What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:4)
We live in a world full of men and women, who are trying to understand themselves. The existential question looms large; who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of my existence? How can I live a fulfilling life? How can I be all that I was meant to be: a “real live human being?”
There are many attempts to answer this question through history, up to our own day, both in the arena of words and ideas and in life as it is actually lived. For the Platonists, the pursuit of “the Good” was the purpose of life, and all are bound by duty to pursue it; reason was the method by which it was attained. The Cynics taught that humanity’s purpose lay in living “according to nature.” For the Stoic, The meaning of life is found through “freedom from suffering” through being objective, having “clear judgment.” And there is of course the Nihilists who based upon a disbelief in God would argue that there is no meaning, no purpose. Certainly the world around us is full of people trying to find purpose and meaning through material things, sexual experiences or success at work or other endeavors.
But all of these ideas are inadequate and fall woefully short in addressing our existence and the problem of finding meaning in our life. For at the root of them is the unaccounted for reality, that none of us asked to be born into this world; not a one of us had any say on the conditions of our existence. What then? Do we concede to the Atheists that we are simply the result of some meaningless random accident?
The Christian Faith gives the only adequate answer to this existential dilemma; and it answers it not only adequately, it answers it fully. The question itself is actually a response to the pre-existent answer, and not as usual, the other way round. As Irenaeus put it, “Since the Savior existed already; the one to be saved had to be brought into existence, so that the Savior should not be in vain.” Christ is not a “solution” responding to “the mess that humans made.” Rather, humanity is the result of Christ, the Eternal Word of God.
So, Christianity has an answer to the existential question. But, the Christian answer is often not GIVEN adequately; such attempts either do not go far enough in addressing the question, or they “miss the mark” somehow, quite often by providing an answer that really is not reflective of the Truth of the Gospel. Even the disciples, who walked with Christ, continued to get it wrong. James and John and their mother got it wrong, “not being equal to the mystery of thine ineffable dispensation, begged thee to grant her two sons the honors of a temporal kingdom.” It wasn’t temporal honors that Christ was offering, and it is not what makes one truly “human.” Or sometimes, Christians try to answer questions that no one is even really asking.
But Christianity does preach the Gospel, “good news.” What is this “good news?” What is the answer given to the question of my existence?
It might be assumed that in answering the question of Man’s meaning, one would start by going back to “the beginning,” that is the Book of Genesis, the “book of the beginnings.” Undoubtedly, that is where most attempts at answering do begin. But this is not adequate. It falls short because for the Christian, as Irenaeus has stated, Adam, is not the prototype for Man. Rather, the prototype for humanity is Christ (although referred to as “Second Adam”), the Pre-eternal Word of God Incarnate. St. Paul refers to Adam as “the type of the One who was to come.” (Rom 5:14) Adam, while preexisting his son “the man Jesus,” in human history, was really created BY Him, the Eternal Word. Thus it is to the Cross, that the Christian and the one who would attempt to understand the Christian answer, must first turn to find out how to become a true human being.
But, “Aha!” the astute reader might exclaim. “You’ve made a leap, from ‘Christ’ to ‘Cross,’ without accounting for it. Why must we turn to the cross and not the manger of His nativity, or the River Jordan of His baptism?” It is because, for the Christian this is not a leap, Christ and His cross are inextricably joined; it is only through the Cross that we can know Him. Ever since St. Paul, Christians are “determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (I Cor. 2:2) For Paul and all those in the Apostolic Office following him have, “delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures … “(I Cor. 13:3) Christianity is rooted firmly in Christ and His death on the Cross.
Also, the rest of the narrative in the gospels points to and is also inextricably bound to the passion and the cross. Fr. John Behr in speaking about Mary appearing in the light of the crucified and risen Lord, states,
The infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke are already told as a proclamation of the Gospel (in the full sense) … This is also a connection made explicit in the icon for Nativity: in the icon, Christ is depicted, not in a house or in a stable (as historicizing depiction of the infancy narratives would require), but wrapped in swaddling clothes as a corpse (with a cross on his halo), laid in a manger as food (for us who eat the body of Christ), and with the manger positioned in a cave embracing in its shape the Virgin, just as the crucified Christ was placed in a newly hewn (ie., virgin) cave owned by the other Joseph.
Thus in this light, we understand Christ’s response to James and John (and their Mother), that he did not offer them honors of a temporal kingdom. “But instead, thou didst promise thy beloved that they should drink the cup of death, the cup which thou didst say thou wouldst drink before them for the purification of sins.”
So the Word of God made flesh, is central to understanding Man’s creation, and the Cross is the light by which we see and understand not only, “Jesus Christ, Son of God,” but also, what it means for us to be human.
St. Paul acknowledges that this seems ridiculous to those who don’t believe: “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.” (I Cor. 1:18) He goes on, “… we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” The Cross is foolishness and a stumbling block to many, but to the Christian it is power and wisdom. The Cross is at the heart of the Christian message, and again, it is there that we must begin in seeking to understand “What is Man, and why art thou mindful of him?” (Ps8:4)
At the Cross, according to the Gospel of St. John, Christ exclaims, “It is finished!” immediately before He “gives up the Spirit.” (Jn. 19:30) WHAT is finished? St. John has Pilate clue us in just a few verses beforehand: “Behold, the Man.” It is in this light that we can turn to the account in the book of Genesis to see what was begun when God says, “Let us make Man in our own image.” (Gen. 1:26)
According to St. Irenaeus, the work of God is precisely this “creation of human beings.” “Now the work of God is the fashioning of man. For, as the Scripture says, He made man by a kind of process: “And the Lord took clay from the earth, and formed man.”  This “process” is begun by God when He says, “Let us Make,” and is ended with the incarnate God’s declaration from the tree, that is was indeed “finished.” This process is God’s “taking clay and forming man;” and our whole life is one of learning to be clay in God’s hands. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life. “ I am not sure there is a “rumor going around,” but I do think the word picture does illustrate quite well what Irenaeus is saying, God created the “form” of Man, and later sequentially, breathes life into Him. The “form” is incomplete; it’s a work in progress, and therefore lacking. But God is the Creator who completes His creation.
