Origins of the Festival


V. Rev. Father Joseph Allen

We always had some sort of “Festival,” but it was in 1977 when we built the Church Hall -what we now call Ivy Hall- that the Festival took a gigantic step in which it became a central form of financial support for St Anthony’s.

I remember it so clearly. The Women’s Guild ran it as their major event.  And they worked very hard – and argued every step of the way.

At the first meeting I told them, “Now the we finally built a hall, we have to think ‘bigger’!”  No more could we just break down the Sunday School and contain ourselves downstairs. They sat motionless; they were shocked to hear such a different venue.  And the shock merely grew when I added: “We should be able to now make about $15,000”.  They said they would be pleased if we could make $4,000 (they made $3,500 the previous year).

I told them they would have to “think differently”.  ” We will need to do some PR.”  WHAT?!  What kind of PR?   “It’s only our parishioners and they already know about the Festival,” they said. “And how much would that cost?”   I said: “Well, more than $50”. WHAT?! $50 for PR?!  Where is all this money coming from?

And we went on like that- every step, from decorations, to bakery, to the kitchen. Every step was a struggle.

I turned to Thelma Dacales and the late Ed Takla to help me change their minds and get them thinking progressively.  The first thing we did was to develop a Manual which contained a Chart of who was who, and who would do what in order to reach our goal.

We did. And we made the $15,000. I could feel our minds and hearts expand!

These humble beginnings should never be forgotten. This is also why it is so disturbing when I see a lack of enthusiasm, or cynicism, or judgmentalism – or any purposeful negative response surrounding our festival efforts.

And now we are taking another giant step. Will you be with us?

The Importance of Sunday School

By Pamela Scarpa

“Let the children come to me, so not to hinder them; for to such belongs the christ_children_word_oct09Kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Mark 10:14-15

It’s 6:55 am and my eyes are just opening up to a new day.  I think to myself, only five more minutes of sleep.  Any minute, my children will be barreling through my bedroom door urging me to get up. It’s Sunday morning in the Scarpa household, and we have two hours to pull ourselves together before leaving for church. The energy and eagerness of the kids pull me out of bed, with their large smiles meeting ours. Together we start our morning: beds are made, rooms are fixed and breakfast is served. It’s the Sunday of Orthodoxy and Church School begins at 10am sharp! Its now time for the hour long car ride to our second home, St. Anthony’s.

Much like my children, Sundays were always the best day of the week for me. Waking up early on a Sunday is Continue reading “The Importance of Sunday School”

St. Ignatius Day Sermon

by George Tewfik

Life is hard.  I don’t have to tell you all that life can truly be difficult.  But when you think about how hard our struggles can be, it’s natural to think about dealing with illness, death, job loss, or large-scale conflict.  But when I say that life is hard, oftentimes, the most challenging aspects are the most subtle.

As a young freshman in high school, making friends and not feeling like an outsider was a near daily struggle for me.  Finding a place to sit during lunch gave me more anxiety than studying for tests.  Hard as it may be to imagine about me- I was a nerd in high school.  And not just a regular nerd, but a nerd who played the accordion, was member of the chess club, and president of the science, math and academic decathlon teams.  If you wanted to call me king of the nerds, you would be absolutely correct.  But, as shocking as it might be to learn, King of the Nerds confers no special powers when it comes to feeling like a member of the group.  When you’re a teenager, fitting in is incredibly stressful.

And when you get to college, the struggle changes, from fitting in, to discovering who you are.  You’re on your own for the first time in your life, trying to understand not only what job you want to pursue, but the kind of person you want to be.  It can be absolutely overwhelming to feel like you have a deadline to figure out your life.

Next for me was medical school, where I had to figure out how to cope with more work and stress than I had ever encountered before.  The constant pressure and competition amongst my classmates were often enough to make me feel like I was running through quicksand, exerting massive effort, only to stay in one place.

The formative years of life can be incredibly difficult and stressful to navigate, and once you’re through, it’s a new set of stresses like work, a mortgage, or trying to figure out what we fed our baby that caused her to have diarrhea.

