From the Pastor’s Desk — Sunday April 20, 2014

A word of sincere welcome…

is extended to all who joined with me and St. Michael’s or Holy Ascension communities to celebrate Easter. On behalf of these communities, I greet you in the name of the Risen Lord and hope that your visit was spiritually rewarding. Whether you came as a first-time visitor or as a friend from the past, know that we are happy you joined us and hope you will join us again. Please know you are always welcome. It is our prayer that you will be filled with the joy that comes from truly believing that Christ IS risen!

 

Singing With Enthusiasm

All are reminded that the Easter Tropar should be sung with “joyful enthusiasm.” It is not a funeral dirge! It is a hymn of victory! The pace should be “quick” and upbeat. It should reflect a certain “eagerness” to share the Good News of the Lord’s Resurrection. Resist the temptation to drag the tempo. This Tropar is our declaration of joy! Ask yourself: would strangers know I’m happy and excited when they hear me sing? Let us sing out with joy for truly

 Christ IS Risen! Christos Voskrese!
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GREETINGS:

I would extend a very special Easter Greetings to those who receive my Bulletin in the mail or by email. If you do, it probably means that you were unable to be with us to celebrate Easter. Please know that you were in my thoughts and prayers.

 May God Bless Each of you and
Grant you health and happiness!

 The ARTOS . . .

Is the special loaf of bread we bless on Easter and distribute on St. Thomas day.   This loaf is meant to remind us that Christ, Who is truly the bread of life, is with us.  Христос Воскрес!

REMEMBER . . .

Monday and Tuesday are “Splash” Days. Guys splash gals on Monday and on Tuesday the gals have their revenge. Silly? Perhaps, but a wonderful way to make our joy real.      Christ IS Risen!

 Standing In Prayer

All are reminded that it is our tradition To Stand in Prayer during the period from Easter to Pentecost, the next 50 days. We even stand for private prayer. Sitting is permitted if you are fatigued or elderly. It is not more pious to kneel! This tradition highlights our belief that we truly are the children of God, privileged to stand in His presence.  

BRIGHT WEEK . . .

is the eight days that follow Easter. The last day, St. Thomas’s Day, is the Anti-Pasch. We celebrate Easter each day of Bright Week instead of only on the week-end. This   tradition is a direct carryover of the Jewish Passover which is  celebrated for eight days. During the period from Easter to Pentecost Sunday is counted as the first, not last, day of the week.

 A Big Thank You!

Again I would thank all of those who, in any way, helped to make our Holy Week and our Easter celebrations truly holy and spiritual experiences. I am deeply aware that we worship as a community. Thank you for praying with me.

…. is extended to each and every person who took the time to remember me with Easter wishes and greetings. Your thoughtfulness is truly appreciated and cherished. Thank you for making me a part of your life. I pray that each of you may be blessed with health and happiness.

. . .is extended to all who generously donated for Easter flowers, allowing our worship space to be so beautifully decorated. Please know that your generosity has brought great joy to me and to many others.

. . . is also extended to all those who made a special effort to help with the singing during this sacred time. Your efforts are truly appreciated. Singing is a way to become truly involved in our worship and praise of God.

Special Thanks

…. is offered to Steve Pipta & Mike Christie for their help at the altar. Jobs well done!

 

The Icon of the Resurrection

easter4I would, as I have done so many times before, exhort you to take a serious look at our traditional Easter Icon. The true Easter icon depicts the Lord’s Descent into Hades and does not represent Him as coming out of the grave. It conveys the impact of His Resurrection, namely the destruction of Death and the granting of eternal life to humankind, which is depicted by the raising of Adam and Eve.

In the Western Christian world, Easter is all about Christ coming out of the grave. While we Eastern Christians do not deny the fact that He came out of the grave, that fact is of little importance to us. What is of importance to us is what His being raised from the dead means. God revealed, by raising His Son from the dead, that human life is immortal. It is immortal because life is a sharing in God’s own life.

