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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message August 14, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Tomorrow morning, Sunday, August 14th, we will celebrate the Forefeast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. This is how the Church calls our full attention to the culmination of our Two-Week Fast in honor of the falling asleep of the Theotokos. For the past several evenings, we have gathered as a community of faith to pray the Paraklesis Service to the Mother of God, in preparation for the days immediately ahead. August 15th is referred to as the “Summer Pascha,” as we grieve the earthly loss of the Theotokos. She who inspires, protects, sustains, encourages, safeguards, consoles, sooths and uplifts will depart from this world and be lifted into eternity; to share a forever existence with her Son and her Lord, Jesus Christ. 

How deeply saddened must the Disciples have been at the hearing of her passing. Her continued ministry of prayer, courage and strength must have sustained them from the time of Christ’s Ascension, then into the extreme reaches of their missionary journeys. They traveled far and wide to spread the Good News of the Gospel and the message that Christ had indeed risen from the dead in order to free humankind from sin, death and destruction. As word spread of her death to each of them, I imagine that the pain of seeing their Lord on the Cross, revisited them, piercing the depths of their souls. Once again, they mourned.

We celebrate her passing because her goodness cannot be contained on earth. Her appointment from God to bear His Son and bring salvation to the world has now completed a full circle. She can now fully appreciate, understand and participate in the saving ministry of her Son. The ministry that she, herself made possible!

Hers is s ministry of generosity, grace, strength and selflessness. Which inspires the ministries of some other fine, ladies you may know.

Typically, I place an appropriate icon at the top of these messages, so you can be visually inspired before reading a single word of my humble, written offerings. But tonight, it is not an icon, but rather a photograph that “leads this story.”

A picture, not of the Theotokos, but rather, several women who continue her passion of caring, serving and giving. 

Last week, we received two dignitaries from the Metropolis of Denver Philoptochos Board. Current president, Stella Piches, and past president, Barbara Vittas visited the ladies of our (soon to be former) Women’s Ministry Team. They came to offer instruction and encouragement in the transformation of our local ministry effort, into an official Philoptochos Chapter at St. Anna’s. 

Philoptochos, which in Greek, literally means “Friends of the Poor,” is our national and Archdiocesan women’s philanthropic auxiliary. It is comprised of local chapters (in parishes), Metropolis Boards and an Archdiocesan Board. The work they do is nothing less than miraculous. They offer assistance in every capacity and serve the needs of those less fortunate throughout the world.

In other words, they do on a larger scale, what our women have been doing for the past eight years. Only now, our ladies will be going about their philanthropic work, tapping into the recourses of a greater, national body. In the coming weeks, once we receive our official charter number, we will set out to establish our St. Anna Philoptochos Chapter in Sandy, Utah.

I am ever grateful that Panaghia’s imprint of love for those in need is thriving, and central to the mission of St. Anna’s. There will be no greater witness of this than the ladies of our Philoptochos – together with our Men’s and Service Ministry Teams. The Theotokos, as she is assumed into the heavens will smile upon the work of our parish women. She will bless their efforts. She will strengthen their resolve. She will send her limitless love. 

Most Holy Theotokos, Intercede for Us!

With Much Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message August 7, 2022

You were transfigured upon the mountain, O Christ our God, showing to Your disciples Your glory as much as they could bear. Do also in us, sinners though we may be, shine Your everlasting light, by the intercessions of the Theotokos, O Giver of light. Glory to You.

Hymn of the Transfiguration of Christ

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In every Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church, we address our prayers and thanksgiving to God who is described as “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and always the same.” This kind of language – which tries to describe God by saying what he is not – is called apophatic or “negative” language. Apophatic language is the language of prayer; it points to God’s majesty and transcendence while, at the same time, it conveys His presence. God is absolutely transcendent – beyond anything that we can know and experience – yet He is also present (immanent) and acts on behalf of us for our salvation. We will never fully understand Who God is. But we are pretty sure of what His is not.

The Feasts of the Church celebrate those acts of salvation. They not only remember certain special events but make Christ present to us in those events through the power of the Holy Spirit. In the feast of the Nativity of Christ, we see revealed to us the mystery of God’s incarnation in the flesh. God manifests Himself to us, reveals Himself to us as man while yet remaining God. The feast of the Nativity of Christ is the celebration of that act of God revealing Himself to us, in His Coming to earth as a man. In the feast of Theophany, we see Christ revealed as the “Beloved Son” of God the Father.

At Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, God makes it clear that this man Jesus is truly the “Son of God.” And now, as we prepare to celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ tomorrow morning, we see Christ being revealed in all His divine glory. In each feast Christ comes to us now, manifests or makes Himself present to us so that we can come to truly know Him.
The feast of Christ’s transfiguration – metamorphosis – celebrated on August 6 was introduced as a separate feast with all its major characteristics sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries. It was more widely known in the East than in the West and takes on a greater significance for Eastern Christians.

The Fathers of the Church stress in their sermons that Jesus, when He was transfigured before His disciples, did not add anything to His nature that He did not possess before, but revealed what He already was. Jesus’ humanity was not changed into divinity at the Transfiguration; He was divine, but in this event, His divine glory was revealed.
Several details appear in the event which express also the unity of the Old and New Testaments. The appearance of Jesus with Moses and Elijah indicates that Jesus is not a violator of the law, nor a blasphemer, but the one whom the law and the prophets had looked toward. The past (Moses and Elijah), the present (the kingdom of God already here) and the future (crucifixion, resurrection and the world to come) make up the content of the event.

The early Fathers regarded the Transfiguration, like Epiphany, as a sign of the transformation of human nature and of the reality of salvation. For salvation, they stressed, cannot be accomplished without the transfiguration of human nature by the power of God. Therefore, the feast of the Transfiguration is also the day of the celebration of the deification (theosis) of human nature. On this day all human nature was illuminated by the divine transfiguration. In this event, humanity reveals divinity. Finally, the Trinity is revealed in the Transfiguration, as it was in the Epiphany.

The Transfiguration of Christ is a major Feast of Christ. Let us enjoy it together. 

With Much Love in our Transfigured Lord,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message July 31, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Greetings from the Parish Fishing Trip at Strawberry Reservoir! The time spent up here in fun and fellowship has been a tremendous blessing to the community. While I will remain up here for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy tomorrow morning, Fr. Elias will be at St. Anna’s. Enjoy the blessings of Sunday Worship, either up at the lake or down at the church! Indeed, Sunday will be beautiful. And then, of course, please make your preparations for the following Monday as the Fast of the Dormition begins. And with the Fast, we also receive the lovely opportunity to pray the Paraklesis Service for the next two weeks. 

Please receive and appreciate the following thoughts on the season by Fr. Alexander Goussetis, the director of our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Cener for Family Care. 

On August 15th, Orthodox Christians celebrate the Dormition or Falling Asleep of the Theotokos. This feast honors the Virgin Mary, through whom the mystery of the Incarnation took place. The two weeks preceding the feast, August 1-14, represent a time of prayer and fasting. Liturgically, the Church offers a wonderful prayer service called the Paraklesis to the Theotokos.

For anyone who suffers from grief, depression, sorrow, or anxiety, the Paraklesis is a welcome salve to the soul. Although the gospel message of Jesus Christ is one of joy, the Paraklesis service recognizes that everyone, from time to time, experiences emotional and spiritual pain. Rather than isolating ourselves or feeling shame over our distress, the Paraklesis extends to us an invitation to share that pain with the

Theotokos, asking for her prayers and comfort.

Listen to these verses from hymns chanted during the service:

I entreat you, O Virgin, disperse the storm of my grief, and my souls most inward confusion, scatter it far from me…

Heal me from the ills, which the passions bring, most pure one, make me worthy of your guiding care. And unto me grant health, through your intercessions and your prayer.

Whatever emotional or spiritual state we find ourselves in, the message throughout the Paraklesis service is that God accepts and affirms us. We are welcomed and consoled whether our suffering is from despair or hopelessness, fear or isolation, grief or rejection. It is important to note that not once does the Paraklesis attribute our suffering to a lack of faith. Instead, we are allowed to see things as they are and to give voice to our feelings. Being permitted to name things as they are and not as they “should” be or “must” be can be cathartic and transformative.

The Paraklesis service, however, does not leave us in our wounded state. We are invited to start where we are emotionally and spiritually, and to slowly ascend to enlightenment, peace, hope, and the knowledge that God is the Physician of our souls and bodies. Listen to these verses that illustrate this point:

Pure one fill my heart, with a merriment, a happiness; bestow on me your spotless joy…

With the brightness of your light, dispel the darkness of my sins, O bride of God who gave birth to the divine and eternal Light!

We seek to pass through our sorrows, not to revel in them. As much as we cannot hide from the experience of darkness, so too we can never become so accustomed to dwelling therein that we do not try to find the light. This service is a holy avenue toward that light.

So how can families benefit liturgically from the Dormition fast?

