2017 Oratorical Festival Speeches Now Available Online

Congratulations to all our parish Oratorical Festival participants on jobs well done. Nina Ziu received 1st Place in the Senior Division. Eleni Ziu received 1st place in the Junior Division and Melanie Grieg received 2nd place. Nina and Eleni presented their speeches in church on Sunday, April 2 and competed at the Regional Oratorical Festival at the Annunciation Cathedral in Norfolk on Saturday, April 22. The first-place speeches are available below.

Nina Ziu, Senior Division: 

Topic 5: Jesus said, “render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”(Matthew 22:21). When no political party represents genuine Christian teaching, how does an Orthodox Christian navigate political discussions and make political judgments?

Fathers, fellow competitors, judges, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

We cannot escape politics in modern America. It engulfs the media and maintains an overwhelming presence in our daily life. How are we as Orthodox Christians supposed to navigate political discussions and make judgments regarding the government of our country?

In the early years of our Church, the Roman emperor had the authority to do anything he desired. The church had no say in politics. For many Christians worldwide, little has changed. Today in America, the governing authorities do not openly persecute Christianity. We have the privilege to choose leaders who would not condemn our religious actions.

In Matthew 22:21, Jesus tells us, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” We are instructed as Orthodox Christians to live in the world but not be of it. In the words of Father Alexander Schmemmann, we are to overcome the “frightening worldliness.”

It becomes difficult to choose a leader when no party honors the teachings of the Orthodox Church. However, if we take a passive stance in politics, we allow others to set the definition of right and wrong, and point to us as ignorant members of a limited faith. Our religion agrees with very few of the axiomatic philosophies put forth today. We find it difficult to discuss politics with our peers and coworkers, in part because Orthodoxy does not fully concur with either party.

As fallen beings, we tend to judge those that compete for office. It is not difficult to find fault in our fellow man. Perhaps we decide to vote for a candidate simply because we are convinced they have committed fewer sins. We fail to consider the punishment that would be placed on us for judging, when we ourselves are judged by God. How is an Orthodox to navigate this sea?

Above all, we should pray, as individuals and as a community. Prayer never falters; it’s a tool that always guides. “Prayer sets man free,” writes Father Staniloae, “Prayer keeps the soul open to God as a person.” Even Communist sophistry couldn’t keep Christians from glorifying a Risen Lord, nor could the threat of death during the Roman Empire. Prayer and trust in God gave these Christians the strength to openly proclaim their faith. We pray to God to direct our actions, and the actions of others, including our national leaders. To this day the Orthodox Liturgy prays, “For our country, the president, and all those in public service.”

We must also be mindful of Christ’s new commandment, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) God teaches us to love our enemies, even if we consider our enemy to be a political movement. To the Orthodox, whether a person is Republican, Democrat, liberal or conservative should not matter. We are all made in the image of Christ. When we discuss politics, we must remember to love those we do not concur with. We show love for our adversaries by praying for them. When we pray, we show love.

The crossroads of Church and politics is difficult to navigate. Nonetheless, we are given prayer as a compass, the church as a source of inspiration, and love as a defense against all adversaries. There are many Orthodox sources we could cite to guide us in navigating political conversations and making political judgments. But prayer and Christ’s love surpass all jurisdictions, as proven by a political worldview expressed during the Civil War. When asked if God was on his side, President Abraham Lincoln said, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Eleni Ziu, Junior Division:

Topic 1: The opening petition of the Divine Liturgy is “In peace let us pray to the Lord.” What is this peace, and why do we need it to begin our prayers?

Fathers, fellow competitors, judges, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

Peace is something we all want: for Orthodox Christians, ourselves, and the whole world. And sometimes, it is hard to find.

Peace has a lot of forms and meanings. There is the dictionary definition, society’s definition, and the peace given by Christ Himself.

If you look in the dictionary, one definition is this: freedom from war; harmony; concordance—a pretty accurate description, at least to me.

Now, when it comes to society defining peace, where do we begin? With meditation, yoga, or mindfulness? These things are all meant to help us find peace of some kind. Mindfulness is a new branch of worldly peace. It is almost the same as meditation, except mindfulness focuses on the self. Mindfulness is a now common practice for many non-religious people, so much so, that it has been called a cult.

But the Church’s definition of peace focuses on our salvation in God, not simply the lack of war, or harmony with the physical world around us.

During the Liturgy we hear petitions for peace many times. “In peace let us pray to the Lord. Let us hear the Holy Gospel in peace. For a perfect, holy, peaceful, and sinless day, let us pray to the Lord.” And, “Peace be with all.” The word peace is mentioned at least 18 times during the Liturgy.

This calling for peace during the Liturgy is about stillness and attentiveness. It’s not just silencing cell phones and remaining completely quiet; it is about getting our thoughts to calm down, and focus(ing) on the heart. Only then we will be ready to come before God in prayer. So, the definition of peace could be “the absence of conflict through prayer.”

There is a story from the Desert Fathers, whereby two men living in the world go to speak with their monk friend about the lack of peace in their lives. The monk pours water into a bowl and tells them to look in it, but the water rippled and disturbed. After a while he tells them to look again, and his friends see their faces reflected in it as in a mirror.

So when the church calls us to peace, and we respond with stillness, it is so that we can listen to God, see ourselves more clearly, and grow in our faith.

I’m not saying that this is the only type of peace we need. We do need peace in our lives and in our families, and even, as beauty pageants participants are known to say, “world peace.” But we cannot have these things unless we are at peace with ourselves, each other, and above all, with God.

Christ gave us this peace, “not as the world giveth,” but His very own peace, so that our hearts may not be troubled or afraid. This is the peace that we need to begin our prayers, to lay aside all earthly cares, so that we may receive the King of all.


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