At the Cross, the work of God “is finished.” It is then, when Christ is lifted upon the Cross, that this project which was begun on the day of creation, when God took earth and breathed into it, is completed. This then becomes the framework, the paradigm by which we understand what a human is. Now that we’ve been given a prototype to model ourselves after, and to measure ourselves by, how is it that we too become human?
Well, we too begin with death. Death is the culminating event for each of us; it is the only thing that all of us hold in common. A death on a cross in the 1st century AD would not seem that special or unusual. What was special and unusual was not only “whom” it was who died, the eternal Word of God Himself, but rather, the manner in which He did. This is expressed beautifully in the priest’s prayer in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: “…on the night on which He was betrayed – or rather in which he gave Himself up for the life of the World.” It was not a matter of someone being killed, although at first glance it might look that way. This death was one of “offering.” He “offered Himself” for the life of the World. The Word Incarnate gave Himself up of His own free will.
And Christ’s answer for us is to call us to the same manner of death: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Lk. 9:23) As Christ finished God’s creative work of creating man by His own “being lifted up,” so too, we that would become complete human beings must do the same. In order for us to become complete, like Christ we must be willing to immolate ourselves. It is through this voluntary act, that the “mud which suffers” becomes a human being; no longer just clay.
How is this to be done? Is one to hew out their own cross of wood, and be nailed upon it? Of course not; it’s not the physical details of Christ’s death that we are called to imitate, but rather His voluntary assent to suffering and death.
The Cross of Christ, and the need to bear one’s own cross, is central to the epistles of the Apostle Paul. He writes, “I have been crucified with Christ: it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) His personal crucifixion is one that like Christ’s, is embraced willingly and freely accepted. But this did not come to him easily.
The man Saul was a persecutor of Christians, but after encountering the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, his life became one of imitating Him. This was big, for as he states, the cross is skandalon, a scandal or “stumbling block” to the Jew (1Cor 1:23), which he was; and not just a Jew, a Pharisee. To the Jew, the Cross was a failure; how could God’s Messiah be killed in such a shameful, humiliating manner? As Pope Benedict XVI put it, “For the Jews, the cross contradicts the very essence of God, who has manifested himself with prodigious signs. Therefore, to accept the cross of Christ means to undergo a profound conversion in the way of relating with God.” Indeed, St. Paul would now say, “I die daily,” (1 Cor. 15:31) for it was given to him to see the Cross as “the revelation of the power of God.” (I Cor. 1:18, 24) Pope Benedict XVI again:
Centuries after Paul, we see that the cross, and not the wisdom that opposes the cross, has triumphed. The Crucified is wisdom, because he manifests in truth who God is, that is, the power of love that goes to the point of the cross to save man. God avails of ways and instruments that to us appear at first glance as only weakness. The Crucified reveals, on one hand, the weakness of man, and on the other, the true power of God, that is, the gratuitousness of love: Precisely this gratuitousness of love is true wisdom.
This is an irony, paradox and antinomy that “saves those who believe.” (I Cor. 1:21) It puts to shame the wise and the mighty. The wise and the mighty miss it, but the humble, they that are willing to crucify their mind with their flesh, are granted to see it: the power of God displayed in the weakness of man. Of those who “don’t get it,” St. John Chrysostom says, “It is the mark of them that perish to not recognize the things which lead to salvation.”
The early martyrs give testimony to this “Way of the Cross.” St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote these words to the Church at Rome, regarding his impending martyrdom: “The pains of birth are upon me.” This reflects St. Paul who in Galatians 4:19 referred to “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”
As the Christian follows Christ to martyrdom, he is about to give birth, or to be born as the completed human being he was created to be. Ignatius writes that he desires to become “food for the wild beasts, through which I can attain to God. I am the wheat of God and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts so that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.” He says that if that is allowed to happen, “…then I shall be truly a disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world will not see my body at all… .Pray to Christ for me that through these means I may be found a sacrifice to God.” This is when he will be a true disciple. This is when he will give birth to a true human being; when he is voluntarily offered as a sacrifice to God. When he like Christ, bears his own cross and is lifted upon it.
It is then that Ignatius says, “If I suffer I shall be Christ’s freedman and in him I shall rise free… Fire and cross, packs of wild beasts, cuttings, rendings, crushing of bones, mangling of limbs, grinding of my whole body, wicked torture of the devil—let them come upon me if only I may attain to Jesus Christ.” He begs the Christians to not prevent his martyrdom for it is only “…when I arrive there I shall be a man.” Can St. Ignatius make it any clearer? It is at his martyrdom, that he fully and finally becomes a “man.”
He goes on, “Let me be an imitator of the passion of my God. If anyone has Him within himself, he must understand what I want and sympathize with me, since he knows what drives me on.” He desires to bear his cross in imitation of Christ, and he realizes that only those who are in the same process of being made “Man” can really understand where he is coming from, and what motivates him.
This theme is consistent throughout the early martyrs; from Blandina, to Perpetua and Polycarp to Justin. True life and meaning is found in dying for Christ. To die for Christ is to be born again into new life. In the act of martyrdom, a “real live human being” is born.
If this is true, the word is full of stunted human beings; or as Lewis would say, “Men without chests.” How many have completed the course of their creation? Where are the ones who allow themselves to be clay in God’s hands? “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on Earth?” (Lk. 18:8) Those that do follow Christ in picking up their cross and dying to their selfish desires, become fully human.
According to Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, this has corporate dimensions:
“This is precisely why Christians constantly keep uppermost in their minds the reality of the cross: the reality of the passion, of outward failure, which is a permanent fact of life and a focus of the Church’s contemplation. Patient acceptance of the cross is a way to embrace all of humanity’s pain and the reality of life around the globe.
The bearing of the cross, not only makes individuals human, but fills the world with hope; hope of unity:
But this tragic dimension of the cross, which casts a shadow over our lives, is ceaselessly illuminated by an unswerving eschatological hope, a hope that is filled with the mystical light and power of the Resurrection, and this lends strength to the creative struggle of the faithful. Our final and all-embracing victory—world unity, in the present case—does not belong in the present. It is coming, however. Our foretaste of this victory in the present fills us with peace and fortitude. The reality of Christ transcends history.”
