Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter June 21, 2020

Good Afternoon, Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

I pray you are well, and that your spirits are full of the calm and peace of Jesus Christ. I look forward to the next opportunity to be with you, praying together in the church building that we worked so hard to acquire to the glory of God. Though I am still awaiting the results of my coronavirus test, I am confident in a negative result and fully expect to resume active ministry on June 25th. Please continue to pray for the welfare and good health of all who have suffered under the presence of this biological menace. 

This Sunday is Father’s Day and I am pleased to share that the church will be open for live worship! The Orthros will begin at 9:00 am followed by the Divine Liturgy at 10:00 am. Due to my continued quarantine, there will be no weekday services until after my first Sunday back in church. I am sorry for that great inconvenience. But we must all pray for the time when this is behind us.

Having been touched by the realities of coronavirus, institutionally and personally, I have gained a great sense of humility and helplessness against a force that is much greater than all of out control. We can take precautions, follow guidelines, create procedures and live life through vigilance. We can’t stop the spread. But we need to do all we can to mitigate it.

Therefore, through the direction of our parish council, and with my full, enthusiastic support, we have upgraded out mask policy at the church:Beginning with Sunday’s services, the wearing of a face mask is required to enter the building.

We are not the first Greek Orthodox Church to make face coverings necessary, and I’m sure we will not be the last. But more and more organizations are tightening this restriction rather than loosening. it. Though I shouldn’t need to say this, I feel compelled to anyway: this is not a political statement.

This has nothing to do with party affiliations, political philosophies, Constitutional interpretations or anything other than our desire to create the safest environment possible, so people are free to worship at ease, and with confidence that we take the spread of coronavirus seriously. 
Two weeks ago, we opened the church, and right off the bat we had a positive case of the virus at church. Had we not responsibly acted on safety measures, and had there not been a 100% compliance with our face mask request, perhaps our benign outcome would have been disastrously altered.  It makes full sense to look out for each other, respect our mutual desire for wellness and dawn a mask for a couple hours.

Our community was established through positive energy, selfless sacrifice, a familial sense of community, the prayers of St. Anna, our protector and, and through the creative hand of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us continue on this same path, walking together (six feet apart, of course) and moving collectively to the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel.

To all of our dads, grandfathers and godfathers, I pray fervently for you and the families who will honor you. I welcome Fr. Nicholas Andruchow as our celebrant on Sunday, June 21st, and thank him for not allowing us to suffer another Sunday without a St. Anna Divine Liturgy. I, like many of you, will be worshiping at St. Anna’s through my computer. I find that a blessing, in that it will give me a more intimate exposure to your own  liturgical experience, and will undoubtedly help me improve our live streaming process.

God Bless and Be Well!

With Much Love in XC,

Fr. Anthony Savas 

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter May 31, 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It’s been said that The Nativity of Christ is God with us. The Wood of the Cross is God for us. The Feast of Pentecost is God within us.

Indeed, these are simple, theological statements, but they are also very true. The events in Bethlehem prove that the Incarnate God had chosen to live with, and minister to humankind. The events of the Crucifixion are witness to God’s unyielding love for his fallen creation. And though Pentecost does not take place until next Sunday, I am reminding you now, that this great Feast is nothing short of God taking up permanent residence in the bodies and souls of the Christian Faithful. As the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we become consecrated vessels, living temples and hallowed beings.

 We have one more week before this wondrous miracle is made manifest and becomes a new reality in the continuous cycle of our liturgical life. Please use this week in prayer and preparation. To be sure, we have much to prepare for, and pray about.

Sunday, June 7th, the Day of Pentecost is the first day in two months that you are welcome to return to church and worship with your fellow St. Anna Parishioners. Are you ready? Are you prepared? If you are, that is fantastic and I can’t wait to see you. If you still feel uneasy about venturing out, please be reminded that there is no judgment against anyone moving at a slower pace. St. Anna’s will be there, waiting for you when you prayerfully decide to put away your dress sweats and fancy bathrobes, and actually come to a service!

I’m sending these reminders a week early so you can mark your calendars and get your self prepared. We have everything arranged for your return. While the sanctuary will look very different from the last time you were present, with chairs removed, directional decals on the floor and signs posted inside and out, the familiarity of the home you acquired will cover you like a warm blanket.

