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Dr. Michael Sider-Rose and Kyra Limberakis share their hopes for the new Orthodox Volunteer Corps, modeled by Jesus's interaction with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well where Jesus offers water welling up to eternal life.

Show Notes

Dr. Michael Sider-Rose and Kyra Limberakis share their hopes for the new Orthodox Volunteer Corps, modeled by Jesus's interaction with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well where Jesus offers water welling up to eternal life. Inspired by Jesus who challenged divisions between the Jews and Samaritans and their toil for what they might build or earn by the work of their own hands, the Orthodox Volunteer Corps invites communal living across jurisdictional divisions, seeking to be sustained by the food which Jesus describes as doing the will of His Father.

What is Doulos?

The Doulos podcast explores servant leadership in an Orthodox Christian context.

Hollie Benton 0:04
You are listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. I'm delighted to be speaking today with Kyra Limberakis and Dr. Michael Sider-Rose, co-directors of the Orthodox Volunteer Corps, which is a new agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States. They are hosting a virtual kickoff event on November 9, 2021. And you can learn more about this new initiative at Michael Sider-Rose has a PhD in history and has worked with the Coro Center for Civic Leadership in Pittsburgh for the past 13 years. And he's also volunteered extensively with the neighborhood Resilience Project where he also serves on the board. Kyra Limberakis has been working with the Crossroads Summer Institute in a leadership capacity for the past seven years. She has focused her studies on youth and young adult ministry and the ministry of women in the church. Her experience in youth work spans more than 10 years. She spoke at the recent National Leadership Conference last month with a focus on investing in emerging leaders, where she was a panelist discussing transitions from high school to college, and another which explored transitions into early adulthood, and how the church can engage young people in its ministries. So welcome, Kyra and Michael, it sounds like you're going to be a great combination as you direct this new Orthodox Volunteer Corps.

Dr. Michael Sider-Rose 1:40
Thank you. Great to be here.

Kyra Limberakis 1:41
Thank you so much, Hollie.

Hollie Benton 1:43
So the name Orthodox Volunteer Corps rings with a hint of Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. Are there any similarities in how you're structuring this new program?

Dr. Michael Sider-Rose 1:53
So they absolutely have similarities. The Orthodox Volunteer Corps is rooted in a model that has been used in the context that you mentioned there, Peace Corps and Americorps, but also by a number of different denominations. The similarities with, you know Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, is that the program is an intensive, year long endeavor and it involves about four days a week working at placements and then one day a week in seminar. And that model of intense work in placements combined with some seminar, some training, leadership development, that's very common in both, you know, the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. What's distinctive, about OVC, Orthodox Volunteer Corps, from those programs, is that Orthodox Volunteer Corps is rooted in Orthodoxy, right. And so there are two other pillars, in addition to those placements in nonprofits and in addition to the seminar, right. There is communal living, and then also, all of it is rooted in the church. And then another distinctive feature is that in the seminar itself, whereas in you know, Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, there may be leadership development. In the case of Orthodox Volunteer Corps, there is a deep effort to root participants in faith formation, in the formation of their faith. And so it will combine leadership development, as well as faith formation in that seminar. So those are some of the similarities and differences.

Kyra Limberakis 3:24
As Michael said, this is also a program that's modeled after not just secular organizations like the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, but the other denominations. So what I find most interesting is that most Christian denominations have a year long service program like this. So several Catholic volunteer programs, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Augustinian Volunteer Corps, Franciscan, Dominican, but then you have Lutheran, you have Quaker, you have Mennonite. And so this is a model that has existed for many years. And this is actually the first time the Orthodox Church is bringing it to fruition with our own ethos, if you will. So we're really excited to be part of a long history within our Christian tradition of bringing young adults into formational service opportunities.

Hollie Benton 4:09
What are some of the outcomes that you seek?

Dr. Michael Sider-Rose 4:11
Sure, so we have two key goals for the program. One is to engage young adults in the Orthodox Church, and to do that through service, right. And the second goal is that through young adults, and their activity and engagement with the church, right, with their engagement and activity in creating innovative service, to then strengthen the church as a whole. And so that connection between those two is just really, really important to us.