We are all in the process of being fashioned by God. What He started at the day of creation He attends to finish. We can cooperate with Him, and become a real live human being, by embracing the particular cross He gives, and learning to be clay in the potter’s hands.
 St. Irenaeus Against the Heresies 3.22.3
 First aposticha in Tone 5, “Bridegroom Orthros of Great and Holy Monday”
 The traditional word “Man” will be used in this writing as representing all humanity, alongside of the newer usage of “Human Beings”, both because the traditional usage is closer to the Greek “anthropos” as well as well a more beautiful poetic way of expressing the reality that includes every man, woman, boy, girl and infant who ever lived. Scripturally, Jesus is the “Son of Man,” not the “Son of Human Being.” Yet, the newer term is also used for clarity.
 John Behr. The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death.(Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2006), 136
 First aposticha in Tone 5, “Bridegroom Orthros of Great and Holy Monday”
 Against the Heresies, 5.15.2
 Clive Staples Lewis, Mere Christianity. Harper Collins 1952, 159
 Anaphora, Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
 Barnabas 6:9
 Homily IV, St. John Chrysostom
 Epistle to the Romans 6:1, Ignatius of Antioch
 Ibid. 5:3
 C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Collier Books, 1955), chp. 1
 Archbishop Anastasios (Yannoulatos), Facing the World: Orthodox Christian Essays on Global Concerns (Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003), 42
Scriptual Text: Hebrews 2:2-10
IN the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Today is of course the day in which celebrate the Synaxis of the Supreme Commanders Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, and of the other bodiless and heavenly orders, the Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Powers, Authorities, Principalities, Archangels and Angels. A great and holy day.
But the readings for today’s feast, which we just heard seem to be somewhat curious.
The letter written to the Hebrews, while referencing Angels is more about Man than it is about Angels. That angels are mentioned at all it seems is only as a benchmark by which to identify Man…that He is made a little “lower than the angels.”
The Gospel lesson from St. Luke seems to be even more out of place. The story is about the 70 Apostles, and the only reference to Angels is made to the demons, the fallens agnels cast out by the apostles, and to the chief fallen angel, in that Christ states that “He Saw Satan fall from heaven.
This is shown to be even more strange by the fact that references to angels are not absent at all from the New Testament writings. The compilers of our services today could have had us listen to the Gospel stories of the Angel Gabriel announcing the incarnation to Mary, or proclaiming the birth of the Christ, or His Resurrection. We could of heard the narrative of angels singing at his birth and ministering to him in the desert, and in the Garden. And certainly one of the many references in the epistles of SS Paul, Peter and Jude could have been read this morning.
So, why these passages? What gives?
Let’s turn our attention for a moment to this morning’s Gospel lesson. In the passage preceding today’s reading, Christ had sent out the seventy two by two to heal the sick and to proclaim the immanence of the Kingdom of God. He said that “HE who hears you, hears me, he who reject you rejects Me and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent me.” Its been two years since I took Greek, but I seem to recall Apostolos meaning sent. They were sent out by God on his business.
Similarly, The Apostle Paul says that Angels are: spirits in the service of God, sent as servants for the good of those who must receive the heritage of salvation. Angleos means emissaries, or messengers of God. While I am not enough of the Greek scholar to tease out the distinction between Angels and Apostles, it is quite evident that there is a connection. The holy angels are minister, servants of God doing his will. Is this not what those in the Apostolic office are called to as well?
Our passage tells us that the 70 apostles returned with JOY because of the success of their endeavor. Even demons were subject to them in His name! Christ tells them that He was there and saw Satan fall from heaven, and that the evil spirits ARE indeed now subject to them. But this should not be the cause of their joy….their joy is based on the fact that their names are written in heaven! Their attention should NOT be on the wonderful things they were able to accomplish, but on their salvation and heavenly things. The Lord is telling them to be like the angels.
Angels stand in the presence of God beholding his face. According to Lev Gillet, the “Monk of the Eastern Church”: “Angels are more than the bearers of divine messages and the guides of men: they are bearers of the very Name and Power of God. There is nothing rosy or weakly poetical in the Angels of the Bible: they are flashes of the light and the strength of the almighty Lord.”
Angels very being is sustained by God’s goodness, and they participate in his might wisdom and love. They are uplifted by their perpetual praise and thanksgiving. We tend to see them as messengers and functionaries, but that is secondary to their primal role as contemplators and bearers of the Divine Glory. And it is to this we are called to as well.
See, Its easy to see our meaning as clergy and lay leaders in terms of what we do. We serve, we preach, we visit the sick, we counsel, we teach. But ultimately we are not to take joy in this, even if the Lord rewards our endeavors with success. Rather our focus should be on gazing. ON Doxology. On BEING. Our Gazing on His glory, and our lives as reflection of our standing in that flame.
Otherwise it all becomes junk. Exercises for our own ego. I do ministry for how it makes me look. I serve others for how it makes me feel. Or …ughhg….because I am PAID to do it. The things I do, rather than being a response to my gaze…..my SEEING God’s glory…., are instead generated by MY OWN sense of glory, and revolve around me. A perversion. A destruction not only of my soul, but of all those unfortunate to come into my “sphere of influence.”
Rather, we are called to be like the Angels. We are to be as Archbishop Anastasios of Albania puts it, PULSATING with Divine Glory. Taking it in, reflecting it out. Our being sent, is contingent upon our standing and our orientation. If we remove our gaze from God’s glory, than we like Satan will fall from heaven, and our ministry will not only be a sham, but will be a manifestation of hell itself.
Today’s scripture lessons were not given to us so that we might “learn a few things about angels.” Quite frankly in all of our tradition there is really not very much concrete things for us to know about them, other than that they do exist. That they do gaze on God and do His will. And they are given to us as examples and intercessors.
But even though beside Him stand 1,000’s of archangels and 10,000s of angels, let us this morning add our voice to theirs in proclaiming the triumphal hymn: “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!”
