Curated Content Discussion: Beauty

Curated Content Discussion: Beauty

Curated Discussion: Beauty 

Begin your meeting with a minute of silence, a prayer, and by listening to or having already listened to “The Red Flower” on Dcn. Nicholas Kotar’s Podcast In a Certain Kingdom.

In this story, Beauty and Ugliness are brought to the forefront of our minds. Dcn. Nicholas ushers us through an examination of these concepts and how our understanding of them impacts our life. He shares that Beauty is appreciated for itself; as something worthy of simple contemplation, of simply being in its presence. 

Take a few minutes to reflect upon and perhaps journal about how Beauty has impacted your life. Try to think of a few specific instances, then discuss together what thoughts, feelings, or memories arose during your contemplation. 

Dcn. Nicholas also spoke about a kindergarten teacher in France. The man in this story articulated that his appearance is what he considered to be the best expression of himself and his personhood, and so was beautiful to him. However, this expression gave children nightmares and may make us a bit uneasy. It’s okay to challenge assumptions you may or may not know you hold by discussing together:

Is Beauty objective or subjective? What makes something beautiful or ugly? Is Beauty something individual that you can have by yourself, or is it something that necessitates being shared with others?

In The Red Flower, the Beast, cursed in a hideous form, is aware of his ugliness and comes to realize that his appearance is not reflective of his true self (who he is presently or is striving to become). Instead of succumbing to it, he transforms himself and his surroundings; he grows (literally) and manifests his internal beauty. But that is not the end! As Dcn. Nicholas puts it,

“The beast yearns to share this beauty, because he understands at this point, after having manifested it, that beauty and the experience of it is a communal thing. In it, individualism fades away. True beauty can only be experienced with others.”

When the beautiful young woman comes to love him, it is for – as he himself says – his kindness, care, and good heart. She herself learns to grow in virtue and her understanding of beauty. Kotar points out that it was a mistake to want to pick the red flower. . . 

Why was it wrong to want to pick the most beautiful red flower in the world? How is the flower an image of Beauty itself? How should we instead appreciate beauty?

Now, why is Beauty important for us to discuss as Christians? It is in fact integral for us and intrinsic to our Faith. 

Where do we see beauty reflected in the church? Where do we find it in the world around us?  From where or from Whom does it come?

To wrap up, read together the quotes given below and discuss these questions:

  • How can we grow in our ability to notice and appreciate Beauty?
  • What are some ways we participate in and share Beauty through joy and love with other people?
  • What is at least one way YOU can start putting Beauty in the world?

“We do not want merely to see beauty. . . We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” 

C.S. Lewis

“Realize how much your Creator has honored you above all other creatures. He did not make the heavens in His image, nor the moon, the sun, the beauty of the stars or anything else which surpasses understanding. You alone are a reflection of eternal beauty, a receptacle of happiness, an image of the true light. And, if you look to Him, you will become what He is, imitating Him who shines within you, whose glory is reflected in your purity. Nothing in the entire creation can equal your grandeur. All the heavens can fit into the palm of the hand of God. Although He is so great that He can hold all creation in His palm, you can wholly embrace Him. He dwells in you.” 

St. Gregory of Nyssa

“Make the most of beautiful moments. Beautiful moments predispose the soul to prayer; they make it refined, noble, and poetic. Wake up in the morning to see the sun rising from out of the sea as a king robed in regal purple. When a lovely landscape, a picturesque chapel, or something beautiful inspires you, don’t leave things at that, but go beyond this to give glory for all beautiful things so that you experience Him who alone is ‘comely in beauty.’ All things are holy – the sea, swimming, and eating. Take delight in them all. All things enrich us, all lead us to the great Love, all lead us to Christ.” 

St. Porphrios of Kavsokalyvia
Suggested Activity: Food Pantry

Suggested Activity: Food Pantry

…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;  I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?