These truths are represented in the Easter icon by the fact that the Risen Christ is depicted as pulling Adam and Eve out of the grave and smashing the very gates of Hades, the place of Death. The destruction of Death is depicted by Christ smashing the gates or doors of Hades and the key, lock and hinges being separated from the doors.

There is an almond-shaped nimbus around Christ – called the Mandorla, from the Italian word for almond. This Mandorla represents the uncreated, eternal light of Christ. In the writings of the Eastern Christian mystics, God is often experienced as light. This is not simply a pretty bright light.  It is the same light which filled the apostles with wonder when they saw Christ Transfigured. It is the light which Christ Himself described as the power of the Kingdom of God. It is the light that filled the once perpetual darkness of Hades when Christ descended and brought life into the realm of death.

The icon on the cover of this Bulletin presents a slightly different version of the Easter Icon. In this icon, Christ is only pulling Adam out of the grave while he is holding a scroll in His left hand. The scroll, a sign of wisdom and authority, represents God’s revelation to all mankind about the true nature of human life and death – the scroll is God’s mandate.

Other persons appear besides Adam and Eve. Among them are John the Baptizer, King David and the Patriarchs of the Old Testament. This clearly tells us that immortality is a part of human life – all humans, because they share in God’s own life, are immortal. A person doesn’t become immortal just because of belief. Since human life is a sharing in God’s own life, it is immortal.

Χριστός Ανέστη!

Called To Holiness – 20140420

Being Called to Holiness through my initiation into the Church, means being called to believe that human life is immortal because it is a sharing in God’s own life. True holiness means putting on the mind of God – of thinking like His child. It means thinking and living like Jesus thought and lived.

It is our belief that God’s life-force fills all creation, bringing it into existence and sustaining it. It is also our belief that we humans not only share in His life-force but that we have also been made in His image and in His likeness.

These beliefs change – or should change – the way we look at life and creation. This faith-filled way of looking at ourselves and all creation is the beginning of holiness. Why? Because it puts God at the very center of our thinking and lives.

Think about it. If I firmly adhere to these beliefs, I begin living in God’s Kingdom and don’t become seduced by the attractions of this world. The things of this world, whether they are things I own or positions and status I enjoy, are all temporary and finite. They pass with time. I cannot take them with me into the next life. That is why Christ exhorts us to store up those things which we can take into the next life, namely loving memories of people with whom we have shared life – human experiences.

This way of thinking also helps us to become less self-centered, more God and other-centered. We    develop our relationship with God through loving relationships with others.

When we are self-centered we cannot have a real relationship with God or anyone else.  We find an example of complete selflessness in the person Jesus. He never put Himself before others, even during His suffering and crucifixion.

God has given us, in the Person of Jesus, a wonderful model of how to live. The Call to Holiness is a call to become as much like Jesus as possible.

Some years ago there was a movement which actually made rubber bracelets that had the following question printed on it: What would Jesus do? This is the approach that we need to take. As we are confronted by events in life we simply need to stop and ask ourselves this important question. If we base our reactions to the events in life upon how we think Jesus would have responded, we can never go wrong.

 Хрїстóсъ воскрéсе!easter3

Sunday April 13, 2014

Blessed Is He Who Comes In the Name of the Lord

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With our celebration today of the Lord’s voluntary entrance into Jerusalem, the place of His death, our prayerful and thoughtful reflection on the last days of His earthly life begins – we enter into the Great and Holy Week. It is a week that should be, for all true Christians, a week like none other. It is a week that would have us look intensely at human love and hate, nobility and crassness, selflessness and selfishness. It presents the life of a man, Jesus, Who devoted Himself to making God’s Word and Kingdom real. Although we believe Him to also be God incarnate, we know that He went through His suffering and death as a man. He was able to endure all with a nobility that was made possible because of His most profound faith in God, Who He knew as His Father.