The “Scandinavian countries,” are usually thought of as being Lutheran, and this holds true when speaking of the nation of Finland, which has just over 80% of its inhabitants professing the Lutheran faith. It usually comes as no surprise that Lutheranism is an official state religion. What often does come as a surprise however is the fact that Finland has a second state religion. Orthodox Christianity is also an official religion of Finland, although The Finnish Orthodox Church claims just over 1% of the population, around 60,000 adherents. How did this relationship between Orthodoxy and Finland come to be?
Christianity came to Finland in the 13th century, both from the Roman Catholic West (Sweden) and the Orthodox East (Novgorod), although recent archaeological evidence has pointed to the earliest Christian influence coming from the East. The Orthodox mission was centered chiefly in the region known as “Karelia,” a strip of land that extends from the White Sea Coast to the Gulf of Finland.
The Orthodox influence resulted in the establishment of two monasteries, Valamo (or Valaam in Russian) and Konetvitsa, both on different islands in the large Lake Laatokka (Ladoga in Russian). Valamo was traditionally thought to be founded in 992, although modern research has made the window of late 12th to late 13th cent more likely. It was founded by Saints Sergius and Herman. Sergius is said to be an Athonite monk, who brought hesychastic style of spirituality and monasticism to North Western Europe. Less is known about Herman, who was either a contemporary and partner, or a spiritual heir. He preached the Gospel throughout Karelia and was either a Greek, or of Karelian descent himself. What is known, is that Valamo became an important center for both spirituality and mission; sending missionaries to such faraway places as Alaska.
Konetvitsa Monastery, founded on the island bearing the same name, was begun by St. Arseny, who was a Russian Monk, but who had spent at least some time on Mount Athos, bringing the Hesychast tradition from there to Karelia. Like Valamo, it too became a place of spiritual pilgrimage.
There was also mission work in the far north among the Skolt Sami (sometimes referred to as “Laplanders”) by St. Trifon in the 16th century. Between 1533 and his death in 583 he established the Monastery of Petsamo, and planted the Orthodox faith in the region. The monasteries, particularly Valamo would become very important in the history of the Orthodox Church in Finland.
But the next centuries were not to prove to be peaceful. Caught between the two powers of Roman Catholic Sweden and Orthodox Russia, Finland would become the battleground of East and West, Orthodoxy and Catholicism. There were two crusades out of Sweden into Finland in 1239 and 1293, which resulted in most of Finland converting to Roman Catholicism. The middle of the 13th century would prove to be important, as Western expansion was halted and Russia would have dominion in Karelia for years to come. But by 1400 there were seven well organized parishes in Karelia.
The first bishop was appointed for Karelia in 1595, but did not make that big of an impact at first as the bishops would dwell in Novgorod, thereby stunting their ability to lead. It wouldn’t be till the beginning of the 20th century that the Karelian church would be governed by a local bishop; the new see of Viborg.
In the 17th century the situation changed, as Sweden, which had recently dropped their Catholicism in favor of Lutheranism, occupied Finland and attempted to drive Orthodoxy out of Karelia. The Swedes burned Valamo and Konevitsu to the ground, and any monks (or peasants) who did not flee, were killed. The Swedes inacted restrictions, that did not allow them to receive priests from Russia, and the people were forced to learn Lutheran theology. About two thirds of the Karelian population escaped these persecutions by fleeing to Russia. Those who were left survived much persecution and pressure, but as time went on, the Swedes became more and more tolerant.
Most of Karelia was captured by Russia under Peter the Great in the 18th century, and by 1809 the entirety of Finland, which was organized as a Russian Grand Duchy. This not only gave the Orthodox Church freedom, but reestablished ties with the mother church in Novgorod. Valamo was reestablished in 1719, and a new church consecrated. Konetvitsu experienced the same rebirth. The Czars themselves paid for much of the rebuilding of the burned out parishes. During the 19th century the Orthodox population of Finland grew to ten times its size. But there was more struggle to come.
By the end of the 19th century, there was a great struggle in Karelia and Finland to nationalize the Church. They began to celebrate the Liturgy in Finnish and translated not only liturgical texts, but spiritual works into the Finnish language. In 1892 a separate administration for the Finnish church was set up under the diocese of St. Petersburg, which very shortly became the Orthodox diocese of Finland. After the Russian revolution of 1917, The Finnish state declared independence; thus the Finnish Church effectively became autonomous and officially so declared by Patriarch St. Tikhon in 1921. In 1923 the Orthodox synod of Finland petitioned to be taken under the protection of the Ecumenical Patriarch, which was granted making it an autonomous archbishopric under the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Throughout the history of Finland, most of its Orthodox Christians were located in Karelia. But during WWII and after, many Karelian residents fled deeper into Finland as Karelia became a battleground, and then most of its territory was conceded to the Soviet Union. Valamo, once counting over 1,000 monks in its brotherhood, was abandoned as all of Lake Laatokka came under Soviet control, and an estate near Heinävesi was established as “New Valamo.” Eventually the monks were joined by monastics from Konetvitsa and Petsamo. New Valamo along with its sister Convent of Lintula, which is located nearby, have become important institutions in the modern Church in Finland. Because of the migration, Orthodox churches sprung up all over Finland, resulting in the Church being divided into two dioceses in the 1950s.
The Church of Finland experienced a decline in members and attendance after the War, but in recent years has experienced much of resurgence, as modern Finns search for something lasting and meaningful, as Finnish society deals with life in the modern consumerist age. The diocese of Oulo was added in the late 1970’s to the two existing dioceses: Kuopio in the Finnish Orthodox heartland of Karelia, and the Capital district of Helsinki. The Finnish Church was very optimistic that it would receive autocephaly when the book Orthodoxy in Finland: Past and Present came out in 2nd edition in 1982. Unfortunately they are still waiting for it.
