Sunday, July 30, 2006


Glory be to God,
I have just returned from a life changing trip to an orphanage in Guatemala city, Guatemala.
This orphanage is run by four God-fearing Orthodox nuns. The founding nuns used to be Catholic monastics, but they became dissatisfied with thier church, and durring a tour of the Holy Land, discovered Orthodoxy, and converted, much to the Catholic church's dismay.
When they decided to start a convent in Guatemala, little did they know that God had greater plans then they could have imagined!
"What do we know about children?" Mother Ines asked when they inherited an orphange and 30 children. But thank God, through thier example, it is evident that all one needs to raise children, run an orphange, or build a church is Faith and Love. These nuns may never have learned how to raise a child, but through the Grace of God, all of the children of the orphanage are happy, healthy, and well adjusted!
There are about 90 children in the orphanage, run 100% on donations. Of course the nuns cannot run everything all the time. They have a hired staff of nannys, cooks, nurses and gardeners, but the present team of staff has taken a long time to perfect. Mother Ivonne told us that it is very difficult to find someone that does not "steal, cheat and lie in this city." Thank God, after several years of hirings, and firings they have a team that they can trust, and even some have become Orthodox!
As the orphange does not have a priest of it's own, right now, it is a great thing when a team like ours visits, and brings a priest along! Durring our stay, we celibrated the Devine Liturgy two times a week. And on one very exciting ocassion, we had a Devine Liturgy along with 26 baptisms! Imagine all those brand-new souls! And the nuns alowed us, the missionaries to be Godparents of the newly-illumined! "The only condition to being a Godparent," said Mother Yvonne, "is that you must pray for your God child every day of your life. That's it!"
The mothers love thier children, and take every precaution for thier well-being as any mother would for thier own children. On Sundays, the children get to watch a movie that has been pre-screened by Mother. Some of the older children have started a book club, they recently finished reading "The Lion the Witch and the Wordrobe." Mother took a group of the children to the theater to see the new motion picture based on the book. The children get plenty of excercise. The orphanage has a pool, inwhich the boys have to do 40 laps before they go to bed everynight, while the girls play soccor in the gym, or do some other constuctive activity.
The older boys are now helping to constuct a new church for the monestary, and new dormatories for the children, so that eventualy the children can move out of the dreadful city, and into the cleaner, safer country side.
The country-side is beautiful! Some of the nuns live out there, inorder to discourage robbers from comming onto the land. Along with buildings for the orphanage, the boys are also helping build a brand new church for the monestary. This will be the very fist original Orthodox church in the country of Guatemala!
These nuns are having it build right...thier architect studied Byzantine architecture inorder to construct this church exactly the right way! In the country, at the monestary, the nuns are also raising fish and rabbits to feed the children.

Its a miracle, the fact that the children are happy and well fed and dressed. Most of them have come from terrible, violent or abusive back-grounds, and would not be expected to behave in society after thier experiences.
But the children love one another. Even the children that are not siblings treat one another as if they were brother and sister. The older children look out for the younger ones. And the younger ones look up to the older ones. The children go to church two times a day, and durring the year they have school. Almost all of the children can read and write and tell the time, which is much more then they could have hoped for out on the streets.
The children that are able, make prayer ropes and sell them at the book store, or at fund raisers. The orphanage keeps track of who's ropes are sold, and half the money goes directly to the child. This way, the children begin to save up some money for when they grow up. Some children already have as much as $1,000 in thier account!

While we were there, we got to take the children on an outing outside of the orphange! No one is allowed outside the walls of the orphanage without a blessing from Mother. The city is full of violence and poverty, therefore, one must be very cautious, venturing out into the city. Some of the children have only left the orphanage a few times in thier life. So for many of the children, leaving the monestary was very exciting.
Our outing included a visit to the hot pools, which are heated by the local volcano, then a visit to the monestary, to look at the new church and the fish and rabbits. Then, the children's favorite part: dinner at "Pollo Compero" which is sort of like the KFC/Mc.Donald's of Guatemala. It seemed like some of the kids had never eaten fried chicken before! they eat every last bit of meat off those bones, and used up about a bottle of ketchup each!
It was such a pleasure to watch the children enjoy thier food, and be excited about simple things like feeling the breeze in thier face, as we drove down the street.
Glory to God for All things!
and God bless the struggling people of Guatemala....
for more info on the orphanage, you can visit:
or email me (sarah gillis) at: icecreamwithafork[at]

Saturday, May 06, 2006

It's Only Reasonable

I was invited last week to listen to a professor of theology—quite famous for his Evangelical orthodoxy and at the same time his ecumenical openness. I was impressed. I was impressed by his tight case, his grasp of his opponents’ logical mistakes and unexamined assumptions. Overall, it was a marvelous ride for an overly educated Orthodox priest who mostly agrees and similarly wishes to resist the forces of religious indifferation. And as pleased as my intellect was by the thorough thrashing given to the religious pluralists, I walked away troubled at heart.