His entrance into Jerusalem is very important because it informs us that: (1) He voluntarily accepted the suffering and death He knew He would have to endure because of the accusations people were levying against Him; (2) He was willing, because He believed that what He taught was the right way to live, to die instead of deny His beliefs; and (3) He rejected    human praise and power because He realized that such things are not what is important in life. In order to stress His awareness of what the pursuit of power and glory can do to a human, He chose to ride into Jerusalem on a simple young donkey. In the past, conquering generals rode into Jerusalem on great stallions to stress their power over the people.

Christ rode into Jerusalem not as someone who desired to have power over people but, rather, to stress that His simple way of living and believing leads to the fullness of life. Brutalizing others for the sake of personal glory is not the way of God.

What is the lesson we can learn from thinking about this event in the life of Jesus? Centering our life around human praise and power is not the way of God and does not bring His Kingdom into existence. It is very important to learn that God’s Kingdom is not established by doing things that can gain us human power and praise. God’s Kingdom only comes into existence when unconditional love and acceptance of others is made real by the way we treat others. People only yelled Hosanna to Christ because they thought He would free them from their conquerors. They thought He would use His power, which they witnessed in the miracles Heperformed, to destroy the Romans. They did not sing Hosanna because they believed in what He taught.

Getting to Know Something About Our Greek Catholic Faith – 20140413

The magnificence of Constantinople and the refined civilization of its empire excited the envy of many peoples and nations. Grandeur and dignity, security and ease, progress and glory wafted from every story, from every piece of   information coming from the Empire. The history of Byzantium is an uninterrupted tale of invasions by wild tribes and barbarous neighbors. Every foreigner dreamed of finding a place in the Kingdom of God, while the Byzantines were eager to absorb as many people as they could, employ them in the army or in civil government, and integrate them into their Church.

Many of the so-called barbarians, Slavs and Germans that manned the legions of the Byzantine state, had high rank at court and in public life. When the eighth-century plagues and epidemics decimated Greece, free access was opened to all. Slavs flooded the provinces. Their best and most educated elements came to stay. Thessalonika received a great share of their influx. Varangians, from the center valley of the Dnieper around Kiev, had furnished the Empire with its best soldiers – not only mercenaries but the most valiant and permanent elements of the Empire – the Pretorian guards. Slavs mixed with the Easterners and Romans and vied with the Greeks in the capital city of the Roman Empire and in its provinces. They lived side by side, grew to know each other and were fused into one nation under God and under the rule of the Gospel of Christ.

The Slavs who came to Byzantium were formed by it and they, in turn, helped in the formation of its culture. Their courage and endurance, generosity and faithfulness, left their mark on every aspect of life.

Were Cyril and Methodius, the apostles of the Slavs, true-blooded Byzantine Greeks? Or were they immigrants or descendants of immigrants whose Slavic origin fitted them to be missionaries to the land of their forefathers?

Byzantium was the real teacher of the Slavs. Even after its fall and after it had ceased to exist as an empire, it continued to influence them. All people of Eastern Europe have preserved a living memory of its traditions. “They all still live by its inspiration, deeply imprinted in trends of thought and in their politics.”

Each Eastern European nation that embraced the “Greek/Byzantine” faith, infused its rituals with unique cultural influences, especially in terms of music and chant.

Learning About the Practices of Our Religion – 20140413

During the past several weeks I have shared information about the oldest Liturgy that that Church developed. It is the Clementine Liturgy and is the basis for all subsequent Eastern, Liturgies.

The Clementine Liturgy enables us to form a reasonably accurate picture of late fourth-century Eucharistic worship in the province of Antioch. It testifies to the consolidation of the liturgical tradition in the East, parallel to that revealed by Ambrose of Milan in the West. I present this information as a means of sensitizing my readers to our own Liturgy. Knowing something about its development, I think, helps us to appreciate it more.

The Eucharistic prayer, at least up to the third century, was extemporaneously spoken by the leader (bishop or priest). After this time it became a fixed text. There was of course nothing like the uniformity of text and practice which later came to characterize eucharistic worship throughout the Church. It was still possible for new eucharistic prayers to be composed, of course following traditional lines; and considerable variety existed in the manner of celebrating the service. But the Clementine Liturgy provides us with a reasonable guide to the basic shape of the Liturgy of Constantinople at the end of the fourth century, as well as containing a number of features which are closely paralleled in the rite of the capital when clear evidence for its form and details appears. It offers us an adequate starting-point for tracing the specific development of Byzantine Eucharistic worship which we use.

