Archpastoral Letter for the Great Fast 2015 Dearly Beloved Members of our Diocesan Family: Christ is in our midst! – He is and ever shall be! “The springtime of the Fast has dawned, the flower of repentance has begun to open …” As we begin Great Lent, we should do so in anticipation of the spiritual blessings that we will receive through our deeper commitment to God during this holy season. Through our repentance and humility we should live each day, focusing our hearts and minds on His presence. Through our prayer and fasting and almsgiving, and by His grace, our spiritual lives can be transformed by Him and our souls drawn closer to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is, of course, the primary goal of the Lenten season – and of every aspect of our Orthodox Faith – to bring us closer to God, to help us become more like Christ, and eventually to take our rightful place as heirs of the heavenly kingdom. In the Scripture we read that prayer, fasting and service to people were the hallmarks of Christ’s ministry. Through His example, we are shown a manner of living that focuses on the Gospel message of communion with God. This, then, is our focus for the Great Fast. All too often, I fear, we approach Lent too casually, not seriously enough, almost taking it for granted. Rather than being an opportunity for us to come closer to our Savior and become more like Him, the Fast is seen as an encumbrance on our schedules, our social life and personal demands. It is as if we see Lent as a burden … a burden that at times we choose to lighten. And my greatest fear is that this happens in the arena of the Mystery of Forgiveness. If our Orthodox Christianity is anything, it is a faith of forgiveness. To the paralytic, Jesus said: “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” To the adulteress, He said: “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more.” And from the cross He prayed, “Father, forgive them …” Forgiveness fills the Gospel: the father welcoming home the prodigal son; the Good Shepherd carrying the lost sheep; the tender look at Peter, across the courtyard, after he had denied Christ three times; and the promise spoken to the dying thief: “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Indeed, our faith is about forgiveness. But do we take this too lightly, too routinely? The Lenten Season properly begins with Forgiveness Vespers, which culminates in the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness. Here, all who are present bow down before one another and ask for forgiveness. In this way, we begin the Fast with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love. How many of us participate in this rite wholeheartedly? How many avoid coming to exchange mutual forgiveness, or do not attend Forgiveness Vespers, or skip that Sunday altogether? The Scripture is very clear. There is one pre-condition for our being forgiven by the Lord: that we forgive others. “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). This echoes the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “… and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There is a beautiful story from the life of the saintly Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of England, who confessed as a young man that he could not forgive someone for what he had done against him. After numerous attempts at reasoning with Anthony, his spiritual father told him, “Then when you pray the Lord’s Prayer, you must say, ‘Do not forgive me my trespasses as I do not forgive so-and-so his trespasses.’” Quickly, young Anthony realized the need to forgive his brother. One might make the excuse, “I don’t know some of these people in church; for what should I ask forgiveness?” – The answer is simple: ask for forgiveness for not knowing them better. Let us take this first step in the Mystery of Forgiveness and live it out in the spirit in which it is given to us; that is, in the love of our forgiving God: “God forgives, and I forgive … may He forgive us both.” The second and central aspect of Lent as the season of forgiveness is the Sacrament of Confession. There is a tradition that during the first week of the Fast, “Clean Week,” one goes to confession to clean his house thoroughly. The reading from Isaiah on the first day of Lent sets that tone: “Wash yourselves and ye shall be clean; put away the wicked ways from your souls before Mine eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do well. Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow. Come then, and let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; though they be red like crimson, I will make them white as wool” (Isaiah 1:16-18). Whether we go to confession during the first week of Lent or sometime later in the Fast, the timing is not the issue. It is the attitude with which we approach the Sacrament. There are those who look at Confession as an obligation to be met, so that one can be “a member in good standing” in the parish, run for parish council, or maintain burial privileges. This totally misses the mark. In the Mystery of Confession, we receive forgiveness and absolution from the Lord in exchange for our sorrow. What we are blessed with is the same forgiveness that Peter who denied Christ three times received; the same forgiveness that the adulteress received; and the same forgiveness that the thief on the cross received. Do we receive this forgiveness anywhere else in the world? Can a student taking an exam tell his teacher he is sorry he missed question 7; can he do it