  1. Attend as many of the Paraklesis services as you can. Offered on most weeknights, the child-friendly service is completed in less than one hour. By following along in the service book or chanting together with the congregation, the Paraklesis will offer hope and inner peace on daily basis. Many find the melodies so uplifting and infectious that they begin chanting portions of the service at home during their family prayer time.
  2. Help your children write a list of names of those whom you would like to intercede for and submit it to your parish priest. The Paraklesis service not only seeks the intercessions of the Theotokos for ourselves, but we are called to intercede for others. Writing the names of friends and foes on a prayer list is a concrete expression of our love for others.
  3. Either for yourself or with older children, write a list of concerns and pray about them during the service. Jesus wants us to share with him all of our thoughts, desires, and challenges in life. Writing a list of concerns and lifting them up to God is a sign of trust and openness. It welcomes God into the most intimate places of our soul.

Listen to the words of one of the final hymns of the Paraklesis service:

O Mother of God most high . . .

You are joy to the distressed; you are strength to the oppressed; you are food to those who sink into despair.

You console strangers; you support the blind; you visit the sick. You are shelter to the weary; you are comfort to the crushed; you are heavenly assistance to the orphans.

Mother of our God, guard me with care within your sheltered arms.

With God’s grace, may we enter this Dormition fast period with a sense of purpose and expectation.

For the most part, our Paraklesis Services will be celebrated outside in our Garden. Bring your lawn chair. Enjoy the Night Air. Gather under the protection of the Theotokos. 

With Much Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message July 17, 2022

Adorned with the beauty of Purity, O Virgin; crowned with the stigmata of martyrdom; stained with the blood of your struggles; and brilliantly radiant with healing wonders, piously, O Marina, you received the trophy of victory for your struggles.

Kontakion Hymn of St. Marina

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Tomorrow, as we gather for Sunday Services, we will commemorate one of the most popular and well-known Woman Martyr Saints, St. Marina of Antioch. She, along with others like Ss. Barbara, Katherine, and Paraskevi are remembered for their bravery, grace, witness, and strength.

The Holy Great Martyr Marina was born in Asia Minor, in the city of Antioch of Pisidia (southern Asia Minor), into the family of a pagan priest. In infancy she lost her mother, and her father gave her into the care of a nursemaid, who raised Marina in the Orthodox Faith.

Upon learning that his daughter had become a Christian, the father angrily disowned her. During the time of the persecution against Christians under the emperor Diocletian (284-305), when she was fifteen years old, Saint Marina was arrested and locked up in prison. With firm trust in the will of God and His help, the young prisoner prepared for her impending fate.

The governor Olymbrios, charmed with the beautiful girl, tried to persuade her to renounce the Christian Faith and become his wife. But the saint, unswayed, refused his offers. The vexed governor gave the holy martyr over to torture. Having beaten her fiercely, they fastened the saint with nails to a board and tore at her body with tridents. The governor himself, unable to bear the horror of these tortures, hid his face in his hands. But the holy martyr remained unyielding.

Thrown for the night into prison, she was granted heavenly aid and healed of her wounds. They stripped her and tied her to a tree, then burned the martyr with fire. Barely alive, the martyr prayed: “Lord, You have granted me to go through fire for Your Name, grant me also to go through the water of holy Baptism.”

St. Marina is also known to have been tormented in her prison cell by a demon, manifested as a dragon. Finding a hammer, she beat on the demon, thus identifying her as the “vanquisher of demons.” This is why she is often depicted ichnographically with a cross in one hand, and a hammer in the other.  

Hearing the word “water”, the governor gave orders to drown the saint in a large cauldron. The martyr besought the Lord that this manner of execution should become for her holy Baptism. When they plunged her into the water, there suddenly shone a light, and a snow-white dove came down from Heaven, bearing in its beak a golden crown. The fetters put upon Saint Marina came apart by themselves. The martyr stood up in the fount of Baptism glorifying the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Saint Marina emerged from the fount completely healed, without any trace of burns. Amazed at this miracle, the people glorified the True God, and many came to believe. This brought the governor into a rage, and he gave orders to kill anyone who might confess the Name of Christ. 15,000 Christians perished there, and the holy Martyr Marina was beheaded. The sufferings of the Great Martyr Marina were described by an eyewitness of the event, named Theotimos.

Up until the taking of Constantinople by Western crusaders in the year 1204, the relics of the Great Martyr Marina were in the Panteponteia Monastery. According to other sources, they were located in Antioch until the year 908 and from there transferred to Italy. Now they are in Athens, in a church dedicated to the holy Virgin Martyr. Her venerable hand was transferred to Mount Athos, to the Vatopedi monastery.