Because the Eucharistic Liturgy is the faith-expression of a community, I believe it is extremely important that each faith community finds how to integrate some uniqueness into a fixed Liturgy. Why? To make the Liturgy a true expression of    the community’s faith. While practiced uniformity in the ritual of worship does, I believe, show the universality of Christian worship, it can limit the expression of worship by individual communities and, at times, force just simple, rote celebration. It is critical, I believe, that worship be the personal expression of the people who are worshiping. The celebrant – worship leader – has to find ways to make the worship, within the context of structured ritual, personal and unique. It is truly imperative that community worship become truly community worship – a true expression of the faith of the local community. This is the challenge of communal worship. The challenge is one of attempting to make our Liturgy the expression of our unique community and, at the same time, the traditional worship of our Church.

Its critical that WE WORSHIP GOD!

Called To Holiness — 20140413

After sharing with you the thoughts of our Patriarch and Synod of Bishops about an initiative meant to help all communities become vibrant parishes, I have shared my thoughts about what it means to be Called to Holiness. It is my belief that in order for a parish to be vibrant, the majority of its members must feel and understand that they are Called to Holiness.

It is our initiation into the Church, through the reception of the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Eucharist, that we have been given this call to holiness – given this call to be saints. For to be a saint means that we recognize that we are called to holiness!

It is my belief that holiness can mean, and has meant, many different things throughout the history of the Church. In a practical sense, holiness means being actively engaged in the spiritual activity called metanoia with an intent to achieve Theosis.

Metanoia is described as a person’s recognition of his darkened vision of his own condition, which includes negative attitudes and ways of thinking and a sincere desire to accomplish a change of heart and mind. It includes an honest assessment (something not always easy to do) of one’s thoughts about God, life and others in light of the teachings of Jesus. Attitudes are difficult to assess because they are our attitudes and we most frequently feel that what we think about things is right.

Once a person who desires to be holy has assessed his/her attitudes he/she then makes every effort to bring them into conformity with the Gospel message. This again is tricky since the Gospels are frequently interpreted in accord with our own dispositions and ideas.

A basic rule of thumb is this: any attitude or way of thinking that puts conditions on my love and acceptance of others, is not in conformity with the Gospel. I don’t believe that anyone can truly read the Gospels and find where Christ ever placed a condition on His love for others. The one judgment Christ made was when he found hypocrisy – when people said they believed in God and yet rejected their neighbors.

Metanoia is the process described in Eastern Spiritual literature of changing one’s heart and mind.

A Look at the New Testament – St. Paul – 20140413

It must be remembered that for Paul the Church was the Body of Christ continued in time. Unity was key to this idea of the Body of Christ. In Corinth, when the meal ceased to be a common meal, this brought the hierarchical distinctions of this world into the Body of Christ. Paul preached that these differences should not be replicated in the community that followed Christ since the Church was a new expression of creation – an expression that was made in the image of what God intended when He created mankind.

mysticalsuperThis conflict is the context in which Paul recalls for the Corinthians the words used when recalling what Jesus said at the Last Supper. Paul writes this:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

The text concludes with: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.” In this context, eating and drinking the bread and wine “in an unworthy manner” refers to the behavior of the wealthy in perpetuating the divisions of “this world.” In Christian communities, those divisions were abolished.

We see that Paul understood that Christ came to restructure society – to make sure that all humans were equal and treated in an equal manner. Christ’s teachings, which proclaim that all humans are part of one family, wipes out all earthly distinctions or any type of stratified society. What Jesus encountered in the society into which He was born, was a society that was very stratified. It was stratified not only along the lines of wealth, but along the line of faith. Even the particular “religious group” a person belonged to determined his position in society.

