Thinking Outside of the Box

Many years ago in a small Indian village, a farmer had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to a village banker.

The banker, who was old and ugly, fancied the farmer's beautiful daughter. So he proposed a bargain.

He said he would forgo the farmer's debt if he could marry his Daughter. Both the farmer and his daughter were horrified by the Proposal.

So the very  shrewd banker suggested that they let Providence decide the matter.

He told them that he would put a black Pebble and a white pebble into an empty money bag. Then the girl would Have to pick one pebble from the bag.

1) If she picked the black pebble, she would become his wife and her father's debt would be forgiven.

2) If she picked the white pebble she need not marry him and her father's debt would still be forgiven.

3) But if she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown into Jail.

They were standing on a pebble strewn path in the farmer's field. As They talked, the moneylender bent over to pick up two pebbles. As he Picked them up, the sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked up two Black pebbles and put them into the bag.

He then asked the girl to pick A pebble from the bag. Now, imagine that you were standing in the field. What would you have done if you were the girl? If you had to advise her, what would you. Have told her?

If  we really think about it,  there were only  three possibilities:

1. The girl should refuse to take a pebble.

2. The girl should show that there were two black pebbles in the bag and expose the money-lender as a cheat. But risk his anger

3. The girl should pick a black pebble and sacrifice herself in order to save her father from his debt and imprisonment.

The girl's dilemma cannot be solved with Traditional logical thinking. Think of the consequences if she chooses one of these options..

What would you recommend to the Girl to do?

Well, here is what she did ....

The girl put her hand into the moneybag and drew out a pebble. Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the pebble-strewn path where it immediately became lost among all the other pebbles.

"Oh, how clumsy of me," she said. "But never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked."

Since the remaining pebble is black, it must be assumed that she had picked the white one. And since the money-lender dared not admit his dishonesty, the girl changed what seemed an impossible situation into  a very favorable outcome.

We live in a difficult world, filled with many challenges  difficult times indeed, economically, politically and yes spiritually.  We are faced with a lot of things in life that we feel are impossible.  Our human reason tells us it is not possible, change is not possible, growth is a foregone conclusion.     This may lead us to despair or depression.  While theses situations in life may be very real, these crisis, real,   we must never forget, nothing in life is impossible,  when God is in the equation.  Did we not hear in the Gospel Reading for last Sunday, those whose church's observe the Julian Calendar, that  when the Apostles asked our Lord, who could be saved, his answer was "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26.

We need a  living faith in God during especially difficult times to in the words of St. Paul, "walk by faith and not by sight."   Great things happen to those who love the lord,  who keep their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Those who live in a different realm, those who are able  to if you excuse the expression think outside of the box,  like that young woman in the story I just told  you  about .

This woman had a big problem a huge dilemma, no matter what way she turned, according to human logic,  she was doomed.  If she drew a pebble out of the bag, it would be a black pebble and she would have to marry the  bad man,  if she refused to choose a pebble her father would have been imprisoned.  Instead she looked out side of conventional thinking, she stared impossible in the face and low and behold her greatest hope became possible.

As Orthodox Christians we pride ourselves on being faithful to Holy Tradition.    Throughout the centuries, The Fathers of the Church, Our Patriarchs, Bishops, Priests and  Laity, have struggled to preserve the integrity of the Orthodox faith entrusted to us by the Holy Apostles, often at great personal sacrifice.  We have not changed one iota of the teachings of Jesus Christ, and because of this we are blessed to experience the fullness of the faith and  an intimate connection with our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ in the mysteries of the Church.  This unbending, adherence to the Faith, has caused others outside of the household of faith, to accuse the Orthodox Church of being a relic of the past, of being out of step with the times.   You know there is a joke that is told in some circles about us - and it goes like this.   

How many Orthodox Christians does it take to change a light bulb?   Does anyone know the answer?     The correct response is simply   Change?

While it is true as Orthodox that we have strong ties to the past, and are a traditional church, it is not true that the Orthodox church is unchanging.  Yes we are faithful to Holy Tradition,  but not, however,  in  a dead, or  museum like perpetuation and preservation of  the customs of a by-gone era, but  a Living Tradition that  is inspired, refreshed and renewed by the holy Consubstantial, Life Creating and undivided  Trinity.    Indeed it has been a hallmark of the Orthodox Church to think outside of the box, to go beyond conventional wisdom, and be living icons of Christ, who knows no bounds or limitations.  The Church over the centuries has been a leader in progressive thinking in  reaching out to the humanitarian needs of the societies in which it has lived.  Did you know, for example, the first hospitals of the world were started by the Church under the leadership of St. Basil the Great.