The one refuge, however, and the one constant in my life during this whole time, has been the church.  From the difficult days of high school, through my present day challenges at work, I have always derived strength from my involvement at the Church.

But I have a confession to make, and it may feel controversial to some, so please bear with me.  But I never, ever come to church just to pray.  And there’s a very important reason that I say this.  If we consider prayer to be direct communication with God, then I pray all the time.  I pray in the car on the way to work.  I pray when I think about my wife, my daughter, and our unborn son.  I pray when I think about the strife in the world, or hear about a friend or acquaintance with a health problem, or when I need wisdom or clarity to deal with a difficult situation.  So, if I can pray to God, and communicate with him all the time, why come to church to pray?  I feel God in nature, I feel His presence with my family and friends.  So, what is it that we get through coming here every Sunday?  And the answer, at least to me, is community worship.  And community worship is so much more powerful than prayer alone; it is the feeling of worship and love as we come together with one purpose to commune with one another in the presence of God.

Human beings are social creatures, we are not meant to live alone.  There is a reason that solitary confinement in considered cruel and unusual punishment, and there is an effort to ban its use in the penal system.  It is because we live together in a community; we work together, we trade with one another, and we celebrate in unity.  So when we come together to worship, we fulfill the vision for humanity that was imprinted upon us from the dawn of our civilization.  And when we come together in that community, even a teenager who spends his week concerned about his place in the cafeteria can feel loved and reassured.  And the college student, who doesn’t know his place in the world, can have his faith reassured, and always feel welcome.  The medical student who feels the pressure of the world can understand that he is a part of a community that is greater than himself, and that his work will not be in vain.

It is this sense of community that brings my family here every Sunday, despite the fact that we can walk to a nearby Greek Orthodox Church or drive to a Russian Orthodox Church a couple miles away.  What binds me to this Church is not only the Liturgy, the sacraments and prayer, but also the hugs and kisses we get on the way to our seats in the pews.  It’s in the smiles I get carrying around Charlotte on the way to Communion.  It’s in the love I see as sons, daughters and grandchildren bring family members to church, and Sunday school teachers lead their students in song.  It’s in the fun we have serving together as altar boys (though I don’t think we really fit that definition anymore) and the drinks we share in the kitchen at the end of a successful festival.  It’s those moments, those hugs and smiles, that foster a feeling of Christ in our midst, and give us the strength to pursue a life as faithful, loving Orthodox Christians.

The sense of community that I find here at St. Anthony’s, and in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese as a whole, can be attributed not only to the love and fellowship in the church, but also to the institutions and organizations that exist throughout our Church.  These organizations, like the Teen SOYO, the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (or OCF), and Antiochian Village Summer Camp fostered within me the sense of Orthodox love and camaraderie during those formative years that not only kept me committed to the church, but helped me survive those tumultuous times.  And because of those institutions, church became not just a place where we can escape the world on Sundays, but a place that gives me the foundation every day to conquer any challenge, and approach the world with the support of a powerful community.

I have lifelong friends, who are now my family because of Teen SOYO.  I spent my summers at the Antiochian Village, and often when I close my eyes, I can hear the jubilant campers yelling in the dining hall and the smell of the campfire in my nostrils and it gives me peace and makes me happy.  God willing, one day soon, I will bring my children downstairs for Sunday School, and watch them in the Christmas pageant.

It is within the institutions of the church such as these that our sense of community grows.   From the Sunday school and Parish Council to the Teen SOYO and events such as the festival, our parish organizations and events throughout the archdiocese help us fulfill the vision of Christ when he left this world.  Christ could have trained just one successor here on earth, but he left a committed, large group of people because he understood that as individuals we are susceptible to feelings of isolation and despair, but as a united group we derive the necessary tools not only to survive hardship, but to celebrate successes and share our bounties.

It is with this in mind that our dearly departed Metropolitan Philip saw fit to create the Order of St. Ignatius, an organization that seeks to reinforce those institutions that embody the spirit of community that makes our Archdiocese unique.  The Order is not just a check that one writes each year, but a call to give back to the Church so that, it too, can continue to fulfill its mission to create and foster a community here on earth that embodies the true essence of Christianity.