over again? Can a basketball player who misses a foul shot, say he is sorry and try again? Can a car salesman who needs so many sales to get his bonus, say he is sorry he failed to seal the deal and make his quota, but still get the bonus? Forgiveness comes not from the world, but from our Savior. Saint John the Evangelist warns us: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8-9). St. Paul cautions us against coming to Communion with unconfessed sins: “Let a man examine himself, and then let him eat of the Bread and drink of the Cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s Body” (I Cor. 11:28-29). Let us approach the Sacrament of Confession in the spirit in which It is given. And what spirit is that? Forgiveness is a gift, God’s gift to the penitent. It is an expensive gift, and if we take it, it should mean we belong to the Giver. He has purchased all of us; he should have our total love. It is a gift that should bind our forgiven soul in endless love and gratitude to the Forgiver. They love most, Christ says, who have been forgiven most. The story of the giving of this gift is told to us through the divine services all through Great Lent, but most especially during Great and Holy Week – through the detailed accounts of the Holy Scripture, and in the beautiful hymns of our Holy Church. How many of us attend every service? How many of us pick and choose, considering the length and ignoring the content? Christ did not pick and choose; He loves us all, and He died for us all. In the book Jesus: A Dialogue with the Saviour, written by a monk of the Eastern Church, we read the cost of the gift of our forgiveness and the spirit in which it was given: “Blood flows from Your forehead, from Your hands, and from Your scourged body, O Lord. It flows in long streams. It is going to flow from Your open side as though Your heart were bursting under the pressure of Your suffering love. The cup is poured out in libation. “The crown of thorns bruised Your head. Woven in the form of a circle, these thorns are like the sins of men, gathered together and heaped upon you. Your feet, O Lord, are nailed to the wood. Your Cross is the winepress where the true vine is pressed. You have no possibility of escape. You are waiting for me … Fastened to Your Cross, You compel Yourself to this waiting. It is possible for me not to come, but You are there and You remain where You have allowed Yourself to be placed. “Your arms are stretched out. They are open as an appeal to all men. They cannot be closed again. The nails keep them there in this gesture which is at one and the same time an invitation and an embrace. In silence they beckon to me: ‘Come.’” My beloved, God does not force anyone to come to Him. We are not dragged into His kingdom by the hairs of our head. He loves us into it, and because He loves us into it, it means the Cross, the crown of thorns, the nails, the spear – the forgiveness that cost our Savior His life. Let us not take this Lenten Season and the gift of forgiveness it offers for granted. Let us not take lightly the Rite of Mutual Forgiveness, the Mystery of Confession, and the divine services, especially Holy Week. When we look at the Cross, we know that Our Lord has gone as far as He can go for us. Only one question remains for each of us to answer this Lent: How far will we go to meet the One Who loves us more than we love ourselves? Asking your forgiveness for the times I have failed you, I remain with sincere love and humble prayers, + M I C H A E L Bishop of New York and the Diocese of New York and New Jersey
Greetings in the name of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ!
Welcome to the web pages of Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church! We are a vibrant and growing community in the Mohawk Valley, serving a wide area of Greater Central New York. We are committed to living a life in Jesus Christ, being nourished by our common worship in the Holy Eucharist and the other services of the Church, of personal prayer, and in striving to bring the light of Christ to our community. Whenever you are in the area, please come and worship with us, get to know us and be welcome to our warm hospitality.
We received this question: "My wife and I are considering visiting [your parish] sometime in the near future. We are not Orthodox Christians and have never been to a Sunday service in the Orthodox Church. Are there some things we should be aware of prior to our visit? Any helpful comments would be appreciated."
We can recommend "12 Things I Wish I'd known... First Visit to an Orthodox Church": http://www.frederica.com/12-things/
Please remember that you are welcome to come downstairs to the Coffee Hour, at the end of the service, where we can sit and get to know each other.
If you have any other questions - please don't hesitate to e-mail or phone the pastor: firstname.lastname@example.org and 315.866.3272.
Our Choir Director moved away and we are without anyone with musical training to lead the singing which we as a community offer to God. Our Church Services are all in English. We have a good number of singers, but without someone to lead them, the singing has lots of room for improvement. If you are interested, we will pay for your gasoline (travel expense) and a small honorarium for each service.
Local music students are welcome to try out for the position - we will teach you anything you need to know - resources are readily available.
Please contact the Rector, Father John, as soon as you can (315-866-3272). Thank you.