Hollie Benton 4:39
A real reciprocal type of ministry, beautiful, anything that you'd like to add to that Kara?

Kyra Limberakis 4:44
We want to see the church overflowing with young adults who are committed to Christ and to service to the community, first and foremost to Christ and then through that service to the community. And so, we pray and we hope that we will achieve those goals, and see that church overflowing. That's our mission.

Hollie Benton 5:03
Wonderful. So you suggested that we turn to the Gospel of John 4, and read the story of Jesus's encounter with the Samaritan woman as our daily bread for servant leaders on this podcast. I'll read that now with a focus on the first part of the story and John 4:3-15. So "Jesus left Judea and departed again to Galilee. He had to pass through Samaria so he came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son, Joseph. Joseph's well was there and so Jesus wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, give me a drink, where his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, how is it that you a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you give me a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. The woman said to him, Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself and his sons and his cattle? Jesus said to her, Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst, the water that I shall give him will become in him, a spring of water welling up to eternal life. The woman said to him, Sir, give me this water that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw." So if I may, just to contextualize this passage at this time, the animosity between the Jews and Samaritans had been building for more than 400 years, even though both groups had come from the original 12 tribes of Israel. Samaria was a northern kingdom and during its captivity by Assyria, they intermarried with non-Jews. And later Judah, the southern kingdom, was taken captive by Babylon. During the end of this captivity, when Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple, they didn't want Samaritans participating in this rebuilding project because they viewed those Samaritans as half-breeds, or not fully Jewish. So while the Samaritans adhere to the Pentateuch, or the Torah, the first five books of the law, they didn't adhere to the books of the prophets, as did the Jews. Furthermore, we find in the historical writings of Josephus, that the Samaritans sought the favor of the Roman Empire by disassociating themselves from the Jews, who were often charged with disturbances and the Samaritans finally sold out by naming their temple after the Roman god Jupiter Hellenius. So this is why we read that the Samaritan wonders at Jesus because the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. Now the story in John's Gospel takes place at Jacob's well, which is significant for both Jews and Samaritans since both should know the story of Jacob written in the Pentateuch. The difference between Jacob and Jesus is that Jacob toils and works to buy the land, while Jesus toils to preach and teach the gospel. Jacob and his descendants sought to tie themselves to a place, to a land with a well that would provide for them. But Jesus does not need neither the water nor the food of the land as he is the one who is providing the water of life everlasting and the bread of heaven through the word that he preaches. So Jesus does ask the Samaritan woman for a drink. And then he reveals that she should be asking him for a drink of living water unto eternal life. Jesus is breaking down barriers in a way that challenges both Samaritans and the Jewish people and their fights over identity rooted in the things that they build or earned by the works of their own hand. And Jesus offers them a new way of life. He states later in this passage of the Gospel of John "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish his work." So Kyra and Michael, in what way do you hope to sustain the Orthodox Volunteer Corps through the teaching of Jesus Christ, doing the will of the Father and accomplishing his work?

Kyra Limberakis 9:30
So there's so much to unpack in this passage that, to me undergirds a lot of what we're trying to do with orthodox Volunteer Corps and it's all modeled through Christ's encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. So, you know, there are few things I'm going to share that I think are important to pull out and most of this I've gotten from actually St. John Chrysostom. So I certainly cannot take credit for it. But there's one thing in the beginning that's so critical to the passage, and that is that Christ first says, give me a drink, yet Christ knows that he has the living water, the water that will make it so that she will never thirst again. And before he gets to that he shows her that he knows her. He says, I know that you've had five husbands. And in this interaction, there's a way in which she is seen fully, who she is her story. And I think that that's critical to our ministry with young people is to see them fully for who they are. As best as we're able to as human beings. Obviously, we're not God, and so we can't truly, truly know. So there's this acknowledgement of who she is. And then there is this powerful moment where he offers her the living water, but then also in their exchange, ends up revealing himself as the Messiah to her. It's one of the first people to whom Christ reveals himself as the Messiah. He gives her the truth and she's been empowered in many ways to go out to her own community, and really spread the word of that good news of who Christ is. Amidst all of that you'd mentioned, Hollie, you know the context of it, right? It was a very unusual circumstance for a man and a woman to be speaking in public, a Jew and a Samaritan. And so in crossing these boundaries, if you will, or really looking past them, they're able to truly encounter one another and have this meaningful dialogue, which St. John Chrysostom says, it's actually quite a theological dialogue when you think about it, that's how he describes it. And so it's really taking her seriously and I think that's really important to our ministry with young adults is that we take them seriously, we engage them in the really important work of Christ and of service. And then the last thing that I just think is so helpful in this particular passage, and what our Orthodox tradition brings to light here is something that we can learn from Christ, and we can learn from how our tradition illumines scripture, and that is that we actually go on to give the Samaritan woman a name, which in Scripture, she's just known as the Samaritan woman. But in our Orthodox tradition, we give her the name St. Photini, and how critical that is in our relationship, not just young people to say their name and acknowledge them. Christ says later in the Gospel of John, My disciples will know me when I call them by their name, but that in their service to the community, when they're doing this work at their nonprofits, at their placements at the parishes, that they truly see people for who they are, that they see Christ in them, and that they call them by their name. I often pray on this passage and pray that the ways in which Christ models truly servant leadership here, by engaging with a Samaritan woman is something that we can really live out in our ministry to young adults through the Orthodox Volunteer Corps.