In Orthodoxy then, there has always been a dynamic tension between maintaining unbroken, the traditions of the Church , and on the other hand interacting with society  in new and creative ways  to reach the un-churched.    And in this struggle there have been some who have sought to turn the Church in to a museum, recreating the glory years of  the Byzantine Empire or  Stary Kraju, and retreating into a safe cocoon of isolation from  the morally bankrupt modern society.  As tempting as this is and in so many ways as comfortable as it might be for those of us who have fond memories of the way the Church and our diocese used to be 40 to fifty years ago,   it simply is not possible, nor is it what Christ wanted.  Imagine how different things would have been if our  Patron Saints,  Cyril and Methodius had refused to go out and mix with the Pagan Slavic tribes?  If this were so, we would not in all likelihood be here  this evening.  Imagine for an instance if  Sts Cyril and Methodius had not thought outside of the box and insisted that we liturgize and pray in Greek?.  If that were so, perhaps we might be here today,  but we would be eating souvlaki and baklava.  Not that that would be too bad mind you.   The point is however, they transmitted the unbroken tradition, the spirit and life of the Orthodox Faith, and  interwove it into the life and experience of our ancestors, in a way that was accessible to them.

It is no secret that we are now living in very difficult times. Much has changed since  last year's  convention. Who would have imagined the economic downturn that we have experienced, the many changes on the political scene in our country, and the many struggles all of us have experienced in our personal and spiritual lives?

It has been said by some that we are currently in the midst of a crisis. A crisis.  We hear this a lot used in different contexts, such as an economic crisis, a moral crisis, or a personal crisis.  When we hear this word,  we usually associate this with a tragedy, with a hope less situation.

Yet if we study this word closely, we learn that the word crisis comes from the greek word krisis  which means a turning point.

With this understanding in mind,  let me  propose to you that  our Church,  our Diocese, and by extension, the ACRY, is  experiencing a crisis. Now just what do I mean by this?   Let me see a show of hands  of how many people  attended our recent diocesan Sobor  in South Boundbrook,  this past July.  Those of us who attended heard first-hand some sobering statistics of the overall decline in diocesan and parish membership,  and  the need for  increased funding  of  the diocesan administration and ministries.  Yet despite these difficult challenges that we discussed, there was a pervading sense of  optimism and hope that came about from some fruitful discussions that were undoubtedly inspired by the Holy Spirit.

It became clear to all of us as we worked, prayed and labored together, that  we  had reached a critical turning point.   During our time together we were apprised of the wonderful missionary work that is being undertaken in the diocese, in fact since the Sobor two new mission parishes have been established.  St. Nicholas Mission in Murphy NC  recently celebrated its first liturgy in a completely rural area, far away from any other Orthodox Church with over 20 people in attendance.   We also heard about the remarkable work that St. John The Compassionate Mission is doing for the poor of Toronto Canada.  We  heard an informative presentation  about Christian Stewardship and sacrificial giving  which has the potential to  allow us to fully fund missionary and outreach ministries to build up our God-Saved Diocese.  We did something that never ever happened before, we did not conclude the Sobor, but merely adjourned it for a year so we can get back together again to further discuss mission and evangelization and  Christian stewardship.

At the Sobor, we also learned about our new diocesan website, and  the cutting edge technology it has leveraged for  educating, nurturing and encouraging the spiritual growth of the faithful of the diocese and those seeking the truth of Holy Orthodoxy.   And  just a few weeks ago,  His Eminence established two new diocesan commissions for Mission and Evangelization and Christian Stewardship  to  build upon the fruitful discussions and  enthusiasm that was displayed at the Sobor.   I encourage all of you to  go to our diocesan website and listen to the excellent presentations at the Sobor, which are posted in the multi-media section.  Thus what one might perceive as hopeless as unchangeable,  we as a diocese at this sobor, saw otherwise and recognize this crisis as being an opportunity for growth and renewal.

We have gathered here this weekend in the city of Binghamton, as the family of the ACRY to address a similar crisis.   It is no secret that we  have experienced a similar, and proportionally a greater decline in membership in the ACRY.   Our faithful ACRY members and especially those of you here this evening, are also the faithful parish council officers, church school teachers, workers, builders and   movers and shakers of our parishes. You are to be commended for your love and devotion to Our Lord and His Holy Church.

Our organization is declining in numbers for many reasons,  the chief of is that faithful of our parish are feeling overwhelmed, hurried and overscheduled.  The Church, which was once the center of their cultural, social and spiritual lives, has been overshadowed by the more immediate and pressing concerns of  daily life out in the suburbs, miles away from the Church- that once was  a stone's throw away from most parishioners' homes.

