Serving our Youth through Scouting

In Father Alexander Schmemann’s important work, For the Life of the World, he teaches us that when we speak of “life” in the context of our experience of the Kingdom of God, we cannot separate “religious life” from our secular experience. Yet we slide easily into a weekly pattern of segregating our “religious life” into a “Sunday only” experience. Service through Scouting is one tool that we have to help “keep whole” or integrate a young Christian’s identity.

Parishes that support membership in community Scouting programs, such the Cub Scout Pack pictured, give rich character-development experiences to their youngest parishioners and also increase the visibility of the Orthodox Church in a supportive environment. (Pictured: a recent meeting of Pack 50 in San Anselmo, CA)

Scouting in North America has a rich history of cooperation with the Orthodox Church. Indeed, the Eastern Orthodox Committee on Scouting was one of the first significant efforts of the Orthodox in our land to work together. The model advocated throughout most of the twentieth century focused on the creation of Scouting units in the parish. This model has been particularly effective where the faithful live in geographically contained communities surrounding their parish.

Yet this plan is less workable when many of our parishes serve geographically dispersed families. I suggest that many parishes could purposefully encourage children to join local “neighborhood” Scouting units and create programming that brings together Scouts from these distinct local units as Orthodox Scouts in the parish. I write from experience with the Boy Scouts of America but other programs may also be effective tools for our parishes (see for more information on the various Church-supported programs).

Utilizing the Scout Oath and Scout Law, Scouting helps youth develop academic skills, self-confidence, ethics, leadership skills, and citizenship skills in a program that is based on service. The focus on character and service makes the Boy Scouts of America a uniquely compatible program for the Orthodox Church.

While various activities teach basic skills and promote teamwork, Scouting goes beyond that and encourages youth to achieve a deeper appreciation for service to others in their community. This service to the neighbor is foundational. The highest achieving Scouts lead a service project as the culmination of their programs. This happens in a movement that holds “reverence” as a core of the Scout Law. We cannot measure faith, but in a recent study of the general population, eighty-three percent of men who were Scouts five or more years say attending religious services together as a family is “very important.”

Rigorous outdoor activities and a commitment to service are hallmarks of Scouting. (Pictured: Sea Scout Ship Viking (100) of San Francisco, CA, and other Sea Scout ships competing in a high school-age pulling boat competition)

Orthodox Scouts are encouraged to work with their parish priests on earning a series of medals issued by the Church that help contextualize service in the faith of the Orthodox Church with age-appropriate content.

If we encourage our young parishioners to join “neighborhood” Scout units, the priest and other clergy and youth leaders in the parish can be visible in the life of these geographically dispersed units. Archbishop John (Shahovskoy) once noted “the purpose of ministry is to widen the Church beyond its material boundaries, to take it into the people’s homes, into their souls” (The Orthodox Pastor, p. 49). By utilizing and supporting membership in local units, the pastor has a new tool available to “widen” the Church both for his young parishioner and for other families in Scouting. In our Sea Scout unit in San Francisco, our bishop and other clergy have become “regular” presences at award ceremonies and other functions.  The families of that unit are – at the very least! – aware of the Orthodox Church, and our parish youth involved in Scouting have memories of the Church and her servants that are integrated into major accomplishments.

A parish or regional grouping of parishes can further support membership of their Scouts in local units by bringing Orthodox Scouts together for events that facilitates friendship and common effort with other Orthodox Scouts. The Greater St. Louis area Orthodox parishes are working with this model of combining the best of neighborhood troop affiliation with regional Orthodox Scouting programming.

Our children are “pulled” in so many praiseworthy directions: academics, sports, and all sorts of activities. Membership in Scouting helps raise up young men and women who know how to lead themselves in lives of service and faith in the Orthodox Church. We can be active participants in this “game with a purpose” and help show that the Kingdom of God is real life.

Archdeacon C. Kirill Sokolov (SVOTS ‘07) is Director of Diaconal and Late Vocations for the Orthodox Church in America, Director of Technology at San Domenico School, and a doctoral student in leadership at Pepperdine University. Fr. Kirill is a Quartermaster Sea Scout and served on the Board of the Eastern Orthodox Committee on Scouting (EOCS) from 2008-2010. He, his wife Sophia (SVOTS ‘05), and their three children live in California. Their six year-old “begins the journey” this year in Cub Scouts. This post is © 2011.