Currently the Church is headed by Archbishop Leo the bishop of Karelia and all Finland, He is assisted by an auxiliary, Bishop Arseni of Joensuu. Metropolitan Ambrosios of the Diocese of Helsinki and Metropolitan Panteliemon of the Diocese of Oulu sit on the Holy Synod with Archbishop Leo. They are assisted in governing the Church by a body known as the “central synod” or “Church Assembly,” which includes not only the bishops, but 11 rectors, three cantors and 18 laymen and women. The Orthodox Church, by virtue of its being a “state church,” can levy taxes on those who live in a particular parish and identify themselves as “Orthodox.”
The Finnish Orthodox Church not only celebrates its “fixed feasts” on the Gregorian (or “new calendar”) as many Western countries do, it is unique among Orthodox churches in the world by the fact that it celebrates all the moveable feasts according to the Western Paschalion.
For 70 years the Church of Finland had a full-fledged seminary (1918-1988), but since 1988 those preparing to serve the Church have been largely trained at the University of Joensuu, which has a department of Orthodox theology. The seminary that is attached to the Archbishops chancery in Kuopio, does provide the liturgical training and spiritual direction, under the guidance of the archbishop. Along with the seminary, there is a Finnish Orthodox Church Museum attached to the Church’s headquarters there in Kuopio.
Finnish Orthodoxy is a gold mine waiting to be explored. There is unfortunately a dearth of reading material in English on the subject. The best book on the subject, Orthodoxy in Finland: Past and Present, a collection of essays edited by Viekko Purmonen, is outdated, its most recent edition being 1984. Among the many topics that could be explored: the Orthodoxy of the Skolt Sami people whose Orthodoxy dates to the early 16th century, the ramifications of Orthodoxy in Finland being a “state church,” the synergy of the Orthodox faith lived out within the unique culture of the Finns.
The Finnish Orthodox Church has faced a lot in its history. At present it is an “official state church;” it’s a pretty independent autonomous church in the patriarchate of Constantinople; they have a monastery with a rich heritage; they are not subject to “cross jurisdictions” (two little Moscow Patriarchate churches in Helsinki don’t count.) Perhaps it is time for autocephaly.
Purmonen, Veikko. Orthodoxy in Finland: Past and Present. Kuopio, Finland: Orthodox Clergy Association, 1984
Ramet, Pedro. Eastern Christianity and Politics in the Twentieth Century. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1988
Oorni, Soili. Autocephaly and its Meaning for the Finnish Orthodox Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1986
Kirby, David. A Concise History of Finland. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006
 Finns don’t view themselves as “Scandanavian.”
 All stats taken from the Finnish Orthodox Church website. Retrieved 4/15/09 <http://www.ort.fi/en/index.php>
 Kristinuskon Varhaisvaiheet Suomessa. Retrieved 4/25/09 <kookas.fi/articles/read/7114> (translated by translate.google.com)
 Veikko Purmonen, Orthodoxy in Finland: Past and Present, 2nd Ed. Rev. and enl. (Kuopio, Fin: Orthodox Clergy Association, 1984) 15
 A Parish in the Finnish/Karelian context seems to be a little different than the way it is thought of in the US. A Parish can include several churches and chapels.
 Pedro Ramet, Eastern Christianities and Politics in the Twentieth Century (Durham, NC: Duke University Press 1988)268
IN this morning’s Gospel lesson, the very famous story of the Prodigal Son, we read of the young man who asks from his father his inheritance…..and his Father obliges him. So what does the Son do with this blessing he has received? He uses it to rebel AGAINST his father, whom was the bestower of the blessing, and blessed him with FREEDOM to make his own choices in what to do with his inheritance. He journeyed to a far country and wasted it in prodigal living. The Church fathers say that the prodigal is an image of Adam who represents ALL of humanity…all of US. Adam was given many blessings….life, a soul, a body and like the prodigal, blessed with freedom to choose for himself how to use. And like our Prodigal, Adam chose to spend his inheritance in exile, in isolation from God. This is the meaning of our Prodigal’s journey to a FAR Country. Exile from God. And indeed, is not the story of humanity in general? And of our OWN lives in particular? We do not use God’s blessings to glorify Him or to serve our fellow man….we waste our inheritance in selfishly gratifying our sinful urges.
St. Paul makes this practical for us in today’s epistle reading as he talks about one such gift from God, that we exploit in our rebellion against Him. Paul stresses the freedom that we have in saying “All things are lawful for me.” Just like the father of the prodigal did not attempt to control how the son spent his inheritance, so too Our Lord has made all things lawful for us in the sense that he has given us freedom to Act. But St. Paul goes on to say, that while all things are lawful to him….he can choose to do A or B….not all things are helpful…..he can make choices that will lead to life in His Father’s House….or he can make choices that lead to his descent into a miserable life keeping company with pigs…
The specific gift that St. Paul is referring to, is our bodily existence. Unlike the stomach which is made for food, and food for the stomach, Paul insists that the body is not made for sexual immorality. There are many in our society who attempt to say that fulfilling bodily urges, specifically sexual urges is necessary for the body. IN fact our culture is built upon this premise. Whatever gratifies me I should pursue it. If it feels good, do it.
St. Paul says, that on the contrary the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. There is a use of our inheritance that leads to life in our Father’s kingdom, and a use that leads to isolation, meaninglessness and debauchery.
Brothers and sisters, is not this life apart from God that we have chosen as a culture? Just reading some statistics on pornography shows us how far that we have fallen. The number one term searched for on Google? Sex. The number one business on the internet? Porn. Pornography is a 13 Billion dollar a year business. If you add together the proceeds of the NBA, the NFL and MLB they don’t make enough money combined to outweigh the proceeds of the porn industry.
Our youth are affected by this …1 in the 3 13 year olds in this country have viewed pornography in the last year. Sociologists tell us that among our youth, Dating is out of fashion, going the way of “courtship.” Instead, young people look to “hook up,” that is pursue someone to have sexual intimacy with no “string attached,” no commitment. Along with that is the idea of “friends with benefits,” that is friends who will give you sexual favors, with again, no strings attached.
50% of Christian men are said to have a serious porn addiction.
St. Paul puts its bluntly: “Flee sexual immortality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know, that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have of God, and you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
When we do otherwise, we suffer for it. We waste the good gifts God has given too pursue things that give no meaning. Ultimately the fun wears off and leads to a joyless, sad isolated existence. We end up envying the food of pigs. This applies to all of us, for as St. Paul says elsewhere, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all guilty of wasting our inheritance to one degree or another, and we suffer for it.