As we learn of the lives of the saints, it is my prayer that we acquire strength and inspiration from their tribulations, and intercessions before God through their pious prayers. St. Marina, pray for us!

Please be advised that this week, we will celebrate two weekday services. On Wednesday, we will celebrate the Feast of The Great Prophet Elias, and on Friday, two other pillars of the Church’s synaxis of women saints: St. Mary Magdaline, Myrrh Bearer and Equal to the Apostles, together on the shared Feast Day of the Virgin Great Martyr Markella of Chios. Both services begin with the Orthros at 8:00 am followed by the Divine Liturgy at 9:00 am. 

With Much Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message June 12, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the Old Testament Pentecost was the feast which occurred fifty days after Passover. As the Passover feast celebrated the exodus of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, so Pentecost celebrated God’s gift of the ten commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai.

In the new covenant of the Messiah, the Passover event takes on its new meaning as the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection, the “exodus” of men from this sinful world to the Kingdom of God. And in the New Testament as well, the pentecostal feast is fulfilled and made new by the coming of the “new law,” the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Christ.

When the day of Pentecost had come they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed as resting upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit . . .

Acts 2:1-4

The Holy Spirit that Christ had promised to his disciples came on the day of Pentecost (Jn 14.26, 15.26; Lk 24.49; Acts 1.5). The apostles received “the power from on high,” and they began to preach and bear witness to Jesus as the risen Christ, the King and the Lord. This moment has traditionally been called the birthday of the Church.

In the liturgical services of the feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit is celebrated together with the full revelation of the divine Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The fullness of the Godhead is manifested with the Spirit’s coming to man, and the Church hymns celebrate this manifestation as the final act of God’s self-disclosure and self-donation to the world of His creation. For this reason Pentecost Sunday is also called Trinity Day in the Orthodox tradition. Often on this day the icon of the Holy Trinity—particularly that of the three angelic figures who appeared to Abraham, the forefather of the Christian faith—is placed in the center of the church. This icon is used with the traditional pentecostal icon which shows the tongues of fire hovering over Mary and the Twelve Apostles, the original prototype of the Church, who are themselves sitting in unity surrounding a symbolic image of “cosmos,” the world.

On Pentecost we have the final fulfillment of the mission of Jesus Christ and the first beginning of the messianic age of the Kingdom of God mystically present in this world in the Church of the Messiah. For this reason the fiftieth day stands as the beginning of the era which is beyond the limitations of this world, fifty being that number which stands for eternal and heavenly fulfillment in Jewish and Christian mystical piety: seven times seven, plus one.

Thus, Pentecost is called an apocalyptic day, which means the day of final revelation. It is also called an eschatological day, which means the day of the final and perfect end (in Greek eschaton means the end). For when the Messiah comes and the Lord’s Day is at hand, the “last days” are inaugurated in which “God declares: . . . I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”; This is the ancient prophecy to which the Apostle Peter refers in the first sermon of the Christian Church which was preached on the first Sunday of Pentecost (Acts 2: 1 7; Joel 2: 28–32).

Once again it must be noted that the feast of Pentecost is not simply the celebration of an event which took place centuries ago. It is the celebration of what must happen and does happen to us in the Church today. We all have died and risen with the Messiah-King, and we all have received his Most Holy Spirit. We are the “temples of the Holy Spirit.” God’s Spirit dwells in us (Rom 8; 1 Cor 2–3, 12; 2 Cor 3; Gal 5; Eph 2–3). We, by our own membership in the Church, have received “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” in the sacrament of chrismation. Pentecost has happened to us.

The Divine Liturgy of Pentecost recalls our baptism into Christ with the verse from Galatians again replacing the Thrice-Holy Hymn. Special verses from the psalms also replace the usual antiphonal psalms of the liturgy. The epistle and gospel readings tell of the Spirit’s coming to men. The kontakion sings of the reversal of Babel as God unites the nations into the unity of his Spirit. The troparion proclaims the gathering of the whole universe into God’s net through the work of the inspired apostles. The hymns “O Heavenly King” and “We have seen the True Light” are sung for the first time since Easter, calling the Holy Spirit to “come and abide in us,” and proclaiming that “we have received the heavenly Spirit.” The church building is decorated with flowers and the green leaves of the summer to show that God’s divine Breath comes to renew all creation as the “life-creating Spirit.” In Hebrew the word for Spirit, breath and wind is the same word, “Ruah.”