This reality is sobering,  discouraging and perhaps depressing, and no amount of wishful thinking will magically change it.   We find ourselves then in a quandary, much like the pretty young girl who was backed into the corner, knowing according to conventional thinking,  there was no way out.  The answer, my dear friends is to think outside of the box,  to adapt  to the situation at hand, as our  Patron Saints Cyril and Methodius did so many years ago in evangelizing our forefathers.

As I stand here this evening, I am hopeful  for the future of the ACRY.   Throughout its history , the ACRY has been a leader in thinking outside of the box, of jumping on the bandwagon of supporting the diocese and any positive initiative to further its growth and vitality.    I am pleased that over the past few years, we have taken a good hard and honest look at  the ACRY and ourselves and have committed ourselves to a new vision.  We understand that our purpose is the same as it always has been, to perpetuate the spiritual heritage of our Faith,  and inspire  love of our God and our Church.  We have, however,  come to realize that we must fulfill this purpose in a new way.  We know that we must not be afraid of change and doing things a bit differently, for in the words of  Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  It  just doesn't work.

We have through our self-study process discerned that the ACRY is Orthodox Christian family fellowship dedicated to the purpose of encouraging spiritual growth through charitable and apostolic missionary works, prayer and fellowship for the Glory of God and the building up of the  Church and our Diocese.

It is providential that the ACRY has understood and  articulated with clarity, its mission and purpose in this manner.  It has been my experience as a parish priest of more than 15 years, that  our faithful are seeking opportunities to put flesh on their faith, and to  live it in new and challenging ways.  We have witnessed an increased interest and participation over the past few years of several ACRY members  in missionary work,  such as Jonathan Bannon who travelled to Greece  and  Rachel Pribish, Alex Breno,  Angela Sudick, Katherine Stienstra and Tim and Daniel Paproski who assisted at St. John the Compassionate Mission in Toronto.   The fruit of their labors has been a strengthened commitment to Christ , the Faith and the ACRY.

We have a great opportunity this year  to grow the ACRY like never before, if we continue to think outside of the box.   The work of our membership and technology commissions will be crucial to the renewal and growth of the ACRY.  Their task is much like that of our forefathers Sts Cyril and Methodius,  to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God as lived in the ACRY, in a manner that is decidedly fresh and new, yet  captures the  unchanging , inner spirit or Duch of the ACRY that we sing about in the ACRY March. It must also inspire those not only of Carpatho-Rusyn descent or our established parishes but also, our new mission parishes, to want to become part of our spiritual fellowship, to want to be more actively involved in the life of this diocese.  I cannot overemphasize how important it is that the work of these committees be diligently and expeditiously carried out.

On a personal note,  I would like to share with you why I love the ACRY so much and  why I  challenge you and I to do the hard work to reshape and reinvigorate it.  I recall with great fondness, my first  exposure to the life of this diocese, which very graciously adopted me in 1991. It was at the ACRY Convention in Phoenixville PA and I believe, Dan Breno, was the national  president. At this convention, I first experienced the friendliness, openness and love  that is the special gift of this diocese.  At this convention, I first learned about Harvest 2000 which had recently been unveiled, and I caught the enthusiasm for it from the ACRY officers and delegates who enthusiastically made plans to support this cause.  I came to that convention uncertain about my future,  both personally and in the diocese.  It still  sends chills up and down my spine, when I recall in how many ways,  God spoke to me that weekend - not in actual words of course, but through the people I met and the situations I found myself in.  It was definitely a turning point in my spiritual life.  I left this convention with a great sense of peace, knowing that  I had come home, and this diocese  and all of you were my family.  And,  I also knew that  my girlfriend  who came with me to the convention  was the one who would become my beloved wife and a devoted Pani of this diocese.  

With this though in mind, I believe that it is providential that we as the Diocese, as parishes and the ACRY find ourselves in the midst of a crisis, and a turning point, and collectively we realize that  we have been given a golden opportunity to nurture and strengthen one-another .

At our recent Sobor,  we  recommitted ourselves to spiritual growth, mission and evangelization and have taken concrete steps to  move this from merely an idea,  to a reality, taking a decidedly new and fresh approach to an ancient task.     We here at the ACRY have recommitted ourselves to the same.  I foresee great opportunities for collaboration between the ACRY and the mission, evangelization and stewardship initiatives in the diocese. The ACRY as always, I am confident ,will rise to the challenge and in the spirit of our patron saints, Cyril and Methodios will  be a motivating force for  the active participation of our diocesan faithful in these holy works, challenging one another to move Forever Forward and Heavenward.

Thank you for your kindness and may the Blessing of the Lord and His Grace and Love for mankind be upon all of you.  Amen. 

Glory Be to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!

Keynote Address at the Grand Banquet of the 2009 National ACRY Convention in Binghamton, NY  delivered by the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Peter Paproski,  National Senior ACRY Spiritual Advisor