We have space for approximately 86 people, since we have expanded the sanctuary to include the over-flow space behind the barn doors. I have not devised a system to have you sign up because based on my conversations with you, there are quite a few families who are waiting a bit longer to return. Never the less, I am praying that I’ll see 86 of you next Sunday.

When you come, please be courteous to your fellow Christians and wear a face mask. Are we requiring the use of a mask? No. Are we strongly encouraging you to do the right, thing, use common sense and do your part to slow the spread of coronavirus, and anything else that may come from an errant sneeze or cough? Yes. Yes, we are.

The following Tuesday, June 9th will be our first service celebrated for parishioners who are at least 65. Liturgy only – at 9:00 am. Please enjoy the extra measure of safety that has been prepared for you.

And as another reminder, starting next week (NOT this week) the Paraklesis Service is being moved to Thursday evenings and you are also welcome and encouraged to come to the church for that service. 
Starting the second week of June, I am going to start a Bible Study on Wednesday Evenings at 7:00 via Zoom. Please email me if you are interested in participating and I will send you the link. We will study points of Scripture that speak to calamity  and distress. These times have been challenging and difficult. The Bible has much to say to comfort, guide and ground us. I’ve enjoyed my preparations for this Bible Study. It has given me much comfort already.

I hope to see more of you tomorrow, with your families to receive Holy Communion tomorrow after the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. 
If you have any questions, concerns or comments, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you as soon as possible,

With Much Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter May 17, 2020

Patient endurance kills the despair that kills the soul; it teaches the soul to take comfort and not to grow listless in the face of its many battles and afflictions

St. Peter of Damaskos

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is Risen!
Truly He is Risen!

I trust and pray that this writing finds you well, in good health and in high spirits. The challenging days that we have endured, and the ones that most certainly lie ahead, have and will be the test of our generation in the face of adversity on a large and pervasive scale.

Thus far, as a community of faith and a Christian family, we have continued to weather this storm with grace, patience and hope. I pray that these virtues will continue to guide us as we begin, ever so gingerly, to emerge from that which has constrained us and dictated our every move – most especially our ability to gather together as worshippers of the most high God.  

Late last week, we received a new set of directives from His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver. The Protocol was prefaced with a letter from Dn. Paul Zaharas, the chancellor of the Metropolis of Denver. He stated that “to be clear, this is not a blanket permission to resume services, but rather for doing so when possible in your area.”

This statement was meant for the prudent pastor to internalize every word; to know the directives of local governments, to assess the readiness of his given congregation and  the strengths/liabilities of the physical campus in which he serves.

This past week I have been able to meet with the chancellor of the Metropolis and all Metropolis of Denver clergy, local Greek Orthodox Priests and our parish team that has been assembled to develop and execute a prudent and deliberate plan for us to return to church as safely as possible. After all of these meetings and with all of our shared experience in mind, we are ready to begin our opening.

Please be aware that at any time, due to changes in State regulations or Metropolis directives, these plans may be altered in part or completely.

In one week from tomorrow, we will begin the slow task of opening up the church on Sunday’s much like we were doing before our worship was closed for good.

Per CDC recommendations, the wishes of the St. Anna Parish Council, my urgent request, and your common, good sense, and in consideration for safety of those around you, all who enter St. Anna’s will be asked to be wearing a face mask. You should know that by Metropolis decree, I am required to wear a face mask while distributing Holy Communion.

Per His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, individuals who have been exposed to the virus, experienced symptoms, or who are part of vulnerable groups, should stay home and be ministered to by the priest.

Sundays, May 24th and 31st will be open for the faithful to receive Communion following the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Communion will be offered in the Narthex of St. Anna’s from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm.

Sunday, June 7th, The Feast of Pentecost will be the first, scheduled service where the faithful are permitted to attend. This will be a glorious day. The chairs in the sanctuary, and pews in the over-flow space will be reconfigured to reflect social distancing requirements. Families are welcome to sit together. All individual worshipers, couples and families are still required to be six feet from one another.

Services for Worshipers 65 and Older will be celebrated once a week, likely Tuesday mornings. This Divine Liturgy will be offered to those who require an extra blanket of safety measures and we are happy to offer it to them.