But of course today’s parable does not end there, and it is a source of hope for all of us. For the Lord tells us that this prodigal “Came to his senses.” He realized that even his father’s servants have plenty of eat, while he was perishing with hunger. So he made a decision. “I will arise and go to my father’s house and will say to him: ‘father, I have sinned against heaven and before you and am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.” That’s great, but this conclusion wouldn’t have done him any good if he continued to lie there in the muck. How often do we make a decision like his but continue on in our condition….what was important is the Scriptures say He arose! Repentance is not just a cognitive decision….it takes action on our part. We can’t just regret what we’ve come to, we have to get up and return to where we know we belong.
So he arose and went home, and contrary to his expectations, His father saw him afar off and ran to him and fell on his neck and kissed him. He had his servants put his best robe on him, and a ring on his finger….restoring him to full sonship. They killed the fatted calf and celebrated the lost son who had returned.
Brothers and sisters: you may have made terrible decisions in your life. You may have wasted the good things that God has given to you. You may have used your body in ways that have brought you to ruin. You may have left your father’s house in pursuit of the good time and pleasing yourself. But you don’t have to stay there. You don’t have to eat the food of pigs. Your Father in heaven is waiting and watching for your return. BUT you have to decide to do so. YOU have to come to your senses and decide to reject the way that you have been living. You have to decide to return to you Fathers house…and you must arise and do so. For he is waiting for you to return with open arms, and to restore you to life that you were meant for as his son or daughter. Don’t lay in the pigsty any longer.
“If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?” — Ezekiel 33:10 … It might also be asked, how should we then “eat?” Eating is rarely seen as an ethical action. We eat, as our bodies need sustenance to survive. But this paper intends to show that eating is more than mere fuel for the human machine. Eating has implications that reach into the spheres of culture, ecology, public health, foreign policy and economics. Eating is of course a fundamental human activity; it may well be the fundamental activity. Thus it can be said with Wendell Berry, that there is a need to “eat responsibly.”
Author Michael Pollan and others have claimed that America is in the midst of a national “eating disorder.” This is perhaps the most pressing public health problem we face. Children’s life expectancy in the US may actually soon decrease for the first time in our nation’s history, due to diabetes and other issues related to obesity. According to the Surgeon General, Obesity is officially an epidemic. Add to that heart disease and countless other health issues, plaguing both adults and children, and we have to ask ourselves, “What is different now than 100 years ago?” There are a number of obvious contributing factors. Certainly we are more sedentary than our forefathers were. But one would have to be blind to not see that what we eat and how we eat, share a tremendous load of the blame.
Nevertheless, obesity in America is just one problem. While Americans become fatter, the majority of the world faces a food crisis in the opposite extreme. In 2008 the United Nations World Food Programme reported that more than seventy three million people in seventy-eight countries were facing the reality of reduced food rations. Along with that, one in six people in the world—1.02 billion of them— are victims of hunger and malnutrition.
Ironically, the world’s farms currently produce enough food to make every person on the globe fat. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, current food production could sustain world food needs, even for the 8 billion people projected to inhabit the planet. The world is starving, but we are growing more than enough food. Obviously, something in our food system is dysfunctional.
But human health and nutrition are not the only food issues. At a time when oil production is near its peak, Americans are consuming almost as much oil through the food they eat, as they do in driving their cars: almost 400 barrels a year per citizen. Most of it is used for transportation from the farm to our pantry and refrigerator— an average of 1,500 miles per item. The amount of food energy we consume is outweighed by the amount of energy used to produce, package and ship it to us.
Modern technology has aided us in our fights against weeds, pests, extreme weather and depleted soils. The products available to us on super market shelves, boast claims of being full of vitamins, minerals and whole grains. Ostensibly because of modern technology and science, the consumer, farmer and the world in general is better off; yet this assumption, is a false one that doesn’t square with the reality of the world dietary crisis. How we eat, and how we raise our food are crucial issues.
Writer and farmer Wendell Berry is famous for saying, “Eating is an agricultural act.” If we eat we should be interested in agriculture. But most Americans don’t concern themselves with where their food comes from. We trust industry and government to protect us and provide for our nutritional needs. It seems that trust is misplaced.
There’s a glut of problems in the way we produce food. We overuse water, energy and chemicals in industrial farming, polluting our entire biosphere in the process; the nutritional value of food is compromised through an over-dependence on antibiotics for livestock; factory farms are the scene of animal cruelty, with a focus on food that is more profitable yet less nutritious…ad nauseum. But in order to understand the problem and find our way to any solution, we need to examine ourselves and nature, particularly our relationship to created world.
Eating is the primary way we commune with nature. We take the matter we find around us, plants and animals (also fungi and salt, a mineral), and take it into ourselves. We use this matter for energy, and also to build and repair our body. Our body is essentially then, composed of the world around us. Unlike the angels, we are one with the material world. Humanity is unique in that although we are spiritual like the angels, we are yet physical; again, literally made of dirt. By straddling both the physical and spiritual realms, man is thus in a unique position as “priest of creation.” It is only man who can offer creation back to God (in this context, material creation),for he is of the same “stuff” of that creation; “Thine own of thine own,” In the words of the Liturgy. In the view of the Orthodox Church, Man is an animal; but he is a “Eucharistic animal.” Thus eating is more than just getting amino acids to build cells or calories to provide energy. It is a function of communion with the created world around us, and ultimately with the Creator Himself.
It is interesting that the Christian scriptures (and indeed the aeon, or the present age) both begin and end with the act of eating. In the opening of the book of Genesis, God created the world, set Man in it and planted him a garden. The Lord told Adam he could eat of the fruit of any of the trees, save one: The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But Adam and Eve disobeyed God. It was their act of eating the forbidden fruit, which is responsible for not only the fall of Mankind, but the brokenness of nature and our relationship to it. (Gen. chp. 2, 3) This fall also explains why we have the issues that we do with the created world. The root of the dysfunction in the world began with the simple act of eating. Or rather in failing to fast from eating!