By financially supporting the Order, one not only gets a very cool-looking Cross (which I will admit is quite a perk), but also has the ability to impact so many lives because the Order supports a seemingly endless list of activities, from the Teen SOYO, Special Olympics, the Antiochian Village Camp and Youth Ministry, to the Retired Clergy, Parish development, and numerous humanitarian organizations around the world.  Orthodox Christianity is not just having faith, and not just praying in our cars; it is the sense of community we share with one another, and strive to create and foster, to leave behind for our children.

As I stood beside my wife, as she was inducted into the Order several months ago, I thought to myself about the amazing work that the Order supports throughout the Archdiocese.  And what truly stands out to me is not the names of the different organizations, or the dollar breakdown of where their support goes, but the young child who will experience the beginning of a lifelong love of the Church at the Antiochian Village Camp, or foster lifelong friendships at the Parish Life Conferences.  It is in the fact that our children will grow up experiencing the community of the church, surrounded not just by fellow parishioners, but people who will be friends and their family.

I urge you to consider joining the Order, if you have not already done so, or to get involved in any of the numerous organizations of the Church, especially if you feel the love and sense of community here that I have been fortunate enough to experience my entire life.  Thank you for your time this morning, and May God continue to bless us all.

Why PT? Reflecting on Faith, Community and Physical Therapy


by Dr. Konstantinos Mavropoulos, PT, DPT

People ask me all the time “Why did you become a Physical Therapist?” The truth is, from an early age I knew I wanted to work in the healthcare field. It seemed natural to me as I’ve been blessed to grow up with an amazing support group of family, friends, and professionals whom I’ve learned a wealth of knowledge from. I’ve always enjoyed helping people, I’ve been fascinated with how the body works, and I grew up playing all kinds of sports. I’d see people get injured, rehab and come back better than they were before.

Originally, I aspired to be a Medical Doctor, a career path I pursued until early into my time at Rutgers University. It was then my pursuits changed as Continue reading “Why PT? Reflecting on Faith, Community and Physical Therapy”

A Question of Faith: Challenges for an Orthodox Christian Journalist


By Daria Albinger Incorvaia

From the time I was a child, there were three things I loved to do, and most people who knew me would tell you I did them well.  I loved to write….short stories or in my diary….about things that were happening around me, or things I wished were.  I loved to talk.  About anything.  And I loved to ask questions.  Lots and lots of questions.

My parents worried I’d end up on the stage, and hoped I’d be a lawyer.  So I split the difference.  I became a journalist.

For several decades, starting as a newspaper writer, and then going on to radio and TV reporting, this career’s given me a front row seat to history.  I’ve seen some incredible things and met some incredible people.  And no matter how bad my day is at work, I still get to do what I love.

I approach everything with a question.  I look for answers, and for reason.

And sometimes, that includes my faith.

As Orthodox Christians, we’re Continue reading “A Question of Faith: Challenges for an Orthodox Christian Journalist”

Instead of This-ism or That-ism – All we are Saying is Give Christ’s Peace a Chance

By Subdeacon Stratos J Mandalakis

It’s no secret that the American and international political climate has been anything but calm in these last months and weeks.  With terrorism, communism, isolationism nationalism and all the other “isms” surrounding us in our daily lives, we are in a constant state of flux.  In fact, the media and medical community have coined a new acronym for a new condition: PESD, Post Election Stress Disorder.  Polarizing issues now exist on so many different  fronts that the resulting tensions echo back to the demonstrations and unrest that were commonplace when I was a child in the 1960’s & early 1970’s.  It is pretty unnerving to

Continue reading “Instead of This-ism or That-ism – All we are Saying is Give Christ’s Peace a Chance”

In Praise of a Pan-Orthodox Church

By Joseph Incorvaia and Daria Albinger Incorvaia

          The essay that follows is a speech given by Joe and Daria Incorvaia earlier this month. The couple, which has been married for 8 years, is one of many “mixed marriages” that comprise a growing portion of our Orthodox family.  


 For me, Orthodoxy has always been a part of my life.