I was troubled because I knew by experience that no proof is final. Medieval proofs for the existence of God are disproved by later philosophers whose proofs are again overturned by their followers’ followers: “Of making many books there is no end.” Heretics and gainsayers must be answered, and the answers, we seem to assume, must be in the common coin of the realm—reasoned argument. Nonetheless, there is a deceptive sense of self confidence that assaults my mind when I hear a good argument for “our side.” This perhaps comes from the Kantian illusion blanketing our culture that differences really just boil down to lapses in clear thinking. And what is particularly ironic is that this good feeling of winning the debate comes even when “our side” seems to triumph by attacking the Enlightenment foundations of the opponent’s argument, without admitting its own enslavement to the very same paradigms. This is not to say that the “enlightened” rules of reasoning are inherently more or less evil than those of the Neo-Platonists or Medieval Scholastics; rather, it is to say that when push comes to shove, we must admit with the Apostle Paul that the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. And any apologetic effort from St. Paul on Mars’ Hill and St. Justin Philosopher and Martyr all the way through Carl Olson’s and Sandra Miesel’s The Da Vinci Hoax, is just that: an apology, a defense, a proclamation, but not a proof.

Yet I want a proof. I want to satiate my intellect and subordinate that part of my psyche that knows without knowing, that merely trusts the message heard, the Tradition handed down by faithful men and lived by the holy (the saints): I’m looking for Life in all the wrong places. Once the adrenaline that comes from a good argument dissipates, the heart is still left longing. I return to my icon corner and say my prayers—not very well at first, fighting the intrusion of “good points” and better counters. I stand there, restarting the Lord’s prayer for the third time, for I can’t even seem to get through the most basic prayer without distraction. “Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.” Slowly I begin to recognize the joy-filled sadness gradually warming my heart. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner…” And so I come home.

May God bless all apologists, for theirs is a difficult job: to defend foolishness (the foolishness of the cross), for which there is no defense, no defense but the Great Defender Himself. Like the great St. Nekarios of Agina (Metropolitan of Pentopolos), I feel compelled by the love of Christ to teach and guide and proclaim; but unlike him, I am sometimes fooled into thinking that arguments and defenses, explanations and proclamations are somehow the Truth rather than just clanging cymbals awaiting the Sprit of God to fill them to draw the hearers to the Truth. And especially since I am usually just one who listens, who already believes but is not wise enough to make such arguments myself, I must be careful not to fall into the same trap as the unbelievers do. I must not mistake good argumentation for Truth, even when the argument supports (or most usually merely appears to support or intends to support) the Truth. This is one of my weaknesses. May God help me (as the Fathers say) to keep my mind in my heart.

Fr. Michael

Sunday, April 30, 2006


Eastern Orthodox Reflections. Father Thomas Hopko draws on the wisdom of the Orthodox Christian Church and the Holy Scriptures to help us understand same-sex attraction, with both compassion and clarity. Combining theological and pastoral insights, this small gem will aid pastors, those who experience same-sex desires, and anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the nature of our identity and our sexuality. This book is in reality a primer on how to overcome the passions through the traditional Christian ascetic struggle, which of course applies to everyone "... In a winsomely accessible manner, he draws on the treasures of Orthodoxy to invite all of us to move from disputation to reflection, and from there to the wholeness for which we are created by God.� Richard John Neuhaus, Editor-in-Chief of First Things "... The argument is closely reasoned and touches on many aspects of this issue that are often ignored in popular presentations...A provocative book that will surely help everyone who reads it!" Timothy George is dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and an executive editor of Christianity Today...
for more information and even an excerpt from this book, go to
*As a note of interest, our very own Fr. Michael helped edit this book!*

Friday, April 28, 2006

Children in Church

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As God has seen fit to grant our mission growth, we are now experiencing growing pains. Particularly, we are learning how to incorporate families with young children into our parish life. I think over the last little while both parents and the community at large has felt some discomfort as parents have struggled to learn how to teach their children to behave in Church. With this in mind, I would like to address both the community at large and parents on the matter of young children in Church.