Think about what you know of the society in which Jesus lived. Hatred for the Romans, Samaritans, Gentiles, sick and handicapped, lepers, poor and those who worked for the Romans (e.g., tax collectors) was rampant and a real part of society. There was no equality. Jesus preached against these distinctions and, as we see in the Gospels, embraced those who others hated.

Such differences, of course, arose in newly converted communities – it appears to be a natural tendency of humankind.

Within Christian Communities All Are supposed to be Equal!

Learning Our Faith from the Church Fathers – 20140413

In Eastern thought, salvation is understood essentially in terms of participation and communion with the deified humanity of the incarnate Logos – Christ. The Eastern fathers even dare to call the Spirit the “image of the Son”; by this they imply the truth that the Spirit is the main agent which makes communion a reality. According to Athanasius, the Son has given us “the first fruits of the Spirit, so that we may be transformed into sons and daughters of God, according to the image of the Son of God”. Thus, if it is through the Spirit that the Word of God became a human being, it is also only through the Spirit that true life reaches us.

The Church has always struggled with her ideas of how God operates. How do the Father, Son and Holy Spirit operate as one being and yet retain their individuality. The doctrine of the Trinity is the Church’s way of saying that there is only ONE God and yet there are THREE distinct Persons that are this ONE God. A mystery. Something that we humans find very difficult to understand. Yet the Church has always maintained her belief in monotheism and yet sees this ONE God as working in three very different ways.

Authors throughout the history of the Church have wrestled with how to express how our Triune God works in time. One author asks, “What is the effect and the result of the sufferings and works and teachings of Christ? Consider in relation to ourselves, it is nothing other than the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.”

Another author reminds us of the fact that the role of the Spirit in salvation is to confirm the personal dignity of the deified human person. He writes:

If our individual natures are   incorporated into the glorious humanity of Christ and enter  the unity of His Body by baptism, conforming themselves to the death and resurrection of Christ, our persons need to be confirmed in their personal  dignity by the Holy Spirit, so that each may freely realize his own union with the Divinity. Baptism – the Mystery of unity in Christ – needs to be complemented by Chrismation – the Mystery of diversity in the Holy Spirit.

 Interestingly, the Eastern fathers attribute to the Spirit all the multiplicity of names that can be attributed to grace, as is evident, for example, in St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Basil. They freely speak about the Holy Spirit as effecting deification, perfection, adoption and sanctification. Eastern Christians sing, “The Holy Spirit gives life to souls; He exalts them in purity; He causes the sole nature of the Trinity to shine in them mysteriously.”

We will probably never totally realize during this lifetime how the Holy Trinity operates in human life. We simply have to believe that They do!

The Spirituality of the Christian East – 20140413

We must realize that change in a person is only truly produced by God’s grace; yet it does not occur without the participation of a person’s free will. In repentance or metanoia, free will must participate in the very act of the change itself. This change for the better and turning to God, although experienced as instantaneous, is only something that transpires over time. A person passes through several preparatory stages during which his   freedom is united with God’s grace. In these stages, grace gradually takes possession of freedom, while freedom submits itself to grace. These stages are necessary for everyone. Some people pass through them quickly, but for others its takes years. Who can understand everything that is happening here, especially since there are so many ways that grace acts upon us and the states of people upon which it acts are so innumerable? One must understand, however, that for all this variety, there is one common order of change and no one can avoid it. Everyone who repents is a person who is living in sin – and every such person is changed by grace. Therefore, based on an understanding of the state of a sinner in general and understanding the relation of freedom to grace, one can depict this process and determine its rules.

We say that all of us are, during this lifetime, in a state of sin, that is in a state of   imperfection. We were created in this manner. Life presents opportunities for us to spiritually grow, eliminating, over time, basic imperfections. Regardless of this, however, we will never achieve perfection during this lifetime nor do we have to in order to grow ever closer to deeper union with God. The joy of this earthly existence is the journey to deeper union with God. Life is the way that it is so that we are supported in our attempts at personal change. The true purpose of life is personal change and growth!