Appointments for Communion, Confession and Unction are now, thankfully permitted. Please contact me directly to schedule a visit, either in your home or at the church for individual opportunities to participate in the Sacramental Life of the Church. I very much look forward to resuming ministry at this level.

Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals are now permitted to resume. Although His Eminence recommends that these services (not funerals) be postponed if possible, the church is able to offer these Sacraments, with modest numbers of participants and while exercising social distancing protocols.

Choirs and Congregational Singing are not permitted until further notice. A single chanter is to be utilized in the worship of the church. A second chanter is permitted if they are arranged far apart. Since we are accustomed to singing out while in church, and this is a practice that we know will be hard to resist, this is all the more reason that we wear masks in church.

Weekday and Other Services will continue, but while considering safe practices. For example, Saturday Evening Great Vespers will continue to be available only through livestreaming. The time between Vespers and Liturgy the next day does not give ample time to properly disinfect the space. After June 7th, the faithful may participate in Weekly Paraklesis Services, and other services, per the liturgical calendar. Parishioners that are +65 are the only ones permitted to attend such Liturgies.

Livestreaming will continue at all times, even after the pandemic has been put to rest.

Social Gatherings, Meetings and Classes are still prohibited per Metropolis directives. As soon as these practices can be revived, I will joyfully resume them. Until then, I have been learning how to utilize Zoom teleconferencing and will begin a summer Bible Study and other digital opportunities for growth and fellowship.

As parish leadership, we are taking this time to be proficient in cleaning practices, disinfecting protocols, traffic flow designs and air-flow, and most especially increased prayer.

Increased and Sustaining Prayer!

Do all of these requirements sound too worldly? Do you detect a lack of faith in our church leadership from the bishop to the priest? Please do not. Our sacred and perfect Church exists in the realities of fallen nature. We are subject to disease and exist in a state of fallen grace. Do not confuse caution, respect for life, practical realities, and the sanctity of the person with over-zealous practices. Our Metropolitan’s actions illustrate that we should be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I, as well as the entirety of our parish council are in full agreement.

In closing, I remind you to call, email or text so that we can schedule a time for you to come back to your church. Come visit! I am anxious to see you! Happy to minister unto you.

With Love in our Risen Lord,

Fr. Anthony

On a grateful note: I am thankful to announce that within less than 48 hours of announcing our St. Anna Virtual Food Drive to benefit the Utah Food Bank, we surpassed our goal of $5,000. I thank you for your continued generosity in the face of adversity. Know that that amount equates to almost $40,000 in practical goods and services using the leverage of Utah Food Bank resources. 

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter April 5, 2020

ON LOVE FOR ONE’S NEIGHBOUR

Love for God and for one’s neighbor, they go together and cannot be divorced

With silence, tolerance and prayer we benefit others in a mystical way

When we see that the people around us have no love for God we are distressed. But with our distress we achieve nothing at all. Nor do we achieve anything by trying to persuade them to change their ways. That’s not right either. There is a secret, however, and if we understand it, we will be able to help. The secret is our prayer and our devotion to God so that His grace may act. We, with our love, with our fervent desire for the love of God, will attract grace so that it washes over those around us and awakens them to divine love. Or rather God will send His love and will rouse them all. What we are unable to do, His grace will achieve. With our prayers, we will make all worthy of God’s love.

And you should be aware of something else. Souls that have known pain and suffering and that are tormented by their passions win most especially the love and grace of God. It is souls such as these that become saints, and very often we pass judgment on them. Remember what Saint Paul says, Where sin abounded, grace flowed even more abundantly.1 When you remember this, you will feel that these people are more worthy than you and than me. We see them as weak, but when they open themselves to God they become all love and all divine eros.* Whereas previously they had acquired different habits, they now give all the power of their soul to Christ and are set on fire by Christ’s love. That is how God’s miracle works in such souls, which we regard as ‘lost’.

We shouldn’t be discouraged, nor should we rush to conclusions, nor judge on the basis of superficial and external things. If, for example, you see a woman immodestly dressed, don’t have regard only for her outward appearance, but look more deeply into her soul. She may be a very good soul with an existential restlessness, which she expresses through her shocking appearance. She has a dynamism within her, the power of self-projection; she wishes to attract the eyes of others. But through lack of awareness she has distorted things. Think what would happen if she were to come to know Christ. She would believe and she would turn all her passion towards Christ. She would do everything to attract the grace of God. She would become a saint.