         My mother was cradle; my father was baptized Catholic, raised Protestant then converted to Orthodoxy. We went to church when I was a young child in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on a regular basis. My sister and I attended Sunday School, my Father worked with the SOYO and my Mother was part of the Ladies Guild. 

         When I was 11 years old, we moved to suburban Dallas, Texas. The closest Orthodox churches were Ethiopian and Coptic churches, both 40 miles away.

         My Mom came up with what she thought was the best “Plan B”- weekly services at the parish in which she was raised, in Wilkes-Barre during the summer and for Christmas and Easter; we supplemented with Mass at a Catholic Church in Plano, Texas. Our neighbor was the Priest. And if we got a little too comfortable, Mom was always there to remind us to say the “right” Creed or the Lord’s Prayer the Right Way.

         Orthodoxy was, and still is, in many ways, a connection to my heritage. My mother is Syrian-American, and, as a child, Orthodoxy and the Arabic language, to me, were one and the same. Although I don’t speak the language, the service was familiar to me. And I thought, for many years that would be enough.  


I was baptized and raised Roman Catholic in Brooklyn, NY.

         I went to Catholic Schools for most of my life. At some point, I started to feel some distance from the church, and there were several instances that ‘troubled me.’

         One instance was when I was going to confession with my classmates before one of the Holy Days, as we did in school. While in the Confessional, I said something that set the priest off; he started screaming at me. I walked out of the Confessional Box, to the stunned looks of my classmates, feeling embarrassed and humiliated. Looking back, I realize he probably was drunk. I ran errands to the local liquor where I’d pick up brown paper bags for priests and nuns stapled closed, as if I didn’t know what the contents were!

         Another time, I was at Sunday Mass, when a teenage boy was standing in the back of the church. The priest actually took the time to stop the Mass to excoriate the boy for wearing jeans to church. My friends and I looked back to see this humiliated Latino boy, and wondered if that might have been the only clean pair of pants he had to wear that day.


When I moved to Connecticut, I started going to church on a regular basis.

         I found a Russian church on the Yale campus, with a welcoming priest and a friendly congregation. While it fed my need for spirituality, I felt something was missing because I couldn’t understand the language.

         When I moved to New York, I began to attend church again on a regular basis. The priest was, and still is, a dear friend of my family’s. In a previous parish assignment, he was my grandparents’ priest in Pennsylvania. I became active in the parish, teaching Sunday School, joining The Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, and serving on the parish council.

         Again, it checked the box spiritually, but language was a barrier.

         As a journalist, I’m always looking to understand things, and I knew there was more to Orthodoxy than the cultural aspect.

         I should probably mention at this point, that I’m related to Father Joe [Allen]. He is my mom’s first cousin. She and my Sittoo talked a lot about Uncle Joe’s church in New Jersey, where people of all ethnicities were welcome. I always thought it would be nice to go to a church like that, but I lived in the City at the time.


Let me say, it’s not my intention to denigrate the Catholic Church.

         There are many fine priests and nuns that I’ve met, but I just felt a distance from the church, and I lost my spiritual connection with it.

         When I met and fell in love with Daria, and she mentioned that she was Orthodox, I had very little knowledge of Orthodoxy. All I knew was that the two Greek families who lived on my block in Brooklyn went to Easter Sunday services on a different day then we did. My parents tried to explain to me that they used a different calendar than we did, but I didn’t understand.

         Daria and I were required to talk to her priest before we could get married in the church. He was straightforward and didn’t proselytize. He also encouraged Daria not to coerce me into converting. She didn’t have to; my mother, who was happy to see me in church, was pushing me toward the East.

         We liked going to the church and made a lot of friends. I found something in Orthodoxy that was missing in me spiritually. But we began to see a gradual shift in the church toward an almost all-Arabic language service.

         We’d also moved to Jersey City at this point, and that’s when Daria decided to go to St. Anthony’s.


I didn’t call Father Joe before I came to liturgy for the first time.

         I wanted to experience it on my own, and see if something called to me that I hadn’t experienced anywhere else. I saw a family of faith where ethnic heritage was honored and celebrated, but certainly second to what brought the parish together, the Orthodox faith.