SVOTS and Scouts: A Service Project

Skye Andrew Malone and Fr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor/CEO of SVOTS

Six months after receiving my Life Scout advancement, I was eligible to start working on my Eagle rank, the highest linear class in Boy Scouting. From the start, I knew I wanted to do something for St Vladimir’s Seminary. For some time I have noticed an area in the front field that flooded consistently due to rain. There was also a marble bench in the area that was cracked and had much erosion. In its present state, this area was not too ideal for relaxing or quietly enjoying the environment, unless you wanted muddy feet. With the help of Fr. Chad Hatfield, whose son is an Eagle Scout, I was able to frame my ideas and develop my project.

SVOTS Plant Manager Rivera and Malone discuss the plan

Originally, I wanted to replace the bench, but realized that I needed to stop the flooding problem if the area was to be a place for people to spend quiet time. The simple idea of fixing the flooding expanded to remodeling the entire area. I knew developing a project like this would help the Church in one aspect and add even more splendor to the seminary’s beautiful campus. After serving in the Church and Scouting for more than half of my life I learned, in addition to many other things, the values of respect and coexistence in a healthy community. Hopefully, completing this project demonstrates my love for the seminary community and will inspire others in some way.

The work begins

I am very appreciative to the team of seven individuals that helped me complete the first part of the project: Scoutmaster Gustavo Gobatto, SVOTS Plant Manager Rafael Rivera, Dad Manuel Soto, Michael Bouteneff, Leonardo Gobatto, Felix Behr, and Paul Szumny. I would also like to thank my family, friends, and the seminary community for the financial support they have given me to complete this project. The second part of the project is to build two benches and secure them in a cement foundation. I expect to finish the project before the end of October. Check for an update soon!

Finishing the first part of the project

Skye Andrew Malone is a Life Scout in Yonkers Troop 4 (Westchester Putnam Boy Scout Council). He is a member of the Three Hierarchs Chapel community at SVOTS.


Fr. Paul Rivers: Orthodox Priest and US Army Chaplain

Fr. Paul Rivers at Fort Knox, KY

Hi. I am Fr. Paul Rivers. I serve as a Chaplain in the US Army. I have been on active duty with the Army since graduating from St. Vladimir’s Seminary in 2008. After going through Chaplain Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina during the summer of 2008, I was assigned to the 5-15th Cavalry Squadron at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Thirty two months later I received orders to the 709th Military Police Battalion in Grafenwoehr, Germany. My family stayed behind in the States and I am set to deploy sometime next year to sunny Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In the meantime I ensure religious support operations for my Battalion and the Brigade by effectively communicating what systems are in place to meet a pluralistic environment’s needs. I also perform my priestly functions for those who are Orthodox or who are Ortho-curious through the leading of the Divine Liturgy, baptisms, hearing confessions, etc.

Serving soldiers at Fort Knox

From a young age I have been concerned with the things of the Spirit. My journey to Orthodoxy was long and sometimes tedious as I wrestled with questions of the faith. I give God the glory for where I am today. His mercy has brought me home. My time as a Chaplain has taught me that people are generally the same no matter their race, creed, or upbringing. People desire respect, dignity, and a safe place to be heard and understood. I strive through the grace of God to bring that to them so that hopefully the light of Christ will shine in their hearts.

Fr. Paul, with those he serves as a US Army Chaplain

Fr. Paul Rivers (SVOTS ’08) is a US Army Chaplain currently stationed in Germany. He and his wife Kendra have two boys.

I don’t have enough time to pray

Fr. David Chandler Poling and his wife, Emilita

I have no time to pray. I have two young children, a demanding academic schedule, a wife who has a full time job, an internship, friendships to maintain, dinner to cook, clothes to wash, groceries to get, choir practice, exercise…and today I have to take the car for an oil change. I can say the Lord’s Prayer real quick and I’m always at church Sunday morning, but I just don’t have time to really pray, read Scripture, or be silent in the presence of God.

I often imagine that if I was a monk, then I’d really have time to pray. I wouldn’t have kids running around needing their noses wiped while I’m trying to commune with the Creator of all. I could leave behind the cares of the world, and sit quietly enjoying the divine presence.

But now, in the midst of life, I just don’t have time to pray. Or do I?

On of the earliest experts on the spiritual life, John Cassian, wrote about the zealous monks in Egypt in a book called The Institutes. The life of these monks was one of extreme austerity. They fasted often and slept little. In the night, the monks would come together to pray Psalms and read Scripture. Then each would retire to his own cell to continue his own prayer.

Cassian makes it clear that the monk would work while he prayed. As the monk braided rope or wove baskets he kept his inner meditation. He tried to keep his mind attentive on the heart, rather than daydreaming, worrying, fantasizing, remembering, or giving in to various mental temptations. Continual labor was not a hindrance to “prayer time.” Rather toil was an “anchor” which kept the heart at peace.

