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The True Meaning of Christmas, New Year’s Resolutions and a Milwaukee Airport Sign…


On my last fundraising trip to St. Louis, a good friend and generous donor showed me a picture he took with his iphone of a remarkable sign just on the other side of the security checkpoint in the Milwaukee airport. I had the pleasure seeing it for myself on a recent layover in Milwaukee while heading to Pittsburgh. Indeed it was true and very funny. This is the point just after the security check where everyone is putting their laptops and other items back in their carryon’s, putting their shoes, belts and coats back on, and in general reassembling themselves before moving on to their gate and flight.

blog-photoThe sign which hung above this area read “RECOMBOBULATION AREA.” As I just now typed the word, it didn’t make it through my computer’s spell check. When I right clicked on it, it had no suggestions. I had heard of the word “discombobulated” before which I looked up in the dictionary. The meaning was “upset, confused, or frustrated.” Then I looked up “recombobulation” there was no such word. You have to hand it to the Cheeseheads in Milwaukee for coming up with this very creative and amazingly accurate word to describe what happens after an airport security checkpoint. In short, we are putting ourselves back together.

Isn’t this what the great feast of Christmas and our New Year’s resolutions are all about? Of course the word we use in our Orthodox Church is “repentance.” I am not suggesting a new ecclesiastical word to replace “repentance,” but it seems in this fast paced world where we do feel so hurried, confused, upset and frustrated – “recombobulation” does create a great image of what we must often do to return to God. In an article about the sign in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel it was reported that,

Max Wescoe of San Diego laughed when he saw the sign. It was a moment worthy of snapping a picture on his cell phone. ‘I've seen plenty of discombobulation areas,’ he said, talking both about airport travel and life. He now knows the one place he can come to do something about it. ‘I thought they put that up just for me,’ he said.”

I pray that as we celebrate the great Feast of Christmas and create New Year resolutions that the words of Max Wescoe become our words! May our Churches become the real area of “recombobulation” in our lives.

Please remember FOCUS North America during this festal season and help us serve those less fortunate than us.


Fr. Nick Kasemeotes


December e-Newsletter in the inbox and YES Phoenix Photos Posted


The Decemeber 09 e-newsletter has hit the email check your inbox!

Make sure you keep up to date with what is going on with FOCUS North America by signing up here. We have lots of exciting news coming in the next two months!

We have Posted Photos from the YES trip on the YES website Click Here to see the students in action!

For those we serve,

Jacob Lee

FOCUS North America
Communications / Web C


New Article about FOCUS North America - By Charles Ajalat


wordThe Word Magazine has just published their latest issue and the leading article is on FOCUS North America by one of our Founders and Chairman of the Board Charles Ajalat. Look for it in the mail or you can download it in PDF format by clicking here.

We have also published the text of the article on our home page which it can be found by clicking here.

For those we serve,

Jacob Lee
Communications / Web Coordinator
FOCUS North America


Say YES to... putting first things first.


Say YES to... putting first things first.

Reflecting on our priorties and how we spend our time can become very overwhelming.  Before taking on the task of restructuring your entire life, think about just one day.  Decide that from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, that you will be present and mindful of the needs of others in every situation that God presents to you.  Keep your eyes open and stay on your toes.  Someone might have a task to accomplish and may just need one more set of hands to get it done.  As long as you are not neglecting something that is necessary for you to do, be the first to help them!

Whether it be your mother, sister, friend, or someone at school or work that you don't know at all... if you can help with what they need, step up! So often we wait for others to do what we can easily do ourselves because we don't want to exert the extra energy or take a break from something that can probably be put off for a few minutes. If you make the choice to be the first to help, you are choosing to set aside yourself and your comforts and let Christ work through you for someone else's sake.  This is being truly human.  The simple decision to put the other person first is not always easy, but it is simply being true to who God created you to be.  You will then soon discover the difference between comfort and joy.

Have goals and plan ahead, but don't forget to be present in the moment with the people you are surrounded by.  Bloom where God plants you!  The people around you RIGHT NOW are the ones to put first.

With love in Christ,


Katrina Bitar
YES Program Director
FOCUS North America



Philanthropy Part 4: Are our resources really limited?