Blessed are You, O Christ our God, who has revealed the fishermen as most wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit: through them You did draw the world into Your net. O Lover of Man, Glory to You.

Apolytikion of Pentecost

When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, he divided the nations. But when he distributed the tongues of fire, he called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-Holy Spirit!

Kontakion of Pentecost

The Great Vespers of Pentecost evening features three long prayers at which the faithful kneel for the first time since Easter. The Monday after Pentecost is the feast of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church, and the Sunday after Pentecost is the feast of All Saints. This is the logical liturgical sequence since the coming of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled in men by their becoming saints, and this is the very purpose of the creation and salvation of the world. “Thus says the Lord: Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I your God am holy” (Lev 11.44–45, 1 Pet 1.15–16). (From OCA)

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message June 5, 2022

See the source image

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Just this morning, many ladies from our parish gathered for their annual Women’s Ministry Team Membership Tea. It was a lovely gathering (besides the caterer, I was the only guy there) filled with warmth and grace. From the literal inception of our parish nearly eight years ago, the faithful of our Women’s Ministry Team have been the engine behind every philanthropic, service and outreach of our community. Indeed, there are many ministries dedicated to service within our parish. But inevitably, in some way or another, these efforts will run through the powerful force that is St. Anna Women. Thank God for their strength, vision, inspired purpose and generosity. 

One of the items discussed in today’s festive gathering was the idea of expanding, growing, maturing and stretching the boundaries of their philanthropic efforts. It seems the time has come, that we take this home-grown organization, our Women’s Ministry Team (WMT), and attach it to something more expansive and far-reaching. We are taking that next step and have petitioned His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver to establish a Philoptochos Chapter here at St. Anna’s. Our request was granted and he, in turn, has contacted the National Philoptochos Office in New York, that a charter be given to our local parish. What is Philoptochos? Ahh. One of those compound Greek words like:

Philanthropy – to be a friend of humanity

Philadelphia – to be a friend to one’s brother

Philoptochos – to be a friend to the poor. 

I’ll now let the Philoptochos leadership themselves describe their organization:

The Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society, Inc. is the philanthropic arm of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America that has offered 90 years of philanthropy through a multitude of programs that make a difference in the lives of people in the United States and throughout the world.  The Society was established in November 1931, by the late Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, who was then serving as Archbishop of North and South America.

Philoptochos fulfills its mission to “help the poor, the destitute, the hungry, the aged, the sick, the unemployed, the orphaned, the imprisoned, the widowed, those with disabilities and the victims of disasters through its National and Metropolis Boards and its 26,000 members and more than 400 active chapters, nationwide. Philoptochos responds immediately to needs and crises and its philanthropic outreach extends to each area of the country and throughout the world. In 2019, National Philoptochos distributed $1.7 million in philanthropic aid.

Since the late 1950’s, upon the recommendation of Archbishop Iakovos, Philoptochos has placed an increased emphasis on the implementation of important programs to benefit the Greek Orthodox community, including, but not limited to, institutions of the Church, the philanthropies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and assistance to Greek and Greek Orthodox families. Involvement in social and moral issues encouraged the establishment of several committees to address topics such as child abuse prevention, domestic violence, homelessness, pornography, drug and alcohol abuse, and aging.

Since 1987, the National Philoptochos office has employed a professional Social Worker, engaged in assisting the Greek Orthodox community in the United States as well as Greek and Cypriot nationals. The Department of Social Services is a very important, vital element of our organization. The mission of the Department is to improve the quality of life of those in need, in a way that maintains the dignity and self-respect of the individuals. Through confidential and professional services, the office provides outreach, education, information, support, intervention, motivation, advocacy, financial assistance and referral to local and broader resources. (From the National Philoptochos website)

I am so proud of our parish ladies that we have come to this milestone as a parish. The money they raise, the time they dedicate to charities, the efforts they put into making people’s loves better, more comfortable and with a greater sense of dignity will now be expanded upon a much larger stage. Look out world, to God’s greater glory, here come the St. Anna Ladies!

I ask that you continue to pray for the dynamic women of our parish. Please pray for them, their families, their endeavors and their efforts, both individual and collective, to be the loving hand of God in a suffering world. Our parish of St. Anna is only one of two, TWO parishes in the Metropolis of Denver named after a female saint: St. Katherine’s and us (besides the Monastery of St. Paraskeve). Our own parish identity is that of a strong, faithful, long-suffering, and patient woman. She lived her life for God and family. She is the mother of the Mother of all. Let us celebrate her very legacy through our support of Philoptochos efforts locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. There is much work to be done. Our ladies are equipped and ready. 