         And it goes without saying, that being able to understand the whole service was an eye-opening experience.


When Daria told me how she felt attending services at St. Anthony’s, I decided to come with her.

         I found a community and a church that was more welcoming than any I’d experienced, and it came at a time when I really needed it.

         The last 8 years have been a time of personal upheaval and growth for me. My 25 plus year career on Wall Street came to a halt, and I’ve been in the process of re-inventing myself, as a financial adviser and in sales. Having a foundation in the church has helped me.


        I’m in a career that’s given me a front row seat to history.

         I’m watching a world that’s changing at warp speed. Orthodoxy has been a constant in my life for more than 50 years, and as I get older, I find that I need that constant.


So that’s the long, and sometimes winding, road that’s brought us here.

         Honestly, though, we feel like we’ve always belonged here, especially since we’ve made so many wonderful friends in the time we’ve been here. 

         They’re of Syrian, Lebanese, Greek, Russian, Romanian ancestries, and many others. And, to my surprise, I’m not the only person of Italian and Spanish heritage here!

         Last year on Palm Sunday, I closed the deal, and converted, with the help of Father Joe, and my godmother, Khouriye Valerie.  

         So we thank you for welcoming us, and we look forward to being a part of the St. Anthony family and community for many years.


Don’t Blame God: Faith in Times of Trouble

by Tiffany Basdekis-Tewfik

“I want to blaspheme, and I can’t quite manage it. I go up against God, I shake my fist, I froth with rage, but it’s still a way of telling Him that He’s there, that He exists… The shout becomes a prayer in spite of me.”

-Elie Wiesel, The Town Beyond the Wall

Late one night, sitting on stools at our kitchen counter long after we should have been sleeping, my husband and I made a pact that changed my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but our conversation would reshape my 32 years of thinking about God, religion, and faith.

We had been trying for 14 months to get pregnant with our second child. Infertility came as a shock to us, having conceived our toddler almost immediately when we started trying for our first pregnancy. After countless tests with some of the nation’s top reproductive specialists, I had been diagnosed with premature ovarian failure, a condition in which my egg quality and quantity were very low, and my ovaries functioning poorly. I also had a hormonal disorder and a collapsed fallopian tube, making matters even more grim. The very morning of that kitchen counter conversation, my doctor had given me a ten percent chance of achieving biological pregnancy, preparing me for the next steps of possibly using an egg donor, donor embryo, or adopting a child in order to give my daughter a sibling. To say we were feeling depressed is an understatement, it was more like we were completely ripped open at the seams.

I think it’s human nature to question “why” when you or a loved one are suffering, and I was certainly no exception.  Before even getting my diagnosis, I would cry and bitterly ask God why this was happening to us, why it was so hard.  My husband and I always tried to be good people, we helped others, gave to charity, were an active part of a church community, and tried everyday to instill good, Christian morals in our daughter. We loved our family and friends, we didn’t lie, steal, cheat, or ever hurt anyone intentionally– surely this was unfair. There must be some kind of mistake somewhere, and if God didn’t think us deserving of another child, then He must realize our daughter was innocent and pure and worthy of a sibling to go through life with? In one of my weakest moments, sitting in my car after a painful test at the hospital yielding more bad news about my fertility, I cried my eyes out and screamed to God “WHY are you doing this to me??” I was utterly lost.

All around me friends seemed to be getting pregnant with second and third children, and I started to feel my heart harden. Before my ordeal, I remembered reading a medical study asserting infertility was as physically and emotionally taxing as other major health crises such as cancer or heart disease. Boy, did it sure feel that way.  I was beyond disappointed with the hand I had been dealt. The family I always dreamed about was being stripped from me, and I felt like I had no control over my own life or choices.  I blamed God for making this decision for me. I was grateful for having my daughter, but still could not see past my resentment that this life was not the one I wanted. A large family was important to my husband and I, before we even got married we discussed wanting at least three children.  We knew their names if they were boys or girls, we talked about them and imagined what they might be like. We were young and healthy and already had a child, so we never dreamed this would all be taken from us under the fluorescent lights of a sterile doctor’s office.