For the community at large, we must remember first that young children are just as much a part of the Church as the oldest and wisest Parish Counsel members. These children are our future, and patiently teaching them to love the Church is not only the responsibility of parents, but of all of us. Those of us without children must patiently and compassionately endure the small disturbances that young children make. Moreover, those of us who are parents of older children must be ready to help when called upon–and more than that, we should be offering young parents our help.

Jesus said, “suffer the little children to come to me.” Yes, “suffer” here means allow, but it also means to endure with patience whatever is necessary so that young children can come to Christ. For some, disturbance in prayer is a cross that will bring about not only their own salvation, but also the salvation of others. Raising children who love the Church is probably the most difficult task most parents will ever struggle through. The prayers, help and patience of all of us is necessary for parents to be successful.

On a practical note, I strongly suggest that those who find themselves very disturbed by young children in worship, stand as close to the front of the Church as possible. This will help them. First, it will help because it will make room in the back of the church for parents with children. Parents with small children usually come to church the latest (which, all of us who are parents certainly understand). However, when they arrive, there is no room in the back of the Nave, so they end up moving toward the front. Now everyone must watch the children, whether they are cute or misbehaving, everyone is watching the children instead of paying attention to the prayers. Standing forward also provides another benefit. When we stand forward in the Church to pray, we have to turn our head to look away from the Icons. If we keep our heads forward, we are better able to pray despite distractions around us.

For parents of small children, I would like to address the following comments. First, as I mentioned above, raising our children to love God and His Church is the greatest and most important ministry of our lives. God has designed the process of Christian child rearing as one of the primary ways to work in our lives the Christ-like virtues that save our souls: 1Timothy 2:15 says, “But she will be saved through childbearing, if they abide in faith and love and sanctification with sober-mindedness.” Many fathers of the Church comment that this is not merely a reference to giving birth, but to the whole process of bearing (raising) children to “abide in faith and love.”

However, like every great endeavor that God sets before us, raising children to love God and His Church requires one quality in parents that is the foundation of all others: humility. Children will, sooner or later, humble parents. The sooner parents accept this, the better for the child. Each child is a distinct human person. Training each child requires insight beyond the ability of any one set of parents. God does not expect parents to know how to raise their children by themselves. This was never part of God’s plan. Parents are to raise children with the help and advice of wise older relatives and friends who have already successfully raised children. When parents of young children ask the help and advice of older parents, they receive two important advantages. First, they receive advice that has been tried by time. Older parents can tell stories of what they have tried and what has worked and what has not. When Bonnie and I began having Children, we were far away from any family because I was still going to school. We had no relatives to turn to for help, so we sought advice from older parents in our Church who had children that we wanted our children to grow up to be like. These older parents gave us advice. They recommended books and answered questions for us. They taught us practical ways to discipline our children, ways that actually worked. And most of all, they encouraged us in our struggle; they let us know that we were normal.

The second advantage young parents can receive from older parents is the truth–if they really love you. Older parents can tell you the truth about whether what you are doing with your own child is working well or not. I remember how painful it was for me when my best friend told me that I was spoiling my oldest daughter. I couldn’t believe him–I thought I was a good parent. Finally, I had to accept, even if I couldn’t see it myself at the time, that I needed to be more strict; for, even though I couldn’t see that I was spoiling my child, others could.

Of course, each child and each family circumstance is unique. There is no 100% method for raising godly children, and all advice must be considered humbly and prayerfully. However, the first and most important step young parents can take in raising children that love God and His Church is to recognize that they do not know how to do it, and that without God’s help and plenty of advice from wiser older parents who have successfully raised children, they will not succeed. A mother’s and father’s love has the miraculous power to show a child what God’s love is like. At the same time, because we are fallen in sin, parental love can blind us and keep us from seeing what we don’t want to see in our children. Thank God, the remedy for all sin is in the Church. By humbling ourselves and asking for help (for if we do not ask, we do not receive St. James says), we can find grace and help in time of need. In the Church, God has provided everything necessary for salvation, but like all other gifts from God, the gift of wise parenting is not found in any one individual. It is distributed in the Church so that we must seek it out and humbly receive from one another.