Nick_Blog_Pic Since FOCUS North America has come on the scene with the hope of furthering the efforts of Orthodox Christians to help those in need in America, one might ask are we just one more Orthodox agency competing for the very "limited" resources available to the Church. To state it simply, is FOCUS North America in some sort of competition with local churches, the archdioceses and other Orthodox social agencies to raise money to continue their ministries. The assumption here is that there is a limited “pie”, and with the entry of FOCUS North America on the scene, this means that the more of this pie we take, the less others will have. Let’s take a closer look at this concern.

 The last time (correct me if I am wrong) an accurate study of giving in Orthodox Church was done was about 25 years ago. That study, looking only at the Greek Archdiocese, revealed that the average family giving to the Church was around .5%. That is, on a national level our faithful were giving only one half of one percent to their Church. I believe the national average for all Churches (non-orthodox as well) was about 2.5%. To offer an example, an Orthodox family with an income of $40,000 per year was only giving $200 to their Church every year.  Our hope was that if we only could get our faithful to give the national average of 2.5%, we would increase our income 5 times from what it was. Another example, the income of a Church bringing in $50,000 a year in stewardship would increase to $250,000 if we simply gave in the same way as our next door neighbors gave to their Church. The ripple effect of this small change would have tremendous impact throughout our Church.


What ever happened to the "Tithe and Offerings"

For a long time, I have felt that the Old Testament, New Testatment and Patristic tradition of tithing should get more attention in our Churches...not just for sake of financial gain, but also for us to experience a deeper sense of worship and commitment. When we look around and see the tremendous programs of non-orthodox churches that practice tithing, we become envious. In the Old Testament, we see the people of Israel offered their tithe (10% of their yearly fruits) for the safekeeping of the tabernacle and care of the priests who served there. It was also an act of worship, another important subject. I have asked many Orthodox for many years, what has changed? Are we not the New Israel? Do we not still have houses of worship to care for and priests who serve them? Why are we not tithing, or better put, surpassing the tithe in our new freedom in Christ? Freedom means doing more than what we once did out of obligation. And we shouldn’t forget about the “offerings”. This was “above and beyond” the tithe. These were special offerings given for special seasons and occasions. To apply it to today and try to keep it simple: our tithe should go towards our local church, our offerings should be given on special occasions and for special purposes.

Dispelling the Myth…

Having said all of this, the problem we face in the Church is not “limited resources,” it is “unchallenged resources.” I hope the following numbers would sway us. The medium income for a family in the U.S. is around $50,000 per year (half make more, half make less). Based on this, if each Orthodox family began tithing, it would result in an average giving of $5,000 a year to their Church. The average income of a parish of 100 families would be $500,000! I’m sure this would please our church treasurers as well as our national financial officers. There would be an abundance not only to run our local Churches, but to support the administration, seminaries and social ministries that are so underfunded today. Moses once told the people of Israel to stop giving when they brought too many gifts for the building of the tabernacle. They did this in the desert, why can’t we do it in the richest country in the world? Could you imagine your priest announcing to the congregation, please stop giving, we have too much!

 One of the reasons I took the job of Philanthropy Coordinator for FOCUS North America, is not only do I believe with all my heart in the mission of FOCUS North America, but I also believe we have not really challenged each other as Orthodox Christians to give as we should. My apologies again to the non-Greeks, but a national survey came out several months ago and revealed that Greek Americans were now the second most successful ethnic group in America. We have a very healthy number of names listed in Forbes “400 Richest Americans.” Many of us who have been blessed with much (by world standards, an over abundance) worked hard for it, but we also know that much will be expected of us. The Lord was not afraid to challenge the rich young ruler who came to him. He asked him to sell everything and give it to the poor and come follow him.

On a related subject, there are estimates that in the next 20 years or so about 40 trillion dollars will be handed from one generation to the next. Certainly our Orthodox faithful hold a portion of this. Have we been challenged to leave some of this for charitable works? Do we have Orthodox “Warren Buffets” who will rise up and care about the world around them (and love their children enough not to give them everything)?

Another myth… If someone gives to “X”, he will reduce his giving to “Y”.