It is a kind of self-projection of our own when we insist on other people becoming good. In reality, we wish to become good, but because we are unable to, we demand it of others and insist on this. And whereas all things are corrected through prayer, we often are distressed or become outraged and pass judgment on others.

Often through our anxieties and fears and our poor psychological state, without intending to and without being aware of it, we do harm to another person, even if we love him very much, as, for example, a mother loves her child. The mother transmits to the child all her anxiety about its life, about its health and about its progress, even if she doesn’t speak to the child and even if she doesn’t express what she has inside her. This love, this natural love, that is, can on occasion be harmful. This is not true, however, of the love of Christ that is combined with prayer and holiness of life. This love makes a person holy; it brings him peace, because God is love.

Let our love be only in Christ. In order to benefit others you must live in the love of God, otherwise you are unable to do good to your fellow man. You mustn’t pressurize the other person. His time will come, as long as you pray for him. With silence, tolerance and above all by prayer we benefit others in a mystical way. The grace of God clears the horizon of his mind and assures him of His love. Here is the fine point. As soon as he accepts that God is love, then abundant light such as he has never seen will come upon him. Thus he will find salvation.

From “Wounded by Love: The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios” (1906-1991)

Do you want to show love for your neighbor? Stay inside. Keep a safe distance if you need to go out.

Protect yourselves. Protect those whom you don’t even know!

Attention St. Anna Parishioners:

Though we have not altered the church calendar printed in the Bulletin, we are awaiting instructions from the Archdiocese and Metropolis as to how we are to celebrate the Divine Services of Holy Week and Pascha during our present pandemic situation. The schedule will most certainly change.

As soon as I have concrete direction, I will redesign our Holy Week Flyer and send it out.

Hope to have you with us online for tonight’s chanting of the Akathist Hymn at 7:00 pm on YouTube.

God Bless!

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter March 29, 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

God bless and keep you all. I pray you are well. I pray you are not lonely. I pray you are hopeful. I pray you find joy in this shaken world.

Christ is Joy!

Thank you for sending in your pictures of your home churches. I will be sharing them from time to time. It is important that we begin to identify our personal, home altars as the sacred spaces that they are. We are unable to be together, gathered as a worshiping body in the holy space which we all worked so hard to acquire. But do not be despondent or grieving. We are learning the lessons that countless Orthodox Christians through history have experienced.

When war raged around the cities and villages, the home became the church.

When Islamic Turks attempted to eradicate the presence of Christ for nearly 400 years, the home became the church.

When communism attempted to silence the voice of the Saints for nearly 70 years, the home became the church.

As the Coronavirus Pandemic rages on, the home, your home has become the church!

Of course the difference is, that we can literally have the church in our homes, given the miracles of technology.

Tomorrow morning at 9:00 am we will celebrate the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts.

Tomorrow evening at 7:00 pm, we will celebrate the Fourth Stanza of the Salutations to the Theotokos.

Sunday Services are as scheduled. Following Sunday’s Divine Liturgy, St. Anna’s will also be open from Noon to 1:00 pm for Communion and for you to come into the church and pray. Please keep respectful distances to maintain the safety of the greater community. Members of the Parish Council will be there to assist.

The link to our YouTube Channel is https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8PbdstnLVq-reIVOb3GiwA

The proper equipment for our live streaming capabilities is slowing coming in. People are working hard to deliver to you the best quality experience.  So thank you for your continued patience.

But then again, to my prior point, we are praying comfortably in our homes, with televisions, computers and smart phones. We are not held up in the basements of Leningrad or in the caves of Cappadocia. I suppose our grainy picture and garbled, under-water sound isn’t so bad after all!

Please work to establish and continue a proper discipline of prayer; using this newly-found time to your spiritual benefit and salvific advantage. My family and I, gathered around an icon of the Holy Trinity this evening at 10:00 pm and prayed the prescribed and altered version of the Jesus Prayer, asking God’s mercy upon His created world. Our simple, six-person contribution to the universal voice of collective Orthodox Christian prayer was palpable. Please prayerfully participate. God will hear our plea. He will receive our prayers. He will accept our petitions.