Assuming that young parents want help raising their children to love God and His Church, the following are a few suggestions. First, for others–not parents of small children–don’t try to give advice or help unless you are asked to do so. Please respect the freedom and responsibility of parents to raise and discipline, or not discipline, their own children as seems best to them. It is a serious mistake and true evidence of pride and arrogance to think you know better how to raise a child than the child’s parents. You may, of course, offer to help. But if your help is not wanted at that time, you must commit the matter to prayer assuming that God has not given you wisdom to help at that moment. Certainly, young parents need our prayers much more than they need our advice.

Second, teaching young children to behave in Church begins by teaching them at home, in the home-church. Teaching young children to say prayers at home and to sit or stand quietly while their parents say prayers is a very important part of teaching children to be well behaved in Church. For example, a mother who had been in the habit of only praying while her child napped, might begin at a different time by teaching the child to sit quietly on a small blanket while she said the Trisagion prayers. After doing this every day (or even twice a day) for a while, she could add a few more prayers. In a few weeks, the child will be accustomed to sitting quietly for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time while mother prayed. This behavior is then easily transferred to Church. The important thing to keep in mind is that if you want to change a child’s behavior in Church, you must begin by practicing at home. I know of one family with several children that used to play Church at home. One of the children would put a blanket on his shoulders and pretend to be the priest and the sisters would pretend to be the choir. They acted out the Great Entrance and even pretended to receive Holy Communion. In this way, the parents taught the children correct behavior in Church. Whether or not this method was ideal, it seemed to work for this family.

Third, when children misbehave in Church, as they inevitably do, parents must take them out of the Nave before they start to make a lot of noise. If one or two quiet “shushes” don’t work, it’s time to take the child out. There is, however, a technique to taking children out of the Nave. If you take a child out of the Nave for misbehavior, the child should not be rewarded by being allowed to do something pleasant in the other room. That is, when a child is removed for misbehavior, his or her experience in the other room should be less pleasant than in the Nave. At the same time, a parent needs to pay attention to how much time his or her child can endure without a break. If you notice that your child has been well behaved for a while and it is about time for a little break, take out your child for a little walk or to color in the other room for a while. Be sure to tell him or her that this is a reward for their good behavior in the Nave. Then when you take the child out for misbehavior, the child will know the difference.

Having said this, I acknowledge that every now and then there are bad days. The child may be teething or have a little bug. At such times, parents have to do whatever works best at the moment keeping in mind that a parent’s first duty to Christ is to care for the child. God will hear the prayers of a mother or father rocking a teething baby in the nursery just as well as if they were standing in the Nave. At the same time, others in the Nave will be able to pray more peacefully without the continual noise of a child who is out of sorts that day. In every area of our life, we must find balance–this is no less true in how we raise our children. But if the truth be told, the bad days are not really the problem. Bad days and good days are part of the cycle of our lives. The real matter is what we do on normal days: children are not taught by exceptions, they are taught by regular activity and patterns.

Brothers and sisters, this is the Church: life together, iron sharpening iron, as the Bible says. What does “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ” mean? It means that we will all be somewhat burdened by getting along with one another, loving one another, and learning that noone–not the priest, not the bishop, not the parish counsel, not parents, and not children–noone gets his own way. We are going God’s way, and noone knows the mind of God except the Spirit of God who leads us. So brothers and sisters as together we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, let us be ready to adjust, ready to change and be changed, for this is only the beginning, heaven awaits us.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Pascha Party!

Here is Jim heading home with his family's many Pascha Baskets

'Christ is Risen, Truly He is Risen!"
(Fr. Michael and Family)
The kids exploring on Fr.'s land!

Thank God for such a beautiful Pasha Day!
Thank god, we had a beautiful Pascha day, full of meat, cheese and sunshine!
Christ is Risen, Truly He is Risen!

Christ is Risen!

Blessed Bright week!
Thank God, we have just completed our third Lent and Pascha together here at Holy Nativity!
This year's celebration was especially meaningful as we have just recently recieved our official name and Antamincian from His Grace Bishop JOSEPH, our loving father in Christ!
Here are photos of our Priest Fr. Micheal and our brand new deacon, deacon Chris, on Holy Pascha!

Christ is Risen!