This is all so exciting!

With Much Love in Christ, 

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message May 22, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is Risen!

Truly He is Risen!

Last Sunday, following the Divine Liturgy (and a wonderful lunch sponsored by amazing Russian and Ukranian members of parish family), we held our Spring Parish Assembly. Among other business, we shared the latest details on our building project. When I see you tomorrow morning for Sunday Divine Liturgy, we you will notice, even from now, significant progress.

I would like to share with you, the prayer I lifted up on behalf of our community, to begin the blessed process of transforming our massive space into sacred space.
Please, don’t just read the following words, pray them. Lift them up in your voice. Please speak to God through your heart. 

As of Monday, the mess began. And so does the fun, excitement and anticipation. By God’s grace, I offer this for your consideration…

Let us Pray to the Lord.

Lord Have Mercy.

O God Almighty, Who made the Heavens with wisdom and has established the earth upon its sure foundations, the Creator and Author of all men, look upon these Your servants, the parishioners of your St. Anna Church, dedicated to the ministry, witness and eternal memory of Your maternal grandmother. Grant these Your children to whom it has seemed good to build up a house of worship, in the dominion of Your Power, and to rear it by building; establish it upon a stable rock, and found it according to Your divine word in the Gospel, so that neither wind, nor flood, nor any other thing shall be able to harm it; graciously grant that we may bring it to completion, and deliver all us who shall wish to worship therein from every attack of the evil one.

You, O Lord, gave your instructions to build the Ark of the Covenant to house the tablets of Your Commandments.

You, O Lord, before the coming of the flood waters, gave your instructions to build the Ark of Noah, thus preserving life on Earth, awaiting Your redemption and mercy,

You, O Lord, gave the instructions upon which Your Temple was built in Jerusalem, so that your people would know You, Find You and worship You.

You, O Lord are the architect of life, the creator of existence, the designer of this word, the heavens and all that exists.

You are the builder of the Church. For You, O Lord, are the Church.

Lord God, bless our efforts as we begin the task of transforming the building, which in Your wisdom, and through the clear intercessions of St. Anna, has been received by your people.

Bless the hands of the craftsmen who are charged with the transformation of a Garden Center, to the Center of Your Garden. Allow us to find here, Your Kingdom. Allow us to walk through Your Garden Gates to find comfort, peace, refreshment, respite, clarity and grace.

Lord, keep the construction workers and all who will enter herein for the following many months, safe from and harm or injury.

Lord, please continue to inspire in us a spirit of sacrifice, generosity, and vision. Allow us to see to the end, a house dedicated to you: a dignified space of Orthodox worship. A place for fellowship and learning. A place for gathering as a Christian people of service and outreach.

Lord, let this transformed place, with bells tolling, and voices singing, be a source of witness to the greater community. Let the people see a transfigured space and divinely purposed grounds, that your face may shine upon them. Let them be introduced to You through the efforts we are about to undertake. 

Lord Christ our God, You have guided us to this place. Inspire and strengthen us. Grant us patience and understanding in the coming months as our spiritual lives will no doubt be inconvenienced and disrupted at times. Let the challenges of each passing day not cause us frustration or resentment, but rather show us the greater and ultimate purpose that will be revealed in the end.

Lord, never let our spirit of gratitude ebb or fade. We are grateful for all of the abundant gifts that You have showered down upon us. Keep us mindful that You are the one and only reason we have embarked on such an ambitious journey.

Lord, allow us to enjoy every milestone, point of progression and completed task in our church construction project. Every new wall, stone, door, tile and hinge will be placed to bring You glory.

Lord. We ask of You. Bless the beginning steps of this effort.

For Yours is the dominion, and Yours is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Christ is Risen From the Dead, Trampling Down Death by Death, and upon Those in the Tombs He is Bestowing Life. Truly the Lord is Risen!

With Much Love and Gratitude in our Risen Lord,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message May 8, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

I hope, pray and trust that these days of the Resurrection bring you joy, hope and inspiration. We are heading into the summer with much anticipation, many changes to our physical campus, and a continued sense of urgency to keep us gathered together as a family in Christ. We are one family in Christ.

A couple months ago, we started to notice an increase in church attendance and ministry activities. This is a great blessing.  Seeing faces from a pandemic ago as Holy Week and Pascha emerged made us all feel very happy. What can make us feel better as a faith community, than rekindled relationships?  We’ve also been blessed to meet many new visitors, inquirers and families who have recently moved into the area.