For years, we had the blessing of having a very successful businessman in our parish. He was also very faithful in his Church attendance and cared about the Church. He also represented a disproportionately large percentage of our annual stewardship income. When he told me that he was considering joining the Leadership 100 program of our Archdiocese (a $10,000 gift per year for 10 years), I was afraid that he would reduce his giving to our Church. Boy was I wrong! His involvements with Leadership 100 among other things only led to his increased giving to our local Church and eventually a million dollar gift for our Church building project. There are studies in philanthropic giving which indicate as one becomes more and more charitable; one will expand their charitable giving to many charities.

Instead of furthering the myth that we are all in some sort of competition for “limited resources”, we should be encouraging all our faithful to be more charitable - period, to any worthy cause. It will eventually help us all!


Philanthropy Part 3: Giving to Receive?


  I am overjoyed when I hear someone say, “The more I give, the more I seem to receive.”  Does this always happen? Is there a direct correlation between giving and receiving? Can this become a motivation for giving? This is what we will discuss in this blog… How does giving affect us?

  In the Old Testament Book of Malachi, God through the prophet Malachi admonishes the people of Israel for “robbing” Him that is, not giving their tithe (giving 10%) and offerings.  If they return to this practice His promise is to open for them “the windows of heaven and pour out such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.” Certainly even God implies that the very act of giving back to Him will result in His blessings.

  It seems that giving for many people (if they give at all) is the predicated on the reverse principle. That is, the more I receive, the more I will give.” Arthur Brooks, the author of the book Gross National Happiness, took the challenge to investigate the dynamics of giving.  He, like most of us, started with the assumption that people who make more money tend to give more money away.  What surprised him in his studies is that he found the reverse to be true. That is, the more we give away, the more we seem to make. Sounds a bit like Malachi!

  How does this work?  Briefly, something like this… The more we give or volunteer, the happier we are. The happier we are, the harder and better we work. The harder and better we work, the more money we tend to make. To quote Brooks,

“Charitable giving and volunteering are tremendously pleasurable. They also empower givers, making them feel less like victims, and give people a lot of meaning in their lives. I have talked to clinical psychologists who actually prescribe volunteer work to their patients, with amazing results. Studies also show that givers are admired and elevated to positions of influence and authority. It is hardly surprising, given all the evidence, that givers enjoy (on average) higher happiness and prosperity than non-givers do. In fact, my research leads me to the belief that the single best self-help strategy is to serve others.”

    It seems that not only the Bible, but even modern scientific research leads us to this conclusion; God has wired us to give! Being created in His image and likeness among other things means that when we give we are and become more like Him! The act of giving and doing for others actually change our brain chemistry and give us joy.  Then why do more people not give?  Why do some people remain stingy, not giving anything away to help others?  I have no answer. Everything I read would point to the opposite.

    In the field of charitable fundraising, we often hear that for someone to offer a large gift it takes great time, cultivation, spiritual maturity, etc. At a recent Mayo seminar on charitable giving, the speaker (a major gift development officer, who has asked people literally for millions of dollars) said something very shocking yet consistent with what we are discussing. He found that the very act of giving is THE life changing event for most donors. The people who have offered major gifts to Mayo have started to live a life with more meaning and depth than before.

    There are so many wonderful causes that we can choose to give to in this world, I hope that FOCUS North America is one that you choose.  However, sometimes I think we should address the more basic issue - giving!  Why do it and what are the results of it for me?  How will giving change me…


Reclaiming the Meaning of Love



 We live in a world when words are ambigious and don't have the same meanings that they used to have.

So many words have become a empty shell of the multifaceted layers of deep meaning that they used to convey.

One of these words is “love.” We hear this word tossed around carelessly every day. How can we get a true meaning of this word when phrases like “ I really love that show” are the norm or when words like “ I love ya man!” are followed with little or no action demonstrating this?

This summer, I am trying to look deeper inside myself and grow spiritually. I want God to increase and for my will to decrease. For a few weeks now, one question has been constantly on my mind. What does it mean to love my neighbor?

God commands me to love my neighbor. But what does this look like? What does this require?

To examine this further, I turn to the famous “love passage” ( I Cor 13). To be honest, this is one of the most daunting passages in the Bible for me.

Love is patient.” However, I am not patient. I get irritated with people too easily.

Love is not rude. It does not seek its own.” Have I ever loved someone without conditions and without wanting something in return? I really don't know.

Love... hopes all things.” But don't I often give up hope on people? Don't I so easily give into despair?