And lastly, c’mon now, there are still a few empty chairs in the church. I need you there with me. Send in your pictures. Once this is all over and we can come together again, I will bind all of these pictures together as an eternal reminder of our love for one another, united in the Body of Christ, while gratefully calling St. Anna’s our home.

Stay strong. Be well. Check in on each other. Pray the new Jesus Prayer. Pray the actual Jesus Prayer. Pour yourselves into the Scriptures. Chant the Liturgy at home. Be as One!

With Much Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony

I really, really, really miss you. 

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Prayer After an Earthquake

Let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy.

O God, who has established the earth upon firm foundations, graciously receive the prayers of Your people: and, having utterly removed the dangers of the shaken earth, turn the terrors of Your divine wrath into the means of the salvation of mankind; that they who are of the earth may rejoice to find themselves citizens of heaven by means of a holy life.

These things we ask in Your Holy Name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Latest Coronavirus Update

Lord of the Powers, Be with Us…

While I fully understand the intent of today’s ‘social distancing,’  I am very much opposed to the term.  Rather, I prefer ‘physical distancing,’ because the pandemic requires us to be physically spread out. Our social community, the Church family which constitutes the very Body of Christ should not, or better yet cannot be distanced. As these temporary accommodations physically separate us for a time, may our loving and merciful God preserve His people as He has done for almost two thousand years, and ultimately draw us closer to Him and one another in the very near future.

His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, 

It is my solemn prayer that you continue to find peace and comfort in your precious Orthodox Christian Faith as we continue to experience circumstances that are unique in our lifetimes and contribute to worries and anxieties. Our present, mystical times are supported by a connection to the Creative God Who, by His Wisdom, created the entirety of the Universe. I ask that you pay special attention to this and all messages that come to you from the St. Anna’s. Us staying connected in all ways possible is how we will endure; taking the words of His Eminence to heart.

To that end, please be advised… 

As of today, all Liturgical celebrations are suspended for public participation at St. Anna’s until further notice. We are working diligently to set up live broadcasts of services. But until that is in place, please know that I will be here, with the necessary personnel to conduct our Divine Services. As of now, all Compline, Presanctified Liturgies, Weekday Liturgies, Sunday Liturgies and Salutations/Akathist Services are omitted from the Calendar for public participation.

I will let you know when live streaming is available. Until then, there are a multitude of parishes throughout the world that offer such services. Annunciation in Modesto, CA; St. Demetrios in Weston, MA; and St. John the Baptist in Tampa, FL are a few that come to mind. Check their websites for times and availability. I will publish the same when that time comes for us. I expect to be operational soon. It is the highest priority for me right now.

Starting this Sunday, March 22, the church will be open from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm so that the Faithful can receive Holy Communion (per Metropolitan Isaiah). There will be Parish Council Members present to make sure that the numbers of individuals present (though still expected to be small) can be spaced out and kept from harmful distances. This will allow us to maintain proper health procedures from the government and allow us to continue our access to the Mysteries of the Church. Let me be perfectly clear. The church will be open for one hour on Sundays for you to receive Holy Communion. The Divine Liturgy will be celebrated beforehand, behind closed doors.

As members of the St. Anna Parish, you can expect to be contacted by a volunteer from our Service Ministry Team starting early next week. The infrastructure is being finalized and put into place so the spiritual, emotional, and practical needs of our parishioners can be accommodated during these unique days. Our parishioners will be given an ongoing opportunity to have access to home clergy visits, access to mental health professionals and runners to pick up groceries, prescriptions and other necessities as needs arise. I will be prepared by the end of this week to offer more details, but for now, know that if you are a member of the St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church, you will not be isolated and removed from the body that is our parish; and from the Body that is our Lord Jesus Christ. We have 220 households in our Parish Directory. Obviously our email list is much greater. If you are a portion of our greater sphere – that is, you are on our email list but not a member of the parish, let me know if we can be of assistance to you or an at-need member of your family. Provided you are here along the Wasatch Front, of course.

Again, we will be checking in on every member of our parish. Be prepared to receive a call and please be honest with how we can help you. But hey, don’t wait for us. Please call and check on each other. These calls will continue every couple weeks until this crisis subsides.