Dr. Michael Sider-Rose 12:42
You know, just one thought to add to what Kyra said, and that was really beautiful Kyra, is this, this passage also suggests to me the challenge that we as humans have to serve, and the context that you've provided, Hollie, I think demonstrates the challenge there, right, like the depth of the enmity over time. I was reading recently that one of the things that some Samaritans did was to, you know, around this time, I think was a little bit later was sneak into the temple in Jerusalem, and desecrate it by putting corpses in there, right. Like, this is the depth of the enmity. And so when Christ calls us to serve in this way, when Christ calls us to love our enemies, that can be really, really difficult work, right? Like, if Christ is calling folks across boundaries like this for Jews to love Samaritans and Samaritans to love Jews, it is, in some ways, a much smaller task to think of, what does it mean for me to serve someone who is homeless, who may smell bad, right? Who might yell out at me, who may even sometimes be violent, right? That to serve another is not always pretty, it is not always pleasant, right? And that is part of our challenge. And yet there is beauty in that. And yet, that is our calling to follow the instruction of Christ.

Hollie Benton 14:03
Right. And I'm excited to hear about the opportunity for young people to be living in community together. So often, I mean, we see it here with the Jews and the Samaritans, where they come from the same beginnings from the same family, the same tribe, and yet, they're not able to get along. And we too, as Orthodox Christians, we do it this way, and other jurisdictions might do it that way, and little petty arguments, losing sight of who it is that provides us with the living water and the bread of life. And the ministry, the instruction that we're all called to do. Talk a little bit more about that communal living.

Kyra Limberakis 14:43
Sure. So part of the model of Orthodox Volunteer Corps is that the young adults will be living in community together. So Orthodox Volunteer Corps headquarters, we'll find the house for them so they don't have to figure out where they're going to live. And we'll be very intentional about where the houses are. We will have 6 to 8 volunteers and each house, and in their efforts to live in community, they're really going to have to figure out how to cook together, how to clean together, how to grocery shop together, you know, they'll be living off a very modest stipend, which is actually part of the model. We want to encourage them to live simply. And so they're going to have to be very intentional with how they use their money, and how do they create a community? How will they pray together? Will they have a communal prayer ritual in their house? And so it's the good hard but enriching work of learning to live selflessly and learning to live, always keeping the other in mind. And so we're really excited to have that specific part of the program as one of our foundational principles, is living in community together.