All of these things are hard enough to do for people I care about, but what about strangers? How can I behave like this towards people that I have no connection with whatsoever, or better yet, how can I behave like this towards people I geniunely dislike?

The one thing that gives me comfort is the truth that “God is love.” For the most part, God is undefinable and we can only truly “define” God by saying what God isn't instead of saying what He is. However, this statement is one of the few exceptions. God will show me how to love because He is love.

As true as this statement is, one must be careful because there is godly love and there is worldly love. God may be love, but He is godly love, not wordly love. A clear distinction must be made between the two.

St. Nikolai Velimirovich wrote about this in his famous book “Prayers by the Lake.” In prayer XXXIV,

St. Nikolai writes the following:

Love has three hypostases: chasity, knowledge, and light. Without chastity love is not affection

but selfishness and passion. Without knowledge love is not affection but selfishness and

passion. Without knowledge love is not wisdom but foolishness. Without light love is not

power but weakness. When passion, foolishness, and weakness combine, they become

hell, which is what Satan likes to call 'love.'"


He further writes the following:


"Worldy love, like everything worldy, is only a dream and semblance of Love. Your

love resembles divine love the way smoke resembles flames. When you exchange a

gold coin for copper pennies, you do not call the pennies a gold coin but copper. Why

then do you call divine love that has been broken and ground into ashes by time and

space 'love' and not 'ashes'?"


I am learning what love really is, but it is not something that comes quickly. It is something that will have to seep in my heart over time with the grace of God. But I do know one thing, love is living and breathing. It is not stale and stagnant. Love is action and not only words. To love is to sacrifice. True love will never be easy.


Lord, teach us to love our neighbors (the likeable and the unlikeable) with Your love, not worldy love. Let us not accept the immitation for the real thing no matter how tempting and inviting it seems. Also, teach us to love ourselves in a godly manner, not a prideful love for ourselves but a love that exudes humility. For how can we learn to love others if we can't even love ourselves?


Philanthropy Part 2: It's all about friendship


 Many of us have seen the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. Throughout the movie the father contends that all English words really come from Greek words. This does happen to be the case with the word “philanthropy”. It comes from two Greek words; philo - meaning friendship and anthropos –meaning man or humanity. As a parish priest for 28 years, I confess that at times it was easier to guilt people into giving than to establish a real friendship with them. Sorrowfully, fundraising often takes this approach.

If in fact, philanthropy is a friendship, then it implies that it is a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties. Each person involved enjoys the relationship and is nurtured by it. When we look at the ministry of Christ, we see that in the Gospel of John, He calls His disciples “friends”. We call God in our worship the only Philanthropos, which is the “friend of man”. When He asked the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give it to the poor and come follow Him, he was not just asking him to part with his possessions; he was inviting Him to become his friend. What is so remarkable about this is that God actually would want and seek our friendship. FOCUS North America is seeking true philanthropists, not in terms of giving great or small amounts, but those who wish to enter into a relationship that will be a blessing to them and the ones who benefit from their giving.

 One last thought…I was honored to be at the Gabby Awards last week in Chicago. It was the first ever award ceremony to honor Greek Americans who excelled in so many different fields. One such field was for philanthropy. I thought to myself… all of us will eventually be separated from our wealth...when we are lying out horizontally in our coffins. But no one was handing out awards for that, they were handing out the award to those who had the courage to do it willingly and with joy… they were still vertical, that is still alive and in this world!  Next week I want to talk about the effects of giving. Please consider establishing a friendship with FOCUS North America in the true sense of what philanthropy means!


FOCUS on Your Site!


website_designPut FOCUS North America on your website! We have just released a whole lot of options to allow you to support FOCUS North America by posting a badge, banner or video on your website, blog, personal page or Parish website.


Please enjoy these resources if you have any suggestions about these badges, banners or our website please email me at jacoblee(at)focusna.org.

Jacob Lee

Website Admin / Social Media Cordinator


Philanthropy Part 1: What does the word mean?