This stillness of the heart is the freedom from sin that we all aim for. It is the first step in real communion with Jesus Christ. If Cassian is correct, it is within our reach.

It may be more difficult to maintain inner stillness with all worries of family life or career life. We may benefit from set-apart and scheduled time for prayer and meditation on Scripture. Yet, we may follow the example of the Egyptian monks and work towards inner stillness while we labor.

I do have enough time to pray.

Ordination of Subdeacon David Chandler Poling to the Holy Diaconate on Pentecost Sunday, July 12, 2011

The son of a Church of the Brethren pastor, Fr. David Chandler Poling (SVOTS ’12) grew up in rural Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Emilita, married in 2000, and moved to New York City in 2002. A few years later they joined the OCA at the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection. They have three children: Elias, Mariam, and John. Fr. David is the acting rector of St. Innocent Mission in Oneonta, New York.

Let us Exalt the Cross Today!

“The knowledge of the cross is concealed in the suffering of the cross.”

-St. Isaac the Syrian

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

-St. Paul

We bow down before the cross of our Lord at this joyous feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross because of what Christ accomplished on this wood. The victory has been won. We have been healed from the sinful affliction of the soul. Death has been swallowed up in this victory. What was ultimately killed on the Cross was not so much Christ as it was death itself, for Life could not be killed. Death was the result of the sinful condition: “For the wages of sin is death,” St. Paul reminds us. What is so joyous about this feast is that we remember and enter into the salvation that Christ has offered unto us. This is why we have all manner of names for the Cross that we sing at this feast:

glory of the faithful, confirmation of sufferers, protection of the righteous, salvation of the saints, wounder and driver away of demons, invincible banner of godliness, gate of paradise, strength and protection of the faithful, beauty and might of the Church, invincible weapon of peace, sign of true joy, power of righteous men, majesty of priests, rod of strength, weapon of peace, physician of the sick, resurrection of the dead, hope of Christians, guide of those gone astray, haven of the storm-tossed, victory in warfare, firm foundation of the Earth, life-giving tree, support of the faithful, glory of angels, undefiled wood, marvelous wonder…

As we can see, we focus on many aspects of the Cross during this feast.

One particular dimension of the Cross is that it is the “confirmation of sufferers.” We glorify the Cross of our Lord for it is through the suffering of Christ’s voluntary passion that our own suffering in this life makes sense. We refer all of our life to God in praise and thanksgiving. This means the good as well as the bad. This is what St. Paul means when he says, “God forbid that I glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). It is through our own taking up the Cross that we become co-sufferers with Christ.

We say in the hymns, “through the Cross joy has come into all the world.” Do we believe this? This is the joy of the Cross. What the evil one means for harm transforms into the very place where death and sin are destroyed. This is why “the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Then the Cross makes no sense. Why, if God wanted to manifest His power, why would He not deliver Christ from having to endure the scourging and torturous death on the Cross? The power of God was made more manifest through the death of Christ on that Tree of Life – for through it, death has been killed. Mankind has been set free from sin and death. The hymns say, “the passions of the passionless God has destroyed the passions of the condemned,” and “today the death that came to mankind through the eating of the tree, is made of no effect through the Cross.”

It is through the transformation of suffering that the power of God is made manifest. Then one is totally free from the results of the sickness of sin: “…but for us who are being saved, it (the Cross) is the power of God.” This is what St. Isaac means when he says that the “knowledge of the Cross is concealed in the suffering of the Cross.” Let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad for this life-giving wood of the Cross, upon which Christ was killed for us men and for our salvation in order to be resurrected and bring life to the fallen!

Father Christopher Foley (SVOTS ’06) is the rector and founding priest of Holy Cross Orthodox Mission, Greensboro, North Carolina. Established in 2006 from a small group of faithful in the Greensboro area, Holy Cross has grown to serve over 100 faithful of diverse backgrounds. 

About Synaxis

“Synaxis” (σύναξις) is an ancient Greek word that means “assembly” or “gathering together.” It was used in the early Church and in Byzantine times to refer to a gathering together of Christians, especially for liturgical services. In particular, the first part of the Divine Liturgy, the “liturgy of the word,” was often called “The Synaxis.”

This blog is intended to be an assembly and a gathering together of spiritual reflections, profiles, and other Orthodox Christian content. We hope Synaxis will be spiritually enriching for both Orthodox Christians and all others who encounter it.

Synaxis is managed by the Offices of Advancement and Alumni Relations of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.