Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Welcome to 2014

Here at FOCUS UNSW we've just finished a successful three days at our O-Week stall, not only signing up new members but rekindling relations with current ones. 
We're now getting set for a busy Semester One and we're looking forward to a program packed full of extremely interesting topics. We'll be starting off with an Agiasmo, done by our Chaplain Father Athanasios in order to bless our semester ahead. Like our other talks and Bible studies of the semester, this will take place on Level 3 of the Squarehouse in 'The Lodge' room and will be happening on Tuesday the 11th of March (Week 2) from 1-2pm. 

Take a look at our upcoming program for semester:

Until next time,
 God Bless.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Science and Faith - Q & A Forum

We are pleased to announce that the Orthodox Christian Fellowships of the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales have organised a Q & A Forum next Wednesday (29th May) at 6:30pm at UNSW (Ronald Lu Seminar Room, Scientia Building).

The topic this year is Science and Faith, so come prepared with questions or ask them on the night to our distinguished panel members.

There will be light refreshments, coffee and tea provided.
This year, on our panel, answering your questions will be:

Father (Dr.) Dimitri Kokkinos - M.B.B.S., F.R.A.C.P. Parish Priest at St. Ioannis, Parramatta; Visiting Medical Officer in Neurology at Bankstown Hospital; Conjoint Lecturer in Neurology at the University of New South Wales.
Dr Socrates Dokos - he received his PhD in Biomedical Engineering in 1996 from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, where he is currently an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering. His research interests have focused on the electrical properties of heart and nerve tissues using a range of experimental and computational modelling techniques, and is the author of some 50 peer-reviewed journal and conference publications in this field.

Philip Kariatlis - is currently the Academic Secretary and Lecturer in Theology at St Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College. In 2010 he graduated with his Doctorate in Theology from the Sydney College of Divinity having examined the notion of koinonia in Orthodox Ecclesiology as both gift and goal. His theological interests lie in the broad area of the Church's doctrines specifically their existential and salvific significance. He has translated Archbishop Stylianos' doctoral dissertation and written in several peer reviewed journal within Australia and abroad.

To find out more, visit our Facebook page:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Theotokos in the Orthodox Christian Faith by Dr Philip Kariatlis

The Orthodox Church celebrates the great feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on 15th August, and so in our Church the month of August is specially dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos.  Orthodox Christians have always honoured the Mother of our Lord with special veneration. Countless icons depict her with the infant Christ, and thousands of hymns praise her. In today's talk, Dr Kariatlis focused on the place of the Theotokos in our Orthodox Christian Faith.

The following hymn is said by the priest in our church services many times:

Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.

This hymn really captures what life in the Church is all about. The focus is always Christ, not only giving our whole selves to him but also one another. The centre of our worship is the Divine Liturgy, the worship of the Church as a whole community. This community includes all of us, and also the Theotokos and all the saints, whom we commemorate and set before ourselves as examples.

This hymn also includes many names that we use for the Virgin Mary. Although our church had never really formed any dogmas concerning the Virgin Mary, the names that we give her in our daily worship contain many teachings about what we believe about her and indeed about Christ.

The first name is "Παναγία", which means "All-holy". This term is the most common name given to Mary, and has been in use since the 2nd Century AD. As Orthodox Christians, we believe that Mary was truly "all-holy",  that because of the constant overshadowing presence of the Holy Spirit over her life, she was free from actual sin. In 1854, the Roman Catholic Church formed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, stating that the Virign Mary was immaculately conceived. The Eastern Orthodox Church is uncomfortable with this doctrine, because in a way it sets her apart from the rest of humanity. We believe that Mary was conceived naturally from both a man and a woman, just like every other human being. This is why she is the ultimate example for us because being human just like us, she reached perfection in this life, being free from actual sin throughout her whole life, and was worthy to become the bearer of the Son of God. 

The second name is "αειπάρθενος", "ever-virgin". The great miracle of Christ's incarnation is that Mary remained a virgin even though Jesus was conceived in her womb and she gave birth to Him as a human infant. However Christ was not conceived from a male seed, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, as we say in the Creed, "was incarnate of the Holy Spirit." In other words, Jesus had no human father. This is because Jesus, although fully human, was not an ordinary human being, but the Son of God, none other than the second person of the Holy Trinity.

And the final and most important term is "Θεοτόκος". This literally means "the one who gives birth to God". Some of the Protestant faiths are uncomfortable that we actually give such a huge power to Mary, who was a human being. However, the term "Theotokos" has enormous theological significance, and must be understood correctly. In fact it is really saying what we believe about Christ himself. In the 5th century, the patriarch of Constantinople Nestorius disagreed with this term, arguing that it is inconceivable and blasphemous to claim that Mary actually gave birth to God himself, proposing instead the name "Christotokos." This sparked an enormous controversy in the Byzantine empire, with faithful Christians who had always paid special reverence to the Virgin Mary speaking out against the claims of Nestorius.

In order to settle the controversy, the Third Ecumenical Council of 431 AD was gathered in Ephesus. The Council of bishops set down the Theotokos as the accepted title of the Virgin Mary. Among other things, Nestorius believed that Mary did not give birth to God Himself, but to a mere human, over whom divinity descended at some later point in His life. This was condemned as a heresy. The fact that Mary did give birth to God is extremely important, not only for how we venerate her, but it points to what we believe about Christ Himself.

Through His Incarnation, Christ's plan of salvation for the human race was made possible by his assumption of our whole human nature. For this to take place, Jesus had to remain unchanged in His divine nature as God but at the same time to become fully human. So Mary conceived The Son of God in her womb, incarnate of the Holy Spirit, and she carried in her body and gave birth to a human person who was none other than the second Person of the Holy Trinity. Mary gave birth to God Himself. This awesome mystery, beyond comprehension for us humans, is expressed in the word "Θεοτόκος".

Through our veneration of Panagia, we are called to imitate her example, and to strive to realise our ultimate purpose in this life, which she completed in perfection: to become "theotokoi", to allow for God to be born into our very selves, by submitting our wills, just like the Virgin Mary, to His divine will.

In conclusion we look briefly at the feast of the Dormition, the "falling asleep" of the Theotokos, when she died a natural death as a human being, but as the birth-giver of God she was taken up by her Son into heaven, both body and soul, to reign with Him and to intercede for us and protect us. The greatness of this true celebration of our Church is summed up in this hymn from the Vespers service of the 15th August:

By the command of God, the God bearing Apostles everywhere were transported through the skies on clouds. And reaching your allimmaculate body, that origin of Life, they kissed it in grand veneration.
The supreme Hosts of heaven arrived with their Master. Seized with awe, they ushered your inviolate body, which had hosted God. High above the earth, they went before you, and invisibly they shouted to the angelic orders above them, ʺBehold, the Queen of all, the Maid of God, has arrived.
ʺLift up the gates, and give a formal heavenly reception to the Mother of the everlasting Light.
ʺFor the salvation of all humanity came through her. We are unable to gaze on her, and it is impossible to bestow worthy honor on her.
ʺFor her excellence surpasses all understanding.ʺ
Therefore, O immaculate Theotokos, as you now live forever with the life bearing King who is your Son, intercede unceasingly, that He guard us, your children, and that He save us from every hostile assault, since we are under your protection.
And to the ages with splendor we call you blessed.

The entire text of this service in Greek and English can be downloaded from these links:

Apart from the beautiful hymns, which contain the tradition and dogmas of our Church, there are also 3 readings from the Old Testament which are read at the vespers. In the Orthodox Church, the Old Testament is read and interpreted in the light of the New Testament. The readings from the Book of Proverbs about Wisdom, from the Prophecy of Ezequiel about the Gate of the temple which remains shut, and from Genesis about Jacob's dream of the divine ladder, all are interpreted to be foretelling the coming of the Theotokos and the huge role she will play in the salvation of the human race.

There are countless beautiful hymns and services that our Church offers to Panagia, and every day of the first two weeks of August the service of the paraklesis is chanted in ours churches. This can also be downloaded here:

We saw a glimpse today of what the Theotokos has to offer us, both as a Church and on a personal level. Let us learn from her example and strive to follow her in the road to perfection.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

General Hospital - Roads From Emmaus - Ancient Faith Radio

General Hospital - Roads From Emmaus - Ancient Faith Radio

February 27, 2012 Length: 55:11

Four-time Emmy award-winner Jonathan Jackson, star of General Hospital andTuck Everlasting, talks with Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick about his journey into Orthodox Christianity, his family, how he lives his faith as a Hollywood actor, music and writing, on this special episode of Roads From Emmaus.

Excerpt from Ancient Faith Radio- From General Hospital to the Hospital of Souls: Interview with Jonathan Jackson

Four-time Emmy award-winner Jonathan Jackson, star of General Hospital andTuck Everlasting, talks with Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick about his journey into Orthodox Christianity, his family, how he lives his faith as a Hollywood actor, music and writing, on this special episode of Roads From Emmaus.