The word "charitable giving" is often brought up in the context of "tax deductions", that is, trying to avoid paying more taxes by giving to charity.  While this may be one of many reasons we give to charities, it is not the only reason and by no means the most complete. In this blog I hope to explore the true meaning of charity.  What are its roots, where did it come from? In the next few weeks, I will look back into the ancient Greek philosophers, the Scriptures, and Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church and even modern studies to show that the act of giving actually makes us fuller, joyous and God-like human beings.  Let's start by defining some terms.

Most Orthodox are familiar with the word "philanthropy".  It comes from two Greek words, "philo" meaning "friend" and "anthropos" meaning "man".  In the course of the liturgical services of our Church, we often refer to God as "Philanthropos", that is the "friend of Man".  The earliest known use of this word occurs in the ancient Greek mythology.

In Prometheus Bound (circa 5th cent B.C.), we find the word "philanthropic" as a description of Prometheus, who "looks kindly" towards humans as opposed to Zeus, who wishes to exterminate them. Next we find mentioned in the 4th century play Peace, the word "philanthropic" is used by humans as flattery to gain the god's favor.

Plato's Symposium (4th century B.C.) uses the word three times, again in reference to the god Eros, who is most "philanthropic" of the gods. In his work Euthyphro, Plato calls to use the word "philanthropic" not as an attribute for a god, but now one for his friend, Socrates.

As the 4th century B.C. continues, we find the word used more and more associated with a number of other civic virtues and leadership qualities such as justice. One should not "appear" as philanthropic just to gain public approval. Soon, philanthropy becomes an innate emotional attachment that people possess towards others.

By the 2nd century B.C. the word "philanthropy" begins to take on a financial aspect. Financial generosity and even "salary" come to be used in the context of the word.

In his paper, On the Meaning of Philanthropy, Classical and Modern, by Marty Sulek (which I reference in this blog) the word "philanthropy" evolves in he following way in ancient Greek writings:

A. Theological - in reference to divine beings;

B. Philosophical - in reference to the status of the knower, knowledge, learning and other associated concepts;

C. Political - in reference to rulers, magistrates and other civic leaders;

D. Scientific - reference to an innate love of, or attraction to, human beings;

E. Fiduciary - in reference to financial generosity.

Question to our bloggers...

Which one best describes your definition the word "philanthropy"?









Serving Doesn't Have to be Exotic


SoupAs I sit in my humble office at the headquarters at FOCUS North America, I reflect on what it means to serve.

When I was young, it was always my dream to go overseas and serve the poor and needy. It seems that we are always inundated with images of the need overseas and a call of action to remedy it. It is great to be informed of the need overseas and have a desire to help. However, it is easy to get the idea that serving has to be an exotic adventure to a foreign land.

I was blessed to have been able to spend a total of 12 months in Ukraine and a couple of weeks in Romania. A few months ago, I felt like I wanted to do even more overseas traveling. However, certain circumstances prevented me from going overseas again.

Through my disappointment, God introduced me to FOCUS North America and the need in America. It was almost like a veil had been lifted from my eyes. I had always been vaguely aware of the need around me but never really took any initiative to participate in alleviating it. Now, I know that by volunteering with FOCUS North America and Reconciliation Services,one of its partner ministries, I can make a difference in some way in the lives of people in America.

I have also become more aware of the different levels of serving. Right now, my main work is office work like entering donors in the data base, research, and the average office tasks. However, this is still a form of serving. By helping Fr. Justin with the basic office tasks, I am freeing his time up to do the more important tasks of getting this ministry off the ground. When I can, I am also helping out with Reconciliation Services and their work of actively helping the poor and the needy. My volunteer office work is also helping the poor and needy because FOCUS North America can put the money that may have paid someone to do office work directly towards helping people.

In service work, all work is important. We must never get discouraged because we can't do “great things”. Any work, whether it is volunteering to sweep floors or taking out the trash, is a vital service. God looks at the heart and anything and everything that is done through love as unto Him is real service.

However, “love” is the key word when it comes to service. Service without love is nothing. The old adage, “Charity begins at home” is most definitely true. People need to learn how to first serve their family and the people with whom they interact on a daily basis first. If we can't show love and humility towards these people, how are we going to show love and humility to the “least of these”?

I encourage you to look around you and find a way to serve someone today even if that someone is a co-worker who gets on your nerves. After that, go deeper and find out whom you can serve in your community. And, yes, one person doing one small thing does makes a difference in this world and in the spiritual realm as well.


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