Thinking Outside of the Box
ago in a small Indian village, a farmer had the misfortune of owing a large sum
of money to a village banker.
who was old and ugly, fancied the farmer's beautiful daughter. So he proposed a
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
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
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.
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.
dilemma cannot be solved with Traditional logical thinking. Think of the
consequences if she chooses one of these options..
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.
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."
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
through our self-study process discerned that the ACRY is ...an 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.
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