Mr. Jackson: The first service—feel free to cut me off if you have more questions—
Fr. Andrew: No, no, this is a good story!
Mr. Jackson: All right. The first service I actually went to there was… I was all by myself, because I was still scouting this out. It was interesting because the first reaction I had when I entered into the church… I got this very, very strong impression that said, “Leave. Run. Just get out. Just go. Don’t. You shouldn’t be here.” And I thought it was so strange, because I had already read quite a few books, I knew in my heart that this was where God was sending me, and I thought, “Wow.” I almost started sweating. It was like this really intense thing.
I was very uncomfortable. I didn’t know anybody. It was very foreign. I didn’t know what to do and all of that, but, after that, I felt like the Holy Spirit said, “No, stay for the whole thing, and then you’ll know how you feel about it.” [Sigh.] I said, “Okay, I can do this. I can do this.” So the first 45 minutes was just absolute discomfort, just absolute.
Fr. Andrew: You know, you’re not the first person I’ve heard that from. There’s been a lot of people that, when they encounter Orthodoxy, that there is this strong sense of discomfort, and I think, to sort of put it into an interpretive matrix, I think it’s because you really are standing in the presence of God. And just as your reaction to seeing the Pantocrator was to throw out some four-letter words, what does one say in the presence of God? What does one feel or do?
I actually saw one guy who was an atheist who came to an Orthodox church because he was interested in a girl who was attending, and he was present for about 20 minutes, and then he ran out the front door and threw up on the front lawn and literally ran away. That’s a little bit more extreme than your reaction, but yeah.
Mr. Jackson: I was sweating. I was on my way there. But it was like avivid thought. It was not my own thought. It was like: “Run. Leave. Get out of here. Now.” And I thought, “What on earth? That’s not… I don’t think that’s from God, but what is going on here?” The incredible thing was: “Stay for the whole thing and then you’ll know how you feel.”
45 minutes into it, something happened. The whole room transformed, and it went from utter discomfort to—and I’ll tell you when it was for the Orthodox listeners who would know in the Divine Liturgy—it was right after the homily, after the prayers for the catechumens. Whatever hymn is sung—I’m sure there are many, but there’s a specific hymn that is sung after “Catechumens depart.” And the whole place visually transformed.
Fr. Andrew: It’s probably the Cherubic Hymn.
Mr. Jackson: I think that’s probably what it is.
Fr. Andrew: It’s about that we represent the angels.
Mr. Jackson: Yes.
Fr. Andrew: And we’re worshiping at the very throne and the altar of God.
Mr. Jackson: So that’s what happened, because heaven… opened up. And I was just standing there. From one extreme of just “Get out of here. This is just really foreign and bizarre and uncomfortable.” to tears streaming down my face, completely captivated. And the first service I went to, which, in my chronological memory now, I visited those Greek churches after; I think I actually went to this one first, and then checked out a few other ones to see which ones were a better connection for me personally, but the whole room [transformed]—but the first service was on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, which we just had a few weeks ago.
And what captivated me in that moment was I had never seen a corporate body of people praying to God with such humility. I just had never seen it. It took my breath away, to see people crossing themselves, “Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” And it wasn’t the self-flagellation, I’m-a-worm kind of repentance. It wasn’t. It was not. It was a repentance that was somehow connected to joy. It was somehow connected to the Resurrection. It was somehow… It was like a romantic connection with God.
I had never seen that before, and as tears were streaming down my face, I just found myself praying, “All I want to do is be here, in the presence. I don’t care about anything else in the world. All I want to do is just be here in this presence with this body of people.” Not just the local body of people, but the Body.
Fr. Andrew: The Body.
Mr. Jackson: The Body of Christ.
At that point… It wasn’t easy from that point.
Fr. Andrew: No, it’s never easy. It’s never easy.
Mr. Jackson: But that was certainly a pivotal moment

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Green Patriarch

As we reminded today by our Guest Speaker, Fr. George Liangas, the protection of the environment is a topic that concerns all humans, including Orthodox Christians.

All we need to do is look to Constantinople, and the huge example of Patriarch Bartholomew to see what we can do to help with this global cause.

Al Gore called him the "Green Patriarch" and Time Magazine named him among the "100 Most Influential People in the World Today".

To see an inspirational video of the Patriarch in action, visit the link below:

Fr George Liangas visits our Fellowship

Today we had the blessing to have our eyes open to a topic of social conscience that perhaps we do not emphasise enough as Christians living in society today.  The protection of the environment, of God's creation, is a matter of no small significance.

God created the world, nature and man, and gave us humans the humbling blessing 'to have dominion over' His earth.  But what does this mean?  Should we lord over it as if we were gods, or are we called to preserve it as He made it in His infinite wisdom?

Through searching through ourselves and struggling to overcome our passions, we can find the perfect balance to protect the Environment and glorify God.  All we need to do is look at the meaning behind the Creation story (St Gregory of Nissan and other Church Fathers can help us understand these passages better).  And also, the many psalms and hymns in our Church Services constantly remind us of our duty to the environment.  The Ecclesiastical Day begins with the Evening service or Esperino, which starts with the following psalm that reminds us that God is Creator of both nature and us:

103 Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord executes righteousness
And justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the children of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
14 For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,

And its place remembers it no more.
17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
On those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
18 To such as keep His covenant,
And to those who remember His commandments to do them.
19 The Lord has established His throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all.
20 Bless the Lord, you His angels,
Who excel in strength, who do His word,
Heeding the voice of His word.
21 Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You ministers of His, who do His pleasure.
22 Bless the Lord, all His works,
In all places of His dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!