Fr. John Meyendorff writes about the implications of the fall, in the context of the exorcisms at the blessing of water:
The “demonic” in nature comes from the fact that creation fell out of its original meaning and direction. God had entrusted control over the world to man—His own “image and likeness.” But man chose to be controlled by the world and, thereby, lost his freedom. He then became subject to cosmic determinism, to which his “passions” attach him and in which ultimate power belongs to death… Instead of using the potentialities of his nature to raise himself and the whole of creation to God, man submitted himself to the desires of his material senses. As a result, the world which was originally created by God as “very good” became for man a prison and a constant temptation, through which the “prince of this world” establishes his reign of death.
There are many lessons herein. First, the disorder of Man’s relation to nature is of demonic origin. Second, it came about by Man’s abuse over what God had given him to control and to offer back to God as a priestly function. Thirdly, creation, including man, is now ruled by death. Man is imprisoned by what he was intended to rule.
But the Scriptures, as well as the present age, also end with a meal: The marriage supper of the Lamb. (Rev. 19:7-10). This feast occurs at the culmination of time, when Christ, the Lamb of God is united to His bride, the Church. This eschatological celebration can be seen as the prototype for all human meals: the meal as a unifying “communion.”
Christians are graced to participate in this festal meal in the “here and now,” when we gather to celebrate yet another meal: The Christian Eucharist. This Eucharist is at the very heart of Christian worship. Again, this is seen as more than mere physical sustenance, although it is that, and significantly that. The eternal almighty God became matter in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, (thus becoming an “eater of food”). In doing so, He has undone the damage to the material world (suffering it Himself), brought about by Adam’s disordered eating in the Garden. Christ defeated death, and raising His material body to a place at the right hand of God the Father. We are called to participate in this reordering—once again through the act of eating. It is in this action, and what is implied by its name, that the damage done by Mankind’s selfish eating is undone. (Rather, it is undone by Christ’s saving works; we participate it in through our eating of His body and blood, which He gives to us in the bread and wine.) It is through this communion with Him, this reception of food as mysterion (or “sacrament”), that we begin to recognize the created world as sacrament. We are not “pantheists;” we know that creation is “other” than the creator. Yet in a “panentheistic” way, we see creation as a reflection of the creator. With thanksgiving we can partake of the fruits of the earth that He has created and undergirds. As Fr. Alexander Schmemann has said,
“All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, and to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything that He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation: “O taste and see that the Lord is good!”
If we take a Eucharistic approach to the created world, it will have a major impact on, not only how we live, but in the health of the world around us. If Man once more assumes the role of steward and priest in place of his accustomed role of consumer, we will begin to rectify the many food crises that we have created. We are connected to this world. A healthy earth, means that we are healthy. A healthy humanity implies a healthy world. Of course the inverse is true as well.
Industrial farming is an example of a fallen and unhealthy approach to nature. The earth and its plants and animals are looked upon as a commodity, with an eye towards how much “value” can be gained from it. Of course in this manner of thinking, value is gauged only in dollars and cents. Agribusiness disregards the reality that things have value, all things, because they are created and blessed by God. Cheap food has a cost. What is the cost to our health? The health of the planet? To future generations?
This attitude is evidenced in the various practices and methods used in “factory farming.” A particularly grievous example is “concentrated animal feeding operations,” commonly known as CAFOs. This industrial farming technique is exactly what the name implies; a bunch of animals confined to as small a space as possible for efficiency sake. These cows (CAFOs are also used for chicken, turkey and pigs) stand ankle deep in their own manure, and are fed a diet of grain, which is not natural to their diet. Because of the close quarters and filthy conditions, they are regularly dosed with antibiotics (along with the steroids and Bovine Growth Hormone for muscle growth.)
Laying aside the question of whether it is ethical to eat meat, is this really treating the animal, “according to its nature?” Chickens were not meant to be “egg-laying machine,” nor the cow a “milk machine”. Left to themselves, cows are grass eaters. As ruminants, their digestive system is set up for it, and farming should take into this into account, allowing them to take the bulk of their food from pasture. The same applies to chickens, who should be running in the grass snatching insects, not sitting in cages on top of each other, with their beaks clipped so they don’t peck each other to death. This principal also applies to crops. Nowhere in nature is there a monoculture, with the same crop stretching on all sides to the horizon. Yet this is how industrial agriculture attempts to grow their produce; acres and acres of the same species. Without symbiotic relationships with other species, the crop is susceptible to disease and pests. Also with year after year of the same crop being grown, and the fact that much of the year the ground sits bare, without the cycle of decaying plants to replenish it, the soil loses its fertility. Thus an industrial farm by necessity uses copious amounts of pesticides, herbicides (to keep out all but the singular species), and oil based fertilizers.
But fortunately there are methods of farming that take into account the nature of the animal (non-coincidently in line with traditional agriculture), as well as having a respect for nature in general; the world as God created it. Joel Salatin’s “Polyface Farm” in the Shenandoah Valley of Virgina is one very good example. Polyface is operated on several core principles:(http://www.polyfacefarms.com/principles.aspx)
TRANSPARENCY: Anyone is welcome to visit the farm anytime. No trade secrets, no locked doors, every corner is camera-accessible.
GRASS-BASED: Pastured livestock and poultry, moved frequently to new “salad bars,” offer landscape healing and nutritional superiority.
INDIVIDUALITY: Plants and animals should be provided a habitat that allows them to express their physiological distinctiveness. Respecting and honoring the pigness of the pig is a foundation for societal health.
COMMUNITY: We do not ship food. We should all seek food closer to home, in our foodshed, our own bioregion. This means enjoying seasonality and reacquainting ourselves with our home kitchens
NATURE’S TEMPLATE: Mimicking natural patterns on a commercial domestic scale insures moral and ethical boundaries to human cleverness. Cows are herbivores, not omnivores; that is why we’ve never fed them dead cows like the United States Department of Agriculture encouraged (the alleged cause of mad cows).
EARTHWORMS: We’re really in the earthworm enhancement business. Stimulating soil biota is our first priority. Soil health creates healthy food.
There is a lucrative bonus to Polyface’s natural approach: profit. People drive there from all over Virginia and Maryland to get their meat or eggs. It is not only responsible farming; by all accounts their meat tastes so much better. And that stands to reason; as we live according to nature things are better. Not only for the environment, and health, but also for our taste buds!
We can’t all be farmers. Farms like Polyface are not yet commonplace. So what can we do in the interim? Salatin challenges folks to “opt-out” of the destructive industrial food system. What are the hallmarks of industrial food? According to him we should avoid centralized production and processing, mono-speciation, genetic manipulation, CAFOs, things that end in “cide” (Latin for death), “ready to eat” processed food, long distance transportation, pharmaceuticals, high fructose corn syrup, etc.
Salatin suggests four essential ways that anyone can begin to “opt-out.” Contrary to Voltaire, the “good” is not “the enemy of the perfect.” None of us can attain perfection in how we live in this regard, yet every little bit that we do, can only benefit the health of the planet and our own families.
First, he says that we need to cook again. According to Michael Pollan, 19% of the food consumed in America, is consumed in our cars. We probably don’t need research to show us that majority of the food that is eaten at home, “ready made,” and popped into the microwave to warm up. We are on the verge of losing our whole heritage of eating. But its presently still there awaiting us to rediscover it, but it means we have to slow down and eat the majority of our meal at home. As it turns out, this too is good for our families.
Secondly, we need to buy local. An organic tomato isn’t good for the environment if its shipped all the way from California using fossil fuels, and putting carbon into the air. Buying local has many benefits: Less transportation, more money for the local economy, and farmers who are more accountable to the local community. Certainly there are some foods that we can argue need to be shipped. One cannot get pineapples here in New York State, so pineapples need come from Hawaii. But there isn’t any good reason why our tomatoes or apples need to come from somewhere other than locally.
Third, Salatin says we need to re-learn how to, “eat in season.” We’ve grown accustomed to walking into the produce department of the local grocery store, and buying what we want when we want it. However, this disconnects ourselves from the ebb and flow inherent in our natural world. If we want tomatoes in February, it is of great benefit if they came from our own shelves; canning and freezing the tomatos when they were in harvest. It means to eat like our great grandparents again, and again it is of great benefit.
Finally, Salatin suggests that we should all take some responsibility for growing at least some of our own food. Up until about 40 years ago, a good percentage of city dwellers had their own chickens, and thus their own eggs. Certainly this lifestyle can be recovered. How about a couple pots on the patio for tomatoes? Or a 5’x5’ part of the lawn dedicated to squash and pumpkins? The benefit is that at least that part of our food healthy, and obtained by non-destructive means. Additionally we will re-connect to the natural world, and get a healthier attitude towards food production.
We needn’t be victims or antagonists in the Global food crisis.. God has created us and given the world around us for food. Obesity and world hunger can be solved, but only by restoring a natural relationship with the created world. We must remember that by eating we commune with the natural world, and ultimately with God. Food is not just an incidental characteristic of our lives, but how we partake of life itself.
 Wendell Berry. “The Pleasures of Eating” in What are People For?, (New York: North Point Press, 1990) http://www.ecoliteracy.org/publications/rsl/wendell-berry.html
 C.-E. A. Winslow, “The Untilled Fields of Public Health,” Science, n.s. 51 (1920), p. 23
 Michael Pollan. Omnivore’s Delimma, (New York: Penquin Books, 2006), 2
 K.M. Venkat Naryan, et al. ,“Lifetime Risk for Diabetes Mellitus in the United States,“ Journal of the American Medical Association 290 (2003), 1884-90
 David Satcher. “The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity,” (Washington, DC: US Dept. of Heath and Human Service, 2001)
 Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, “http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/20568/icode/,” 19th June 2008
 One place all the food that is being produced is going, is into our nations cars. 10% of what goes into the tank is Corn ethanol.
 Richard Manning, “The Oil We Eat,” Harper’s Magazine, February 2004, www.harpers.org/theoilweeat.html
 Berry, “The Pleasures of Eating”
 The anaphora of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
 Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends & Doctrinal Themes, (New York: Fordham University Press, 1979), 135
 Panentheism (from Greek πᾶν (pân) “all”; ἐν (en) “in”; and θεός (theós) “God”; “all-in-God”) posits that God exists and interpenetrates every part of nature, and timelessly extends beyond as well. Orthodox Chrisitans follow St. Gregory Palamas in seeing that God’s energies (as apart from His essence) undergird the whole creation. Panentheism is distinguished from pantheism, which holds that God is synonymous with the material universe, but it is also a term insufficient in encapsuling Orthodox thought on God in creation.
 For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002), 14
 “Physiologically, a ruminant is a mammal of the order Artiodactyla that digests plant-based food by initially softening it within the animal’s first stomach, known as the rumen, then regurgitating the semi-digested mass, now known as cud, and chewing it again. The process of rechewing the cud to further break down plant matter and stimulate digestion is called “ruminating”. Ruminating mammals include cattle, goats, sheep, giraffes, bison, yaks, water buffalo, deer, camels, alpacas, llamas, wildebeest, antelope, pronghorn, and nilgai” (Wikipedia)
 “Declare Your Independence” Food Inc.: How Industrial Food is Making us Sicker, Fatter and Poorer—And What We Can Do About It, (New York: Public Affairs, 2009), 191-196
 Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, (New York: Penquin Books, 2006), 110
 “The frequency with which a teen eats family meals appears to be associated with a variety of psychosocial and behavioral variables, including cigarette smoking, alcohol and marijuana use, grades in school, depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. We found family mealtime to be a protective factor in the lives of adolescents for nearly all of these variables, particularly among girls. Specifically, kids who reported eating more family meals per week reported significantly less substance use and significantly better academic and mental health than those eating fewer meals with family. These associations were apparent across the spectrum of meal frequency each additional meal per week conferred some additional benefit.” Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M, Ackard D, Moe J, Perry C. The “family meal”: Views of adolescents. Journal of Nutrition Education. 2000;32:329-334.