I was mad. Really mad.  I felt betrayed. I took these feelings out on God.  I stopped praying. What was the point, I asked myself? I disengaged, and didn’t even want to go to church anymore, something I had always looked forward to.  I didn’t want to hear positive things, I didn’t want to be reassured about my faith. I wanted to wallow. I wanted to hold someone accountable for what was beyond my control. You can be a good person, you can do everything right, and still be given vinegar to drink instead of wine. God and I were on the outs.

I want to stop right here and address some questions you might have, and that I certainly asked myself during this time: Tiffany, don’t you know God never promised us a pain free life? We are not guaranteed to get what we want just because we are nice, in fact we usually don’t.  Haven’t you read the Bible? Don’t you know we are not promised an easy path, and religious text often discusses what we can learn from struggle and strife?  Don’t you know you are not entitled to anything while here? It’s not a quid pro quo where just because you do good deeds you get a baby when you want one. Have you heard of this guy named Jesus? The Son of God who came here and was crucified for you? If His own Son had this experience, do you really think your life should be all rainbows and butterflies? You live an otherwise blessed life, more blessed than many in this world, are you really this ungrateful to question God when you meet a challenge?

I know, I know. Believe me, I know. Humans are complex is what I can offer you.  Even though I was angry at God, I still knew how blessed I was. Even though I recognize all the above to be true, I still felt robbed. I needed it to be someone’s fault. I was in a psychological place so dark I didn’t want to be reached, I wanted to turn my back.  I would faithfully dress my daughter for church and press my husbands clothes early Sunday morning, pack the diaper bag, and send the two of them on their way. But, as for me?  I’m not coming to your house, God. I went back to bed.

But then came the worst day, that ten percent day when we were finally, after many months, given an actual prognosis. I came home, put my daughter to sleep, and cried what felt like an entire river of tears.  I can’t do this, I thought to myself.  In a desperate moment I took out my laptop and googled “infertility inspiration” and scanned through pages of cheesy quotes about not giving up. Nothing resonated.  Until I came upon a quote from the Bible:  “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.  Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:29. Hmmm, I thought.  I don’t know about soaring with eagles, but could it be that maybe I have been going about this all wrong? I needed strength. I had fallen. This passage played again and again through my head. While my family and friends had been incredible at providing me with physical and emotional support, I needed something to fortify my soul.

My husband came home from work late that night and we sat together in the kitchen. I confessed what I had been feeling, and we talked for a long time.  One of the most poignant things he said to me was “God is not a puppetmaster,” which really struck me.  He went on to explain that in his view, there were always going to be things that happened we couldn’t understand and there is an element of free will that God has given us that impacts so much of humanity and our current condition. We cannot simply pray that God moves the marionette strings a certain way and lash out when he doesn’t. We made an agreement then and there that we wouldn’t let our infertility struggle push us away from God or the church.  Most importantly, we agreed we wouldn’t blame God. We needed Him now, we needed courage and comfort from our Orthodox faith and our St. Anthony’s community. Our struggle had taken a lot from us, but we would not let it take this too.

It can be hard sometimes to remind ourselves that God is not the cause of our suffering, but that he suffers beside us. When illness, death and heartbreak occur, it is easy to turn God into your scapegoat. I can be the first to attest to that.  It is challenging to recall God’s message of faith when you feel your prayers are falling on deaf ears. But we must never lose sight of the big picture: our Orthodox God is with us all along, nudging us forward, encouraging us to put one foot in front of the other, and He does not fail us in our time of need. Just because your pleas to God are not answered the way you want and when you want, does not mean God is not working behind the scenes to help your life unfold as it should. It took this lesson in my life to completely understand that.

I started to pray again, but differently this time. Instead of asking God to pull puppet strings (please let this appointment go well, please let my doctor say something positive, please let my eggs be okay, please let us have another baby…) I reflected deeply and asked God to help my spirit. I now prayed for things like strength to face whatever our outcome, patience and understanding to keep my marriage strong in times of trouble, and for peace to accept my life just as it was. I forced myself to recount the things I was grateful for daily. I even said, out loud to God so I could hear the words, “It isn’t your fault.” It may sound silly, but it helped me immensely to acknowledge the blame I had assigned and let it go.