At the Request of the Holy Synod of Bishops, we add the following petition to the Augmented Litany and in our prayers:
Again we pray for those who are being persecuted for their faith, especially the Christian faithful of Egypt and across the Middle East, that the Lord God will send down upon them every spiritual weapon to endure their tribulations; and that He will grant that Peace which passes all understanding upon the region, and throughout the whole world, as a foretaste of His heavenly Kingdom.
AFTER PASCHA – how do we keep the intense feeling of Lent, after the Resurrection? Or - Living the life of an Apostle
Lent was so filled with beautiful dramatic services, wonderful prayers and hymns, and even the prayer and fasting we do at home. But after Pascha, some people feel let down. This shouldn’t be.
The women who came to the tomb to anoint the body of the dead Jesus were met by a blazingly bright angel who asked them, ‘Why do you seek the Living (One) among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee,.. (Luke 24.5-8) "Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you. (Matthew 28.)"
The women disciples of the Lord, having lived with Him and witnessed His death and resurrection, immediately were SENT by the angel to tell the Good News to the apostles and all the world.
In the Early Church, Lent was the time of preparing catechumens for entry into the Church. This aspect of Great Lent is so important for us as the reminder of our own catechumenate. The catechumens were very important in the life of the Church, not only because they were fresh and new, but also because they were so zealous and energetic about the faith and about being Christians. They rejuvenated the old-timers and encouraged those who were ‘weary in well-doing’ (2 Thessalonians 3:13) or tired from doing charity and good things for others (often a thankless work). They were like the addition of fresh leaven or yeast into the dough – remember that in those early times that meant sourdough and it was possible for your leaven to get old or weak…
One of the post-baptism instructions to the neophytes (Christian newbies) was heard in the Gospel lesson, "Just as the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you" (John 20:21) – thus changing them from students into worker and doers, from servants to co-workers and children of God. But this is also “The Great Commission” which is addressed to ALL Christians, neophytes and elders alike. Great Lent may be the training ground for catechumens, but it’s also the ‘retreat’ for the older Christians. Great Lent is a time for us all to hone our skills as missionaries and workers in the vineyard of Christ – the kingdom of Heaven.
So, what do we ‘veterans’ need to remember about this Great Commission, this Great Command?
First, we need to remember that we are being SENT, and not just asked, or recommended. We are SENT, just as God the Father SENT God the Son. So we are under obedience, as soldiers are under obedience to their commanders. This is not a willy-nilly ‘sending’ but a part of the strategy in the war of good against evil. Not every soldier is on the front line, but every soldier is one who is prepared to face the fight when the need arises. Not every soldier is called to be a foot-soldier, but some are called to be leaders and officers. That means that everyone has a job to do, and no job is more or less important than another.
What else? This sending is not the happiest thing, from the point of view of the non-Christians. That’s because this sending is to labor and service – unpaid and often thankless, to struggle and overcome – unacknowledged, to be hated and despised because of Our Master and devotion to righteousness and goodness, to be unloved, mistreated, unknown, and unsought. It doesn’t appeal to you? It was part of Our Lord’s life – so if we accept the commission, we shouldn’t be surprised at this aspect of it. But none of this matters, because our food and our reward is to do the will of God. All our needs will be taken care of because as God clothes the fields with lilies, as he feeds the birds of the air, as he finds rest for those who have nowhere to lay their heads, so He cares for us. This reward from God is a more beautiful and wonderful and incredible blessing than any praise or reward from men.
Sounds like a tall order? Remember that God sent his only-begotten Son to teach us the most important things about life – to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and by visiting the sick and imprisoned. If we soldiers can do even part of that, we’ll be fed with the Bread of Heaven. But more than that, we are not sent alone – after being taught the basic training by our Lord Jesus Christ, God promised to send and continues to send us His Holy Spirit, to comfort us and to reward us, and to watch over us, to help us learn what’s right (because He is the Spirit of Truth), who is everywhere, and who gives life and blessings. He will come and stay with us, guide us and protect us.
SO, having taken up our cross, and having accepted the command to go and be his apostles and disciples and announce His Good Word to the world, let us rely on God’s Holy Spirit to show each of us the way we should go about accomplishing His great work.
O Lord our God, grant that we may glorify Thee in the manner of Thy Holy Apostles: by prudent reasoning illumined by Thy Holy Spirit, by submitting ourselves to one another in love, and by solicitude for the well-being of Thy Holy Church and for the world which we are given.
During Great Lent, we are called upon to fast, pray, confess our sins, and turn to doing good instead of evil. We do that by giving alms, or help to the poor.
We hear in the Divine Liturgy that “Every good gift and perfect gift comes down from Thee, the Father of Lights…” All of the things we ‘give’ to one another are patterned after the One True Gift – Our Lord’s giving Himself to the world, at His voluntary crucifixion. You may think that Christmas gifts, Birthday gifts, Baptism and Wedding gifts are personal gifts between yourself and the recipient, but in fact, if they are true, genuine and wholesome gifts, they’re patterned on the Lord’s self-sacrifice.
The Lord’s sacrifice is repeated in the Divine Liturgy. Offered on the altar is His body and His blood, which He gives to us continually. This gift is pure, holy, self-less, and eternal.
The gifts we give are often less than pure, as they’re given in an effort to bribe someone, to put our controls on them, to make them beholding to us. Those gifts are not given without the hope of getting something in return. Often, someone gives something to the Church, but puts their name on a plaque or inscribes the gift itself or requests that it be announced in the Bulletin. Those are gifts which people think they can control, they think they can demand them back when things don’t go their way.
Donations to the Church are always given to the Church, not to individuals. God loves a cheerful giver, but He also does not favor gifts which were not given freely, not given without strings attached, not given from the heart. The only true and valuable gifts are those things we have worked hard to earn. Gifts which we did nothing to earn are not genuine. For example, a real gift would be something which we make ourselves, as opposed to something we buy or pay for, or give from money earned by ‘money-changers’ or bankers – money earned from interest, and not from the sweat of our brow.
Remember the words of the Divine Liturgy, “We offer unto Thee Thine own of thine own on behalf of all and for all”? This is the key to understanding donations. We offer to God what is His, what we used, like those three men who received 10 and 5 and 1 talent when their Master went away on a journey? We use those talents to make more talents. We do NOT offer to God what we did not earn. The first servant earned 10 talents more, the second earned 5 talents more, but the third one simply buried the talent he was given in the earth and earned nothing. The master said, ‘Worthless and lazy servant! At the very worst you could have given the money to the bankers who would have returned interest on the talent – but you didn’t even do that.’ (Matthew 25:28). The Master didn’t recommend that the money be given to the bankers, but as a last resort, the servant could have at least done that much.
Isn’t it a more wonderful gift when we know it was made especially for us by loving hands and heart?
“The Lord loves a cheerful giver” “Each of us should give what we have decided in our hearts to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7). No gift which comes from trying to show someone up by giving a better or larger or richer gift is a worthy or meaningful gift.
Do not be afraid to give to someone you think may be a thief or charlatan because the Lord blesses your intention. And your gift may be the one which changes the black hearted man into an angel of good.
Brothers and sisters, Holy Scripture tells us: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”. (Galatians 6:9) “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them. (Hebrews 6:10) We must be tireless is struggling to live good and holy lives, and even more, to give ‘until it hurts’ to those who ask of us (aloud and silently) and are in obvious need.
News from our Parish of Saints Peter and Paul
Please remember in your prayers: The newly-departed: Robert Rice
Please remember in your prayers the ailing servants of God: Valentina Father Moses Berry Father Victor Alexis Archimandrite Pitirim (Stehnach) Fr. Rodion Luciuk Magdalen Beal Vera Morbey Reader James Weremedic Archimandrite Athanasy (Mastalsky) Archpriest Vincent Saverino Archpriest David Garretson Anna Kanerva Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky Matushka Laura Schmidt and Father Leonid Schmidt Olenka Zharsky Archimandrite Nektarios (Cottros) Archimandrite Roman (Braga) Protosyngellos Christopher (Grecu) Archpriest James (Ken) Stavrevsky Steven Kocuba Michael Brittain John Kowanski Stephanie Litwen Father Ernesto Rios Helen Dzugan Daniel Riley Nadine Staraitis Archpriest Stephen Siniairi Olga Prawlocki Archpriest John Bohush Archpriest Antonio and Matushka Elizabeth Perdomo For the latest Schedule of events, see the most recent Parish weekly Bulletin. To see the recent issues of the Parish weekly Bulletin and monthly Newsletter - click on the columns to the left, above.
CHURCH SCHOOL started up again in September. From September to June, church school is taught on Sundays, at 9:00 am. Thank you to Matushka Anastasia Richards for volunteering to teach our Church Schoolers. God bless all of the Church School students and their teacher in their studies. Donations for the needs of the Church School are always welcome.