Matthew 25:35-37

The Christian life requires us to care for all of those around us and serve their needs. With the drastic costs of college tuition, many students are dealing with food insecurity on college campuses. Many of our own classmates might not know where their next meal is coming from. Because of this, there is a wonderful opportunity for your OCF chapter to be the Church on your campus and to serve the needs of your fellow students! Because of our love for the Lord and his caring for the needs of all, we can take on the needs of those around us and dedicate ourselves to serving them. 

Here are three ways to serve those in need on your campus:

  1. Volunteer at an already established center for feeding the students on your campus or in your city. A quick Google search will bring up loads of initiatives connected with your university.
  2. Start a collection drive and donate the food items needed by your local food pantry. Your chapter can collect things from its own students, from the city around your campus, or from your parishes in order to sustainably donate to your local organization. 
  3. Consider partnering with other groups on campus to begin a food pantry for students at your school! In this PDF made up by the College & University Food Bank Alliance, you’ll find a plethora of resources and guides to help your chapter begin this initiative on your campus. https://studentsagainsthunger.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/NSCAHH_Food_Pantry_Toolkit.pdf

Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Matthew 25:41
Guided Discussion: Inviting Others into Eternity

Guided Discussion: Inviting Others into Eternity

The Eternal vs The Temporal

As Orthodox Christians, we’re used to the idea of the “eternal.” Our prayers repeat over and over, “now and ever and unto the ages of ages!” This idea of something being stable, being infinite, being timeless can sometimes feel foreign in our fast-fashion, short-attention-span, Prime-delivery everyday world. What’s even more difficult than living at the intersection of these two worlds is the task of inviting others into the awareness of the eternal so that we may share with them the beauty of God and His Church. 

Do you feel a tension between the norms of society and the awareness of eternity that our faith presents to us?

Where do you find you “live” between these two worlds? Are you mostly in one? One foot in each? In a different world depending on the day of the week, season of the year, etc? 

Is it possible that these two worlds could compliment one another rather than be at odds with each other? What could that look like in our everyday lives? 

The Eternal & The Temporal

Believe it or not, both the eternal and the temporal worlds were given to us by God. We live in the temporal, there’s not much we can change about that. Through the Christian life, we are reintroduced to the eternal: to God, to eternal life, to the heavenly realm, to the saints, to the sacraments. We are called to live lives that work to intersect both worlds at all times. In our spiritual walk, our purpose is to live at the very meeting place of the eternal and the temporal. Making every temporal moment and infinite one by bringing Christ’s presence into it. 

Have you had a time/season in your life where you found the eternal sanctifying your temporal time? What was that like?

Do you struggle to live at the intersection of these two worlds? Would you rather hop into one for a time and then hop into the other at a different time? Why do you think that is?

Making the Eternal Accessible for Others

If we are to bring the eternal things of God into our everyday, temporal lives, not only will our lives be changed, but also the lives of everyone around us. Since God made us to live at the intersection of the eternal and temporal, everyone around us has a natural longing to experience the eternal things of God. This doesn’t mean we need to be preaching at our friends at all times. Living a life that is filled and sanctified with the eternal will offer a look at what a life-giving existence looks like to all those who are around us. And believe it or not, most of our friends would be receptive and interested in an invitation from you if they already see that your life is different from everyone else’s around them. 

 How can we live in such a way that makes the eternal present for those around us?

What hinders us from inviting friends into the eternal? (Prayer before eating, attending the Divine services, praying before exams, etc.)

How can we invite others to participate in the eternal?

Staff Pick: Resident Aliens

Staff Pick: Resident Aliens

Recommended by Joseph Bray, Communications Manager

“In the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, all human history must be reviewed. The coming of Christ has cosmic implications. He has changed the course of things. So the theological (and I’d add, the ecclesial) task is not merely the interpretive matter of translating Jesus into modern categories but rather to translate the world to him. The theologian’s job (and I’d add, the pastor’s, too) is not to make the gospel credible to the modern world, but to make the world credible to the gospel.”

Do you find yourself frequently getting wrapped up in political arguments? In “Resident Aliens” Hauerwas and Willimon challenge Christians to nurture life and community rather than reform secular culture. They argue that Christians shouldn’t let contemporary politics dictate the terms of Christian social thought. Only when Christians are rooted in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ do they have any stand against eroding societal moral values.

St. Nektarios of Aegina | There’s a Saint for That

St. Nektarios of Aegina | There’s a Saint for That

St. Nektarios of Aegina

Saint Nektarios of Aegina - Icon by the hand of Deacon Matthew Garrett

The Life of St. Nektarios

Anastasios Kephalas was born on October 1st, 1846, in Eastern Selyvria of Thrace (now Turkey). He was one of six children and grew up very poor, but his parents taught him from a young age to be a pious Orthodox Christian. After elementary school, he went to Constantinople with not a penny in his pocket with the hopes of earning some money to help his poverty stricken family. He was determined to study theology, a desire which stemmed from his growing love for Christ. He did not even have the money to buy a ticket for the boat ride but the sailors took pity on him and let him go. After arriving in Constantinople, he eventually found work in a factory with a tobacco merchant and earned barely enough money to feed himself, he could not even afford shoes. However, he found comfort with the lord and never cared about materialistic things. He wanted to write about his circumstances and send the letter to someone, and that someone became Jesus Christ. The letter said: “My little Christ, I do not have an apron or shoes. Please send them to me. You know how much I love you. Anastasios”. The envelope said “to the Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven”. A merchant who took the letter to mail it out saw what it said and, overcome with emotion, anonymously sent the boy money and advice on how to use it wisely.

In his young adult years, he became a monk. This was a dream come true to him because it allowed him to study the scriptures more than ever before. He fasted and prayed daily, many nights he did not sleep and just prayed until sunrise and then prayed the eternity of the next day. He was eventually ordained a deacon due to his holiness and given the name “Nektarios”. The uncle of one of the sailors from the boat many years ago, John Horemis, who was touched by the young boy, paid for him to further his studies in Athens. He then went to Alexandria, Egypt where he became very close with the Patriarch Sophronios. After furthering his education he was ordained priest, then Metropolitan of Pentapolis and eventually secretary to the Patriarch.

The holiness which radiated from the Saint in every encounter he had resulted in him being adored by everyone. He touched the lives of everyone he came across and was known for his kindness and pureness, especially to those in poverty/homeless. It is said people were drawn to him like a magnet. This led to the bishops and higher clergy to slander his name and convince the Patriarch to write a letter of suspension from the Metropolis. Saint Nektarios never tried to defend himself, instead, he prayed to the Lord and trusted his will. People became very angry and upset at the treatment he was facing and he would instruct them to remain calm and keep their faith. He eventually left very secretly for Athens to avoid any uproar. Those who committed slander against him wrote many letters to influential people in Greece saying his good virtues and kindness was all an act and he was never genuine.

Once in Athens he was refused a position in the Church of Greece by the state and Church authorities. At some point, the best and practically only option was to go to Mount Athos where he would at least have food and shelter, but he refused because he wanted to stay and help others more so than himself. He was eventually appointed a preacher by the Minister of Religion, despite this being a huge step down from his former position, he was never embarrassed to have this position. Throughout all of this, the Saint prayed for those who persecuted him and never questioned God’s will or became angry. There were a few people who came to realize the Saint was truly a good man and had been falsely accused. Their good influence led him to be appointed as dean of the Rizarios Seminary in Athens. Despite his role in the administration, he still lived as a monk with constant prayer, meditation, fasting, and ascesis.

Saint Nektarios decided he wanted to eventually leave the loud and noisy world and retreat to a place where he could just pray and enjoy the silence. He had a few spiritual daughters who wished to become nuns and together they founded a small  monastery on the island of Aegina where he retired in 1908. He had also founded a small church which was once a monastery dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The Saint would say to the nuns: “I am building a lighthouse for you, and God will put a light in it that shall shine unto the breadth and length of the whole world. Many shall see the light and come here to Aegina.” But the nuns could not understand what he was trying to tell them. It was only after the recovery of his holy relics and miracles that he began working in such abundance that they understood. He meant that his way of life, his very holy body, were the lighthouse, and if God pleased He would send his light, and it would shine throughout. Thus the words which the Saint used to say to them have been fulfilled.

Saint Nektarios often preferred to be alone only with the company of the saints and the Virgin Mary, they often appeared to him during liturgy or in his cell. After the first World War he taught his nuns to always rely on God and never keep any food in storage for themselves and give everything to the poor. He was eventually overcome with illness (cystitis) and relied on Christ through it all and never complained. He even thanked God for putting him to the test just like he did when he was faced with slander. There was a paralyzed man in the bed next to him and when he finally gave up his spirit his sweater was removed and placed on the paralyzed man’s bed and almost immediately he rose and began walking, all while glorifying God. They took his body to Aegina where they gave him a simple burial at the Convent of the Holy Trinity.

His Glorification

Many people saw Saint Nektarios as a Saint during his lifetime because of his humility, miracles, great virtues and purity he constantly upheld. His relics were removed from the grave in September of 1953 and exuded a beautiful fragrance. However, it was not until April 20, 1961, that he was recognized a Saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Since then, thousands of miracles have been attributed to his intercession, especially in cases of cancer or serious illness being cured. In 1998, the Patriarchate of Alexandria released an official apology statement on behalf of their predecessors who mistreated the Saint.

Fun Facts

● His best friend and co-confessor was Saint Savva of Kalymnos (who painted the first icon of Saint Nektarios)
● He is the author of the renowned hymn, “Agni Parthene/O Pure Virgin” to the Holy Mother
● His body smelled of fragrance so strong when he died, nothing they did would get rid of it
● He was the most popular confessor in Greece at his time
● He is the author of many writings on ethics, Church history, and theology

Discussion around St. Nektarios

 

  1. Saint Nektarios always forgave and prayed for those who persecuted him. He also never tried to defend himself and relied on Christ through everything. What are some ways we can incorporate these virtues when we ourselves are struggling with similar circumstances?
  2. Like many other Saints, Saint Nektarios used fasting as part of his regular prayer rituals. In the midst of school and social obligations, how can we as busy students incorporate fasting into our own prayer rituals?
  3. The man who funded the Saints initial studies in Athens, John Horemis, was touched by the Saint from the time he was a young boy only fourteen years old before even meeting him in person. Discuss what this tells us about the impact he must have had on people throughout his life.

A prayer to the Virgin Mary by Saint Nektarios

Take away from me, O Virgin, the fetters of sin,
Of my lusts and other transgressions: the terrible carelessness and the overcaring, the evil curiosity and the talkativeness, the useless incontinence and the haughtiness, the negligence, the drunkenness and the lack of mercy, the bad desires, the terrible impurity, the extravagance, the darkness, the great insensitivity. Take away the tendency to say jokes, the enjoyment, the prodigality. The laughter of immorality and every evil. Give me, O maiden, fasting, carefulness, vigilance and perfect obedience. Give me carefulness in all and acute discernment, silence, order and holy patience. Grant to me O Lady, eagerness to work and to attain my perfection, and zeal for virtues and exercise. Keep, O most- Holy One, my soul, my heart and my mind and guard it in virginity.

Learn his Apolytikion

O faithful, let us honor Nectarios, divine servant of Christ, offspring of Silivria
and guardian of Aegina, who in these latter years was manifested as the true friend of
virtue. All manner of healing wells forth for those who in piety cry out, “Glory to
Christ who glorified you; glory to Him who, through you, wrought wonders; glory to
Him who, through you, works healing for all.”

Learn His Kontakion

“In joy of heart let us hymn with songs the newly revealed star of Orthodoxy,
the newly erected bulwark of the Church; for, glorified by the activity of the Spirit, he
poureth forth the abundant grace of healing upon those who cry: Rejoice, O Father
Nektarios, model of patience and lover of virtue.”

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