Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Advent Season

In the Western Rite, we just entered Advent this past Sunday, Nov 30, the Feast of the Holy Apostle Andrew. In the Western tradition, Advent is a 'looking backward and forward' season. What does that mean? We look back at our Lord's birth in the manger of Bethlehem AND we look forward to His Second Coming at the end of the age. Both of these themes run through Advent in the Western liturgical tradition. Besides being a season of anticipation, it also remains one of penitence and fasting. Though not as intense as Great Lent, Advent still retains that more solemn tone with the violet vestments and altar hangings, the removal of the joyful Gloria in the Liturgy and the Alleluias in the Gradual (right before the Gospel) and the more solemn dismissal of 'Let us bless the Lord' at the end of the Liturgy. All of these help to remind us that this season of anticipation is also one of serious spiritual preparation and reflection.

Let us use this short season, only about 3 1/2 weeks this year, to faithfully prepare ourselves to celebrate the joyful feast of the Holy Nativity so that Christ may be born again in us, filling us with His eternal life and light.

To God be the glory,
Fr Stephen

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Do not fear

The theme of my State of the Parish address at this year's Annual Parish Meeting came from the 12th chapter of St Luke's Gospel. In it our Lord says, "Do not fear." If we are honest with ourselves, as we should be, there are probably many things that we fear in this life: economic ruin, violence, the death of a loved one, etc... The list goes on. But living in fear gets us nowhere. It does not improve the situation, or even change it. Being fearful keeps us from truly living and is not what God wills. The only fear we should have is the fear of God; that being a truly healthy reverence and awe for Him, not a cowering in the corner because we are afraid of Him. The Lord desires that we not be in bondage to anything, including fear. As Saint Paul says,"If God be for us, who (or what in this case) can be against us?" Nothing shall seperate us from the love of God, not even our fear, unless of course we allow it to.

May God fill us with the grace of the Holy Spirit so that we have a healthy fear of Him and live for Him not bound by anything in this world, nor anything within ourselves.

To God be the glory,
Fr Stephen

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Thanks be to God!

As one email to me from a group of pastors who had worked diligently for the passage of Proposition 8 said:


Enough said :)

To God be the glory,
Fr Stephen

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dwelling together in unity

"Behold now, what is so good or so pleasant as for brothers (and sisters) to dwell together in unity?" (Ps. 132:1)

This morning's Hierarchichal Divine Liturgy at St Steven's Serbian Orthodox Cathedral was an example of the above Psalm. Greeks, Russians, Serbians, Antiochians, and ...? praying and worshipping together. It is a great reminder of the shared Faith that we hold in common as Orthodox. Where else in this fragmented and divided world can those of various cultural and linguistic backgrounds come together as one? The answer is...only in the Church, the body of Christ. Our Lord came to unite all to Himself and to one another, not through some imaginary bond of good will or peace, but through His precious Body and Blood. This is mankind's only hope.

Let us continue to be peacemakers among all people and do what we can where we are, but let us remember that it is only in and through Christ that true unity is to be found and experienced.

May our Orthodox Church in this great country of America continue to work towards this unity and thus be a witness to the dying world around us of the unity to be found in the Church, and thus in Christ.

To God be the glory,
Fr Stephen

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wearing our faith in the public square

Today I read about a pharmacist in Virginia that has chosen to not sell contraceptives because of her faith. The article did not say that she was Roman Catholic, though she is following Church teaching, but many Catholics in the area are quite pleased by the decision. On the other hand, those who are pro-abortion, are naturally quite displeased. In Virginia, pharmacies are allowed to make these decisions to not offer certain products, though this is not the case in every state.

In the article, Pope Benedict is quoted as saying to Catholics, "we must all wear our faith in the public square." This is true for us Orthodox as well. On this particular issue the Orthodox Church is not as clear cut or dogmatic, don't get me wrong though, Orthodoxy does teach that bearing children is one of the purposes of marriage and abortion is a sin, we as Christians must bear witness to our faith in the 'public square'. Of course, this will bring criticism and scorn from some corners of our secularized society (big surprise), but this shouldn't keep us from taking a stand for what we believe.

God bless this pharmacist and the six other pharmacies around the country that have been certified as doing this by Pharmacists for Life International. May we all have the courage to take a stand for our convictions when the opportunity presents itself.

To God be the glory,
Fr Stephen

Monday, October 13, 2008

Let us "reveal the secret"

The title of this posting may have caught your attention and generated your interest. Good! Let me explain.

Today I had a conversation with several homeschooling parents who are involved with the Cub Scout pack that Aidan has just become a part of (By the way, I was a Cub Scout as a kid and it is a wonderful thing for young boys to be involved in). During the course of our conversation, one Mom asked me what I did for a living. Once I told her that I was a pastor, she asked me at what church. When I said that we were Eastern Orthodox (sometimes this produces a puzzled response) she immediately knew about the Church because friends of hers were also Orthodox. She and another Mom were very positive about it and very interested in knowing more about Orthodoxy. That is not the purpose of this, though it is very encouraging to share with others about the Faith and the Church. A third Mom had never heard of the Orthodox Church and so I went through the usual litany of trying to describe to her what Orthodoxy is (Have you ever heard of the Greek or Russian Orthodox Church? etc...) She was still puzzled. Though she was positive in her reaction, it saddened me that for many American Christians (particularly of the Evangelical Protestant tradition as these ladies were) they have no idea about the Orthodox Church, and some, as in this case, have never heard of it.

What does this say about our witness on this continent? I don't think it says a whole lot, but reveals how 'hidden' we still are in this society. It used to be said that "Orthodoxy is the best kept secret in America". I haven't heard anybody say this lately, thank God, as I think more and more of us Orthodox Christians don't want that to be the case anymore. Let us all, on the other hand, 'reveal the secret' as God gives us opportunity to do so. The Orthodox Church must takes its rightful place among the other Christian traditions of this land so that it too may have a voice witnessing to the "Faith once delivered to the saints" that our country so badly needs to hear, and be transformed by. May we all continue to pray for the Church's emergence from obscurity in this great land of ours by doing our small part in witnessing to our ancient Faith and educating our fellow Americans about Orthodoxy's presence in this country.

To God be the glory,
Fr Stephen

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The waning days of the Trinity Season

Here we are at the beginning of October. It is hard to believe, but time does appear to move quickly. There are 7 weeks left to the Trinity Season, the longest of the church's seasons. It began with the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity back in June and extends all the way until the first Sunday of Advent (Nov. 30th this year). Between now and the beginning of Advent, there may not appear to be a lot happening in the Church's cycle. But a closer look reveals that there are still some significant Feasts on the horizon in these final weeks of Trinitytide.

On the last Sunday of this month, we will celebrate the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. And soon thereafter, we will celebrate the ancient feast of All Saints (Nov. 1) and All Soul's (Nov. 2). And before this long season of the Church's year concludes, we will celebrate the Great Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple (Nov. 21). So, these last 7 weeks do have highlights and important celebrations to be attentive to, not to mention attend when they come along. In some of the non-Orthodox churches, this time of the year is often called Ordinary Time, but my brothers and sisters in Christ, there is never a time in the Church's year that is ordinary, because our God is not ordinary.

May we spend these remaining weeks of the Church's year (the new Church year begins on the first Sunday of Advent), prayerfully entering in to the great mysteries of our Faith, worshipping and being united to our great God and Savior Jesus Christ who is anything but ordinary.

To God be the glory,
Fr Stephen