But I want to make something very clear and publicly known that neither myself nor our parish council take a single family or individual for granted. Our St. Anna parish is barely eight years old. Even in these few years, people have come and gone, attended and moved, bought in, bowed out. Especially as we headed into the pandemic. This reality was certainly not unique to our parish. No matter your industry, institution, enterprise, or otherwise, disbursement, displacement and disappearance has been a harsh reality. 

As a pastor, my vocation and life’s work is relationships. I try to foster stronger ones, strive to mend broken ones, and hope to create new ones. That is, relationships between you and me, you and each other, and absolutely, positively, most-importantly, between all of us and God. During the rest of the Spring and into the Summer, you will really see how serious I and your parish council are about the good health of our relationships. 

Parish Council President, Steve Simos and I have identified several, distinct ministry and demographic groups within our St. Anna parish. Working with our parish council, we are going to be planning and hosting several open houses with these individual groups. That way, we can listen to the exact reasons we may have drifted these last couple years. We can learn what to do better as a parish, irregardless of pandemic-related issues. We want active feedback and hope for a strong and shared commitment to the spiritual well being of our community. We can all work together with a shared vision for our immediate and long-range future.

Much investment in time and resources are being dedicated to just that – our future, with the build out of our sanctuary and facilities. The exterior of the church will soon be unmistakably recognizable as an Orthodox Christian church.

Again, will it look like a post card from the Greek Islands? No.

Will it have whitewashed walls and a blue dome? No.

Will it convey traditional and defined characteristics of a Greek Orthodox house of worship? Absolutely!

And of course, that’s just the outside. Inside the sanctuary itself, there will be no question about the sacred atmosphere of which we are accustomed. 

Just like our building is transforming somewhat on the outside, but especially on the inside, this is what must take place within each one of us, as well. Every individual person and family, lay people and clergy, young and old, cradle Orthodox and adult converts, must be inspired to grow, expand and change. All of us!

Just like the physical structure of our church, the spiritual structure of our parish must be transfigured as well – ministries, classes, gatherings, parish communications, outreach, individual witness and worship – they all need sharpening in delivery and in participation. What a blessed opportunity for us to press upward and forward.
I hope to mirror our spiritual transformation with our physical transformation. Otherwise, what would be the point of repurposing our building in the first place?

Doing all of this just off a disruption of coronavirus’ magnitude is, what I believe, perfectly timed. We’re going to make lemonade out of a two-year lemon!

Even though the actual Feast of Pascha has come and gone, we are still very much in the days of the Resurrection. We find warmth in the glow which continues to radiate from Christ’s empty tomb. In the life of the Church, these are the happiest, most joy-filled days. Let Pascha, the Feast of Renewal, the Feast of Restoration, the Feast of Transformation come alive in the change of our building and the change in our hearts. Let the expansion of our building parallel the expansion of our horizons. Let the beautification of our space make our souls, once again, white as snow.

Dear and lovely people of our St. Anna family. Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished. God bless you for your vision and focus. Let me, once again thank you for your unyielding commitment and sustained generosity.

When you are called upon to participate in your Open House(s), please don’t hesitate or hold back. Get ready! Changes are coming. In brick and mortar. And in hearts and souls.

With Much Love in our Risen Lord,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message April 10, 2022

The image of God was faithfully preserved in you, O Mother. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ.By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal.
Wherefore, O Holy Mary, your soul rejoices with the angels.

Hymn of St. Mary of Egypt

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Tomorrow, we come to the fifth and final Sunday of Great Lent. The next time we gather for Sunday worship, we will usher Christ triumphantly into Jerusalem with the commemoration of Palm Sunday (see attached flyer). But tomorrow, we have presented to us, the unique life, trials and glory of St. Mary of Egypt.

St. Mary of Egypt left nothing but an oral account of her life when she met St. Zossimas of Palestine. After she slept in the Lord, her life story was passed down orally by the fathers at his monastery, until St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, recorded it around the end of 7th century AD.

According to this account, St. Mary lived during the reign of the Emperor Justinian, in mid-6th century AD. She was born in Egypt in a small town outside Alexandria. In her early teen years she fled her home and went to Alexandria where she lived for about seventeen years in poverty but also in promiscuity, giving herself freely to any man who would spend a few hours with her. 

St. Mary was about thirty years old when she heard of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. She decided to join the group but did not have enough money to pay for the trip, so she arranged to offer her body in exchange for the fare. When the pilgrim group arrived in Jerusalem, they went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to venerate the Precious Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Mary found that it was impossible for her to enter; she was held back by a mysterious force like an invisible wall standing in front of her. She then realized that her careless and sinful life prevented her from venerating the Holy Cross. 

