical Council there was a bishop named Arius who claimed that Christ Jesus, as the Son of God was not God as well, and that there was a time when He did not exist. This is false and heresy. However Arius forcefully made his point to the council. The passionate St. Nicholas put an end to the heresy when he slapped Arius across the face! As a result St. Nicholas was thrown in prison until the Theotokos and Christ appeared to him and the council and said that he was right. He served his penalty but was also proven to be right.
Now, I don’t advocate striking someone, but St. Nicholas was not a push-over and yet he was the kind and generous man who saved women from slavery. Let's be honest here, he didn't get to strike someone and get forgiven because he was known to do such things. He was a man of good character with a lot of credibility, not known to act in such a manner. You can't go picking fights and being a jerk and expect anyone to take you seriously when you make a real point. St. Nicholas made a point and it was taken seriously.
In that council St. Nicholas wasn't just standing up for what he thought was right as we often do. He was standing up for what the Church believed. Recently it has been an ongoing saying to, "Speak your truth." There is no "your truth." There is only THE TRUTH. We all have different perspectives, and that's good, but the truth is the truth. St. Nicholas wasn't just getting on a soap box to tell people what he believed he was standing up for what the Church believed.
Don't get caught up in silly arguments or fight people over what ONLY YOU think is true. Test your thoughts against what we know is good and true. Test it agains millennia of what the Church has called true.
St. Nicholas is also continuously working miracles for people today. He is bold and passionate for what is right and true, and yet humble and loving in profound ways. He is the total package. So do I want a saint like that interceding on my behalf to God for my salvation? Heck yes. I do.
St. Nicholas is the real deal.
The Co-Existence of Joy and Sorrow
In 2012 when I, together with a few seminarians, were on our way to Bridgeport, Connecticut, we stopped in Newtown to say a prayer just two days after the awful Sandyhook shooting. Living in Boston at the time, a few days after the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013, we did a prayer service in the streets of Boston. And on December 2, 2021 I got in my car, pulled out of my driveway and drove just 15 minutes to say a prayer at Oxford High School, where two days prior, a senseless act of violence took four lives and left many in pain and sorrow. All these communities were and still are mourning the loss of life to tragic evil.
Our parents and kids at St. George expressed their hurt too, so we opened our doors for all and did a special service. After the incident, my elementary school son had days off school and area schools have found themselves on lockdown several times. I still get emails from the superintendent of the district on possible threats. God bless the administrators, teachers and students that are working and learning in these conditions. Everyone is still on edge. Everyone is hurting. It’s as if it’s not enough that these kids have had a really difficult last years with school COVID shut-downs and restrictions. It’s compounding.
Meanwhile it’s “the most wonderful time of the year." It’s Christmas season. It is this time of year when we’re supposed to feel joy and excitement, but those who have been through tragedy and trauma may find this time of year exceedingly difficult. Today marks one year from that horrific event in Oxford; one year without those four beautiful kids. So how do we celebrate at this time of year when we're in pain?
Years ago after a friend of mine experienced tragedy, I asked a Professor at seminary, what do I tell him? Dr. Katos reminded me that, “Joy and sorrow can co-exist, but joy and despair cannot.” I found this extremely profound. And at this time of year, when we’re celebrating The Savior’s birth, celebrating God loving us so much that He became man to suffer with us and save us from eternal death through His resurrection, I feel joy creeping in. Is that ok?
We all need to be reminded, because sad things happen in our lives: do not shun joy, even when you’re sad. Don’t feel guilty about laughing and smiling in the midst of hurting. It’s ok to have both. When we shun joy because we think it’s not supposed to be there, we close our hearts to love and open it to despair. Don’t go down that road. Despair is lonesome and isolating.
This goes for all of life’s tragedies in a fallen world. And that joy comes from the hope of the resurrection of all because of Christ.
When a light goes out on a strand of Christmas lights, it often knocks out the whole strand. I used to get so frustrated that I would toss them in the trash together. For some reason last year as I pulled them out, my son and I decided to go through each one to light up the whole strand again. The fixture lights the bulb and we just needed to re-light the fixture with a new bulb. I've decided to do that again this year.
Christmas lights exist as a reminder that Christ is the light of the world. A light that shines in the darkness. In this dark world, when our lights go out, it impacts the whole strand, but when we are relit or we help others light up, we all light up.
If you’re struggling at this time of year, don’t shun or push out the light. Be sad, but allow joy to enter your heart and be a joy unto others. Shine those lights, especially at this time of year. Could you imagine how grim this time of year would be without this joy?
On this day in particular, I pray that the Oxford Community, together with the entire area, and extended world, can still find joy in the hope of Christ’s light shining through a dark world for the sake of the world and that hope in the resurrection of all that is to come.
For most of the world, January 1st marks the first day of the year. This day is filled with celebration and new things to come. Mostly, it signifies the beginning of a new cycle of months, seasons, and holidays. These things we expect every year. We know that on January 1st, we can expect the new year to bring Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. We can expect Independence day in July, Thanksgiving in November, and birthdays throughout the year.
In the same way, September 1st marks the beginning of the new liturgical year for the Church in which we can expect the four fasting periods - the Nativity Fast (Christmas), Great Lent, the Apostles Fast, and the Dormition Fast. We celebrate major feast days, such as the Elevation of the Holy Cross and Epiphany. We greet each other joyfully on the day of one another’s Saint (name day).
Many cultures begin a new year at different times than that of Western American culture. We have heard of the Chinese New Year (January 22, 2023) and Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah -September 25-27, 2022). If other cultures celebrate their new year with pride, perhaps it’s time we give a little more recognition to our Church New Year.
So why do we celebrate the new year on September 1st?
The Roman Empire, which was in control of the regions where Christianity first spread, began their new year on the first of September. When the Church formed it was only natural that she began the year at the same time as those around them. In part, the new year was relative to harvest, and like many time related events, the new year revolved around farming. Since then, western civilization has changed the beginning of the year to January.
Biblically speaking, September 1st has an even greater significance. According to Tradition, Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry on this first day of the Roman New Year. Having spent forty days in the wilderness, he returned to his home town of Nazareth, where he preached from the Prophet Isaiah and was rejected by His own people. (Luke 4:14-30).
Jesus Christ was bold and set the tone for His ministry with this event. He proclaimed the year of the Lord. As such, each year, His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople observes this day and signs the Protocol Statement initiating the New Ecclesiastical year.
In the life of the Church, every day has significance. We have a Saint or a few Saints to guide us through each day.
This is your second chance at a new year, a new you, grounded in Christ. Now is a good time to ask yourself, What can you do to make this Ecclesiastical New Year more spiritual? Perhaps you could read the Bible every day, find a spiritual book, take moments to pray, find out more about the day’s saint and perhaps learn to fast better. This is a wonderful opportunity! But as we work on becoming closer to God, find time to love your neighbor better. Be patient, and kind. Offer time and talents to the Church and to those in need. This is how we celebrate the Ecclesiastical New Year!
This is the first post for our St. George “Slaying the Dragon” Blog. The blog might address current issues, answer questions, pose questions, or might just be random thoughts Father and other writing guests might have pertaining to faith and living our faith in the modern world.
I hope it becomes a regular place to write and discuss topics that mean something to you and me. I don’t have a set schedule of when blogs posts will be written, but it will be listed on our social media pages when it is. Or check back from time to time. As for now, we hope you come visit our parish and if you have questions feel free to ask them in the “Contact us” portion of the site.
I hope to see you soon.
With love in Christ,
Father Nick Lionas
Mostly written by Father Nick and those who have been invited to write on certain topics