Dr. Michael Sider-Rose 15:48
Part of what we want to do on our end, is to help create the conditions for a thriving Christian community. And so what we're going to do then is have some really intentional conversations at the beginning about establishing norms for that communal setting, we're going to have very intentional conversations about establishing those kinds of rituals that Kyra was talking about in terms of prayer and, and connecting together as Orthodox Christians. The other thing I'll say about this, and this was one of the just really beautiful things that has happened in the development of this program, and it speaks to, Hollie, your point about not getting caught up in jurisdictional differences that it should divide us from our larger communion together, right, our larger shared goal and ministry and vision. And so we had all of the bishops from the Pittsburgh area gather together, as many as we could get together, we still need to get some more, we had a bunch gather together. And one of the things that they said was, we want to come together as bishops from different jurisdictions, and give a house blessing at the beginning. And it would be a beautiful witness, right, to the pan orthodox nature of this program,

Hollie Benton 16:57
How hopeful and inspiring and exciting to have that model and to have it set with that kind of aspiration. So one of the questions that I like to ask those I interview, whatever it is that we are promoting, or the ministries that we serve, considering standing before the dread and terrible judgment seat of Christ, on that day when the Son of man shall separate them one from another as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats, like we hear in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25. So what does this Orthodox Volunteer Corps have to do with feeding the hungry, serving the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and imprisoned, by which we will be judged on the last day?

Dr. Michael Sider-Rose 17:37
I'll take a stab at this first and then Kyra go for it. So my first thought is, you say, the question begins to consider that I'm standing before the dread and terrible judgment seat of Christ. Alright, so the first thing I would say is that I would stand there with fear and trembling. That's the first thing. The second thing I would say, is that I would say, Lord have mercy 40 times and then say it 40 times again. I say that very seriously. This is a powerful question. So that's the first thing I would say. The second thing I would say is that Orthodox Volunteer Corps has everything to do with feeding the hungry and serving the thirsty and the stranger and the naked and the imprisoned. This passage in Matthew says to us that in as much as you have done it, for the least of these, you have done it for me. And that strikes me as just remarkably powerful to say that when we have done these things for the thirsty and the stranger the naked the imprisoned, we have done it to Christ, for him! That says to me, that this is an opportunity to encounter Christ. It says to me, that there is so much riding on this moment on the service, right? I think the power of the call that we have is so strong here, the responsibility is so strong, and the need to cry, Lord have mercy. Because how many times have I passed by someone who was hungry or thirsty and not helped? Lord have mercy.

Hollie Benton 19:13
What's amazing too, about that passage is both the sheep and the goats, the ones on the left and the ones on the right said, Lord, when did we see you? In many ways, this opportunity to live in community and daily going out, dealing with the hungry and thirsty, where it becomes maybe difficult, where you might get yelled at, where you may not be appreciated, and God willing, not being so aware of their good deed, not letting their left hand know what the right hand is doing, because it's becoming a daily practice for them.

Dr. Michael Sider-Rose 19:48
You know, maybe too, there's some holding in paradox, this great responsibility and then the great grace that is afforded to us all and that somehow there's some kind of ability to go on, some kind of peace, and holding that paradox.

Hollie Benton 20:03
Amen. Well, this has been a great conversation, I'm really excited for this opportunity for our young people. What would be the next steps for someone to get involved to learn more? Speak to both people that you're hoping will apply to come be a part of this and also to parishes and others who want to support this?

Kyra Limberakis 20:23
Sure, well, the first thing would be to attend our launch event on November 9, at 8pm Eastern. If you go to our website,, you can find the link to register. That evening will be a chance to really learn more about our model that Orthodox Volunteer Corps, how we came to be, to hear from various folks who've been involved in it, to hear from young adults themselves. And so that would be my first recommendation is come to the launch event. So you can really understand who we are and what this is all about. Secondly, we're looking for young adults ages 21 to 29. Applications are open now for our first cohort. Applications will be due in February of 2022 and you can find the application online right now. If you are a young adult, or if you know a young adult who would be interested in applying to be part of our first cohort, we highly encourage you to apply. So like I said, go to our website, find the application. For parish communities and leaders, priests, clergy, you know, we just encourage you to, you know, again, come to the launch event, and then let us know how you would like to be involved. So first and foremost, we ask for everyone's prayers. This is truly been an effort of hard work and a lot of prayer. And we need help in spreading the word and getting the word out about this program. So if you can share, follow us on social media. We're on Facebook and Instagram right now. And we're posting all the updates about the program. So prayer, apply, spread the word, and if you are able to consider making a contribution to Orthodox Volunteer Corps.

Hollie Benton 21:58
Thanks, Kyra. Thank you, Michael. Both of you. I'm just so thrilled for this new endeavor and the work that God has laid out for your hands.

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