Just as our children who are not in school are required to maintain their studies and not consider this time a “vacation,” the same must be said for your time away from participating in the Worshiping Body that is the Church. God forbid! Please access daily Scriptural Readings and Lives of the Saints from www.goarch.org. You can also access beneficial and enlightening podcasts at www.ancientfaith.com/radio. Spend time with your families in prayer, meditation, and spiritual discussions. Specifically designed for children, please access www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend.

If you are feeling sick and specifically have the symptoms associated with Coronavirus and Covid-19, please contact your health care professional as soon as possible. If you are in need of any immediate spiritual assistance, please contact me as soon as possible. Even though you are not able to attend services in person, I am still here, conducting services, doing the work of the parish and available to you in whatever way possible.

Even though we are not connected as a physical body, the needs of the parish are still realities. As long as you are able, and, praying that there are no financial reversals in the households of our community, please remain current in your Stewardship Pledges. And if you have not yet made your Pledge, now is the critical time to do so. Having just purchased our new building, the Great Lent, Holy Week and Paschal celebrations are going to be very different than what we had envisioned for our first year. That also means that the financial support necessary to maintain our new responsibilities will likely be taxed and challenged. Please prayerfully support and maintain your spiritual home to the best of your abilities at this time. Of course the inverse is also true: if there is assistance that can be offered at this time through St. Anna’s, please be sure to contact me. We are all in this together as one family.

I love you all as children of this community and I pray for your abundant health and well-being. Please pray for all clergy, health care workers, first responders and all that are in the front lines of this pandemic. And especially pray for those who have been stricken with loss of health or life. Pray for those who have suffered massive economic changes. Pray for the peace and patience of all who confront this reality. Pray that we will serve our neighbors at this time, not hoard abundances unto our own greed and fear.  Pray for peace and security. Pray that this virus disappears from the face of the Earth. Pray Lord Have Mercy. Lord Have Mercy. Lord Have Mercy. 

In Christ Jesus the Physician of our Souls and Bodies,

Fr. Anthony Savas

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter March 15, 2020

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:22-31

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

May our God Who is All-Wise, All-Merciful and All-Loving, keep you in His steadfast care. For He loves you in immeasurable ways and demonstrates that love through innumerable miracles. 

Unlike my usual, round-about style of eventually getting to a point, this evening, I’m going to dive directly and immediately into the deep waters of faith, struggle, doubts and pressure.

Coronavirus has occupied much of our time, energies, worries, buying patterns and rational limitations as of late.

For weeks now, we have been monitoring this strange looking virus. Firstly with curiosity. Curiosity begat interest. Interest begat concern. Concern begat fear. Fear begat panic. Panic begat a national toilet paper shortage. It has now become a part of our daily lexicon. Every hour we await updates. Every child awaits school closures. This has gone from nothing to bad to worse in an instant.

So naturally, when words like “pandemic” and phrases like “unknown properties,” no vaccine” and “travel bans” emerge; not through fictional dramas, but through the evening news, we stand up, take notice and respond. 

We respond in a myriad of different ways. We respond through rational thought. We respond through panic mode. We respond through prayer. We respond through faith. 

We also respond through action. 

Your Archdiocese, Metropolis and local parish leadership have devised and implemented ways in which the spread of Coronavirus can be mitigated. We have done practical things like removing books from pews, increased the sanitation of surfaces and advised against kissing anyone or anything within the church. These are difficult and unnatural directives for Orthodox Christians. But they are practices that make sense right now in uncertain times. 

We are complying with state guidelines and have temporarily halted all non-liturgical gatherings at St. Anna’s for the next two weeks. Longer than that, actually. For the next two Sundays. No Sunday School. No Fellowship Hour. No Retreats. No Potluck Dinners and Speaking Engagements. We are practicing social distancing and we are doing our part to stop the spread of contamination and being responsible citizens of our community. We are asking our elderly and vulnerable to stay away. We are especially asking the sick to wait until symptoms have passed before returning to church.

That is the easy part. Washing our hands more frequently and greeting each other with awkward elbow bumps is changed behavior, but not too taxing.

To be sure, there are countless inconveniences, disappointments, spoiled plans, lost opportunities and financial burdens that are only beginning to be realized due to the necessary efforts to contain a ravishing bug. There are championships that will never be won, graduations that will never be held and concerts that will never be played.