I went back to church. It felt good to be there.  I remembered why I love our community so much.  It isn’t just about a place to pray or celebrate God, it is about the people, too.  I saw our beloved Father Joe on the altar who has always represented a source of endless love to me, my friends who had the grace to not question me about where I’d been, and watched my daughter run around the church hall during coffee hour with all the children she adores and will grow up with.  My husband always said that when I was ready, God and the church would be there for me. They were.

It wasn’t long after that fateful conversation with my husband that I found out I was pregnant.  We had been preparing to go through a round of in vitro fertilization when suddenly I found out we were expecting. As I dumbfoundedly got these results, I did thank God, but not for the baby. I will not say that it is because I came back to God that this happened; in fact, if I’m honest, I don’t believe that at all.  I met many wonderful people along my infertility journey, many who suffered longer and harder than I did, and I don’t believe they are any less deserving than I am. I don’t think it’s as simple as: I had my faith restored so He therefore blessed me with another child. What I did thank God for, sitting on my bathroom floor surrounded by positive pregnancy tests, was strength. He helped me help myself. Perhaps the newfound tranquility I experienced did lower my stress and help me get pregnant, perhaps it was luck that my husband’s sperm found my one good egg. But what I do know for sure: God gave me what I needed before there was ever another baby: peace, acceptance, and courage.

Praying in the New Year

by Amy Abdallah

It was New Year’s Eve, 1995. I had just graduated from college that May and moved to Asunción Paraguay in July for my first adult job as a kindergarten teacher.  It was summer in the southern hemisphere, and we were on summer break at a time when I was used to cold temperatures and piles of snow in my native New York.

The week before, I had celebrated Christmas with my American pastor’s family. They’d gone to great lengths to get a real Christmas tree, and put the air conditioning on overdrive, working for a chilly Christmas feeling by battling the hazy, hot, and humid outdoors. The morning cloudiness had let us imagine a white Christmas, but when the sun broke through, we experienced midsummer’s tropical glory.

This night, a week later, I was with my pastor again, and though I’d never been to church on New Year’s Eve before, I was about to “pray in” the New Year. Apparently, this was a yearly tradition in this church, but it was a new one to me: we were about to have a prayer and singing service from about 7pm through midnight. That’s a long time—I remember taking a break outside with a friend who grabbed a guitar and played “Hotel California,” singing in a Spanish accent. Such a song was a bit of a contrast with the serious prayer going on inside.

We were praying for the future of the church, of the nation, of the world, hoping for good to triumph over evil. It was intense, and the atmosphere outside gave the whole evening a kind of apocalyptic feel, with smoky air and explosions all around. You don’t have to cross a state border to buy fireworks there, and everyone lights fireworks all evening, culminating in a deafening, smoke-filled, summer midnight.

It was fifteen years later that I found myself at church again on New Year’s—this time it was an Orthodox Church on New Year’s day, and it wasn’t even a Sunday! The first time I went, I simply thought it was a nice way to start out the year. I enjoyed beginning with prayer, like in Paraguay.

But I’ve learned the day isn’t really about the New Year; it’s about the life of Christ. You see, the church says Christmas isn’t over on December 25th. Christmas isn’t simply one day, but a season of twelve days, until Epiphany on January 6th. (And don’t all kids know that Christmas needs to be more than one day?)

So, New Year’s Day is eight days after we celebrate Jesus’ birth. It’s on this day that Jesus was circumcised and named, and both acts showed his identity.

Circumcision was the mark of the covenant (promise) God made. Those who were circumcised bore a mark on their body that set them apart as God’s chosen. And after he was circumcised, Mary looked at her son, the Son of God, and she named him Jesus, since the angel had told her to give him a name that means he will save the people. This is what we celebrate on New Year’s Day in the church: that Christ’s identity was sealed through circumcision and naming. Jesus Christ is God’s chosen to save the people, and Jesus was God in human flesh.

But why does that matter, really?

Well, Jesus Christ is our only hope. On this day, his identity and future were sealed for our salvation. Without Christ we would have no hope in the world, and it wasn’t only about his death, but about his life, death, and resurrection.

On this day, I like to think about my identity, too. Through baptism, not circumcision, I am sealed as God’s own, God’s chosen. Baptism is the mark we bear on our bodies of the new covenant through Christ. The saving covenant that came through his life, death, and resurrection.

And what does God name us? God calls us daughter. God calls us son. When I look at my sons, I am filled with love and joy, even when they’re not perfectly obedient. That’s how God looks at me; God looks at us with love and joy. Without receiving this love, I cannot be who I am, who I am meant to be.

It’s the most basic truth of Christianity, and yet I find it the most profound: my identity as God’s chosen daughter. I’m figuring out how to live into that identity as life goes on, as the Holy Spirit transforms me into greater spiritual maturity, as I seek to follow Christ’s example.

The liturgy states it well:

“The God of all goodness

Did not disdain to be circumcised.

He offered Himself as a saving sign

And example for us all.

He fulfilled the words of the prophets concerning himself.

He holds the world in his hands

Yet he is bound in swaddling clothes.

Let us glorify him.”

New Year prayer, New Year hope in Jesus Christ, New Year reminder of my identity. Whether you’re at church or at home, let’s celebrate all this together!

A Call To Priesthood

by Fr. Michael Ibrahim

“Father, why did you become a priest?” This is a question many people ask any priest they meet for the first time or even when they get to know him.

Before I give my personal answer, I want to clarify an idea about priesthood, which a lot of people misinterpret.

Priesthood is a CALL. It is not a JOB.

This call starts in the heart of the person, not in his checking account. It is not taught. Priests do not go to seminaries to be called. We go to seminaries to learn how to use this call; how we can serve the Lord; how to serve the faithful and help them to get closer to God. We use the call to get to know Him more and show our parishioners the ways that lead to their salvation.

So the priest is a servant and not a master. When he becomes a master then his call is false.

Yes, there are too many ways to serve the Lord within the church and outside the church. A person does not need to be a priest to serve the Lord. That is why priesthood is a CALL, and a very special one. And believe me, when a man is called, he cannot run away from it. It becomes a part of his daily life. It mingles with his blood.

Priesthood is not a job. When it becomes a job, it loses the essence of the CALL.

St. Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews wrote, “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.” Hebrews 5:1-4.

This call can happen at any age. It could start at an early age or at a late one. Sometimes, it starts at an early age but is not fulfilled until a late age of the person’s life, which is exactly what happened with me.

I knew that I had the call very early. I could feel it, and lived it. But my actual ordination to the holy priesthood came late (when I was 49 years old.)

The CALL was on my mind all my life but the decision was made late (although I guess it is never too late).

I could stay a layman and serve the church and the Lord but the truth is that there are a few factors that encouraged me to make this decision.

One of these factors is that there are a lot of lost sheep that need to be brought back to the Lord. There are too many churches in this country, too many sects and they all claim to hold the truth.

This atmosphere encouraged me to make my decision to fulfill my call. When people meet a priest, they feel more comfortable to talk about religion and to ask questions. In most cases, they trust his answers more than if they hear them from a layperson.

Another factor that led to my decision is that people nowadays need prayers more than any other time. There is no peace in our world, no more harmony, unfortunately. People are looking for a place to say a prayer, to light a candle for someone in need. People are looking for a person who would listen to them and guide them in the right direction.

Too many values are lost nowadays. There is no more respect, no more patience, no more love.

Another factor was that the freedom in this country allows people to preach and evangelize freely. This religious freedom is a precious gem, and often, only those who have lived in other countries understand its value.

These are some of the reasons that led to my decision to become a priest. I CHOSE to become a priest. At the end I used my free will that God gave me, hoping that through my service I can be that person who will listen to people and guide them to their salvation.

I hope and pray to the Lord God that I will be able to evangelize His word and bring back some of the lost sheep to His house. So please remember me in your prayers, brothers and sisters in Christ, because I need every one of them. So help me God.