She broke into tears of repentance, praying to the Theotokos to help her. Immediately, the invisible wall disappeared and Mary entered the church, kneeled in front of the icon of the Theotokos, and then venerated the Holy Cross. At that moment, she heard a voice telling her to go to the desert of the River Jordan where she would have the help, guidance, and protection of the Theotokos. 

Mary did as she was told, and traveled to the desert on foot. She lived there in total solitude, battling her passions, crying, praying, and eating and sleeping as little as possible. In her darkest hours, she had the help of the Theotokos who never abandoned her. After years of toiling in solitude,

St. Mary reached the highest level of perfection: her body was not in need of clothes or nutrition, and by God’s Grace she was granted the gift of foreseeing.  

Forty-seven years after St. Mary retreated in the desert, another monastic, St. Zossimas, who, as was the tradition at his monastery, had gone to dwell in the desert during Great Lent, reached the place of her seclusion. St. Mary approached him in a miraculous way, told him her life story, and asked him to come again the following year to offer her Holy Communion. St. Zossimas was amazed to have discovered this hidden ascetic, more so a woman, who had reached spiritual perfection.

St. Zossimas visited St. Mary again the next year on Holy Thursday. To reach him, St. Mary crossed the Jordan River without touching the water. She received Holy Communion, and returned to the desert. The following year, St. Zossimas went out again to meet the Saint, and found her dead body peacefully lying on the ground. An inscription nearby informed him that she had slept in the Lord right after receiving Holy Communion, and instructed him to do her funeral service and bury her body. St. Zossimas did as instructed. It is said that a lion came to help him dig St. Mary’s grave. Upon return to his monastery, he shared the precious secret with the brotherhood, and St. Mary’s story was passed on orally until written down about a century later. (Account from Orthodox Pebbles)

Much Love in XC,

Fr. Anthony Savas

Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message April 3, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

How much it must grieve a father or a mother to see his or her child suffering without reason. To undergo pain and confusion — for what? Where is God in our plight — we may often ask ourselves. Where is God in all this pain and confusion?

Today we arrive at the fourth week of Lent. In today’s Gospel reading we heard of a father who was on his last hope. His son was possessed by a certain spirit from childhood, which was causing his son pain and confusion. Not even Jesus’ disciples could cure the boy. He brought his son to Jesus, who upon hearing of the father’s plight became exceedingly upset at the whole crowd and expressed these strong and direct words “Oh you faithless generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you.” The Child was immediately brought close to Jesus and the spirit convulsed him instantly. As we know the child was eventually healed. But at what price one may ask? The father accepted and confessed his unbelief and beseeched God with tears to make his faith complete? This is the price, the fulfillment of our faith — payed by Christ himself yet we must pray and beseech Him as well.

It is perhaps important to stress here that this miracle account nowhere refers to the spirit by any title such as demon, or devil. It is perhaps because this spirit is in reference to the spirit of this world, the enemy of Christ. It is the spirit of this generation well rooted in society, it is passed on to our children like a virus. Brethren remember these words well — it is the spirit of this generation which throws our youth about like the child with the spirit we heard earlier today. It smashes them to the ground, it throws them into the fire to be burnt, it throws them into the water to be drowned — today its drugs, alcohol, gambling, anything to distort the image and likeness of God, within them.

This spirit has a very old history going way back to primordial Man, Adam and Eve. It is firmly established and can not come out by anything — except, as our Lord instructed Moses, as our Lord instructed his disciples, as our Lord instructs us today, by beseeching God through prayer and fasting.

“Why could we not cast it out”, his disciples asked their master in shame. We also must ask why can’t we cast this spirit out from our lives and our children’s lives?

Brethren, because as our Lord tells us “This kind can come out by nothing except prayer and fasting”. This is the key to contrite repentance. this twofold formula which treads on the head of this serpent of old and yields our first step towards heaven — contrite repentance.

It is no coincidence then that the first and second steps of Saint John’s 30 chapter book The Ladder (of Divine Ascent) are concerned with the renunciation of this life, this world we live in and detachment from all it’s pleasures. We honor Saint John of the Ladder today as a great Saint of our church who reminds us that going to heaven is not as easy as getting into an elevator and pressing a button. On the contrary, it is a long and hazardous climb which is impossible to scale fully unless we beseech God for assistance. May God grant us all fullness of faith, peace and joy on our climb to heaven — Amen. (From the Orthodox Research Institute)


With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter