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Into the Heart of Antioch: The North American Delegation to the Antiochian Unity Conference

Delegates await the start of the Unity ConferenceDelegates await the start of the Unity ConferenceIn late June, an historic event took place in the life of the Church of Antioch: the first Antiochian Unity Conference, called by His Beatitude John X, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, to gather together representatives of the Patriarchate from across the globe. The conference was held in Balamand, Lebanon, from June 25 to 29, and concluded on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul with a massive outdoor Patriarchal Liturgy on the grounds of Balamand University, attended by faithful from across the region as well as those gathered for the Conference.

This gathering occurred during a momentous time for our ancient Patriarchate of Antioch. A strong and ascendant Patriarch, John X, in the early stages of his leadership, guides the Church with love and joy in the Holy Spirit, while the Church carries a heavy cross: the historic homeland of the Patriarchate in Syria suffers war and the constant threat of violence, and the Church in Lebanon struggles with the burdens of life on the doorstep of war. The discussions of the conference were informed by the presence in spirit of the brother of Patriarch John, His Eminence Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo, abducted during the conflict over a year ago, along with Syriac Metropolitan Yohanna of Aleppo.

What the Skull Said: Finding Oneself in the Face of Others

By Douglas Cramer

There is an interesting story about hell told by St. Macarius, a Christian monk who lived in the fourth century Egyptian desert. Walking in the desert one day, he found laying on the ground the skull of a dead man.

Many Hats, One Person: Sin and Anxiety

By Douglas Cramer

There’s a phrase I like that sums up our life in the modern world: “We all wear many hats.” It’s true – we do. Time management gurus like Steven Covey encourage us to structure our schedules according to the different roles we play, the different hats we wear – spouse, parent, child, worker, householder, friend, athlete, volunteer. But here’s what’s great about the phrase “many hats” – if we think about it, it reminds us that even though we wear many hats, there’s one person, the same person, underneath each of them.

You know what’s wrong about focusing on our hats instead of the person underneath? It can lead us to fall in to a dangerous sin – the sin of anxiety. You may not think of anxiety as a sin. But Jesus Christ teaches us that anxiety leads us away from Him, and from our salvation. And whatever separates us from God is sinful. We must overcome anxiety and worry. And thank God, the Scriptures and the teachings of our Church teach us how.

Let me tell you though one thing that makes me anxious – the statistics on anxiety in America! According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 8 Americans between 18 and 54 have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. That’s 20 million people! Anxiety is the number one mental health problem for women, and second only to drug and alcohol abuse for men. Anxiety is the most common mental health problem in America, more common than even depression.

Now Ben Franklin once said: “Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.” Keep in the sunlight. And as Christians, don’t we know the source of the True Light? And don’t we know that we can learn to live in that Light?

Call No Man Father?

by Douglas Cramer

The Orthodox Christian Church has since the time of Christ nurtured and raised up a way of understanding the world, of understanding ourselves, and understanding our walk with God that is a unique treasure often unheard, unheralded and unshared. Our's is a living faith, a living Tradition of how to follow Christ. Let's consider an easily-overlooked passage from St. Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians. It is a crucial reference point in one small tradition of the Church, a tradition with large implications.

The passage, 1 Corinthians 4:14-16, reads: "I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me." The tradition reflected in this passage is one we still practice today - our tradition of calling our deacons and priests "father", and of referring to our Orthodox Christian spiritual elders through the century as "the Fathers of the Church."

Let's think about what we can learn from this tradition of calling our clergy and spiritual elders "Father". The traditional title "Father" points us towards the truth that our faith is a living thing, rather than simply a mere collection of ancient rituals. We are part of God's living, growing family - and our spiritual elders are called to a special role in that family. And this family's greatest task is to safeguard God's Holy Tradition.

The Boy Who Died and The Boy Who Lived: Reflections on the Annunciation

by Douglas Cramer

Where does the Gospel begin? I like to think that it begins with the Annunciation. It is the beginning of the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, with His holy conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The visitation by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, and his announcement that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, is the beginning of the Gospel story that concludes with the death and glorious Resurrection of Christ that we celebrate at Great and Holy Pascha. In the words of one of our hymns for Annunciation, “Today is the beginning of our salvation.”

I believe, though, that we often forget just how much reason we have to celebrate. With all the worldly blessings we in America often enjoy, it can be easy to forget how much we need salvation, how much our world needs a Savior. This was brought home to me recently by a difficult and painful story of another baby boy.