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by Fr. Hector Firoglanis

On May 11 as I was working in the church office, I received a message on my phone from the Penn Manor School District:  “Eshleman Lockdown — Eshleman Elementary School was placed on lockdown at 10:30 a.m. today as a result of the recommendation of police, due to concerns about a community member with ties to the school.”  I have three children in that school — a first, third, and fourth grader.  Our primary responsibility and most innate instinct as parents is to protect our children.  Since 2013, there have been 312 school shootings in America — an average of about one a week.  Looking to the icon of the Panaghia Kardiotissa hanging on my office wall I prayed to the Mother of God: “I can’t be there to protect them right now; with your motherly protection, please shelter them and all children from danger and harm.”  Thank God the situation at Eshleman did not escalate,  but the   incident hit close to home. 

 The latest mass school shooting in Santa Fe, TX, on May 18, hit close to home as well.  Another mass shooting that left 10 students and staff dead in a Texas high school.  But this time we were all surprised to read the shooter’s name: Dimitrios Pagourtzis.  None of us knows this person or his family or the circumstances of his mental health and upbringing.  Nonetheless, a Greek name reveals a connection to the Orthodox Faith, and this serves as a reminder that ethnic and religious identity alone does not immunize us from the deadly virus of violence, hatred, and despair that is tightening its grip on the soul of our nation — a nation that is increasingly removing God from its institutions and consciousness. 

 Orthodoxy does look upon sin as an illness, which strongly shapes my thoughts on the current epidemic of violence and school shootings.  The media and politicians will focus on stricter gun legislation, which of course needs to be an important part of this dialogue.  But in my opinion, that is merely addressing the symptoms of the illness, and not the illness itself. 

 How do we protect and immunize ourselves against the spiritual illnesses of hatred and despair which manifest themselves (among other tragedies) in our current epidemic of school shootings in America?

  • We must begin to reassert God as the #1 priority in our lives - ahead of academic pursuits, ahead of extracurricular busyness, ahead of our cultural “god” of worldly success, material comfort, and temporary happiness.
  • We must bring children and millennials into the Church, or seek ways to creatively bring the Church to them. As we begin to fill our churches and Sunday School classrooms, spend more time reading the Bible than social media nonsense, and talk more to our children about God rather than the unessential things which occupy our precious conversations, then our children will hear more about self-restraint, forgiving those who hurt us, and loving our enemies.  Their confidence will be based on God’s unconditional love for them, and not the fickle and superficial “love” of their peers and of this temporary world.  This knowledge will shape their character and immunize their souls against the sin of despair and violence. 
  • Let’s not glorify violence. Let’s not pretend that the realistic and violent movies and video games which have become popular the last 20 years — like “Call of Duty” and “Assassins Creed” — don’t have an effect on the minds and souls of vulnerable young men.  If you have such games and movies in your home, throw them away in the trash, since giving them away or selling them on eBay will only perpetuate the spread of illness. 
  • Reach out to troubled young people. Before Cho Seung-Hui gunned down 32 people on the Virginia Tech Campus in April of 2007, classmates from his high school said that he was picked on, pushed around, and laughed at for his shyness and the way he talked.  Similar bullying tactics played a role in the latest Texas shootings.  Let us be proactive and love those who are rejected by this world.  This is what Christ did.  Sometimes even a word of kindness or a gesture of concern can be enough to avert a future disaster.  Pray to God to use you, so that  you may become a vessel of His love and healing to others who are hurting. 

The problem of school shootings is the symptom of the spiritual illnesses of anger, hatred, and despair, which are gripping the soul of our nation.  Even if certain legislation is passed to address the symptom of school shootings, that will be only the beginning and not the end of finding the cure for our culture which is becoming morbidly sick with the illnesses of hatred and despair.  Individually and collectively as a nation, may we turn to Christ, the Physician of our souls, to heal our illness of sin and to protect our children. 

 

 

by Fr. Hector Firoglanis

When I was in eighth grade, I wrestled at the 105 pound weight class for my school’s team. One of my friends on the team was in ninth grade and he wrestled the 189 pound weight class. As the last two undefeated wrestlers on the team over half way through the season, there were two things we shared in common:

  • We were both Orthodox Christians — two of several Greeks on the Manheim Township Wrestling teams in the early 1990’s.
  • We shared a custom of drinking Holy Water (Agiasmo) — which we kept in little glass bottles in our lockers — after each weigh-in.

Was the Holy Water responsible for our undefeated records? Of course not, even though more and more of our teammates began to inquire about our “special water” as the year went on. The Holy Water, however, did give us spiritual strength and was a tangible reminder that God was with us before, during, and after our matches — which was very comforting and calming. This assurance of God’s presence was helpful during the victories, and even more beneficial when the losses eventually came as well.

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Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
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