Thousands of people have passed away, infected with Coronavirus. May their Memories be Eternal. May their families find comfort. May their loss be filled by God’s Grace.

This is hard. It’s likely going to get harder. But what are these difficulties doing to you and what is stirring within you? As Orthodox Christians, what is troubling you?

Communion.

The Eucharist.

The Common Spoon and Common Chalice.

Our practice of the Eucharist has caused allot of commotion and has been the topic of hotly-contested debate.

It is alright that you have questions. Even doubts. But I strongly urge you to pray about these questions and doubts and come to your own conclusions and find your own answers. I am only here to provide some context and guidance. 

The Church of Greece has recently issued a couple statements that have been ridiculed in secular society. They came out and said without hesitation that “The Coronavirus cannot be spread through Holy Communion.” That is an absolute statement. Some find comfort in that statement. Some find it to be dismissive,  dangerous and preposterous. I, for one, am comforted by such a statement, not offended or alarmed. The Church says that Prayer is the answer to the virus. People are yet again offended by such a thought.

Believe me, it’s taxing on our faith when we read other quotes like “germs don’t live in wine” and “Jesus never got sick.” Silly, quippy statements do not help our cause or calm our fears. 

But really, can we believe for one moment, that the very Body and Blood of Christ –  the source of immortality, the Mystical Supper, the Promise of the Age to Come, the Consecrated Gifts, our Communion with our Savior – can we believe that sickness is lurking there? Is contamination interwoven with Grace? Can filth dominate Perfection? Is the Source of Life beholden to the sting of death? Is the Son of Man enslaved to the natural order that He, Himself created? 

Can you get sick from Holy Communion? No.

My beloved in the Lord, the secular world looks upon these words as reckless and irresponsible. I get that. I understand that. But I have a faith in the power of Jesus Christ and a knowledge that the Eucharist is the very Body and Blood of Christ. This is His promise. Not mine. “That whomsoever believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:15).

Our Archbishop, our Metropolitan and your priest have said, basically the same thing the Church of Greece has said, perhaps not in the same way. Yes, we removed books. Indeed, we refrain from kissing sacred objects. To be sure, we have limited our social interaction. But our liturgical life and practice of Communion will go on, uninterrupted and undeterred.

That said, you decide what you wish to do with this information. I do not insist that you receive. God forbid! How could I? But if you choose not to receive at this time, do it because:

You are not prepared.

You have not confessed.

You are un-reconciled with your Brother or Sister in Christ.

Even now, pious dentists who would never share uncleaned instruments between patients, receive Communion Joyfully. Even now, faithful doctors partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. Even now, men and women of science have a greater faith in the power of God than a fear that His promises are false.

The Communion practices of the Orthodox Church are not to change. I will prepare, consecrate and distribute the Holy Mysteries of Christ, as has been handed down through the ages. I will personally consume the remaining portions of Communion from a chalice and with a spoon that has been used by the entire faith community. Coronavirus notwithstanding, I would be sick every week and after every Liturgy if consuming from a common chalice was dangerous. Or using a common spoon was gross. Who do you think finishes the remainder of Communion following the Liturgy? The priest and deacon. I thank Him for that precious responsibility. I do not quiver or fall away because of it. 

In the dark of night, and in the midst of the storm, Christ told Peter, as the disciple took his eyes off of the Savior, and was pulled out from the consuming waves,

“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

Let us not fall into the same trap. Coronavirus and countless other challenges will befall us. It is He Who saves. Not He who infects.

With Much Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas

PLEASE BE ADVISED:

YOUR WEEKLY BULLETIN AND LENTEN SCHEDULE CONTAIN INFORMATION THAT IS OUTDATED, DUE TO OUR CANCELATION OF SOCIAL, NON-LITURGICAL ACTIVITIES AND GATHERINGS OF THE PARISH. PLEASE CONSULT THE PARISH APP FOR UPDATED CALENDAR INFORMATION.

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter March 1, 2020

In vain do you rejoice in not eating, O soul!
For you abstain from food,
But from passions you are not purified.
If you persevere in sin, you will perform a useless fast!

Hymn of Great and Holy Lent

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Tonight at 7:00 pm, in just under a couple hours, we will celebrate our first Paraklesis Service to the Mother of the Theotokos, and the Righteous Ancestor of Christ, our Matron St. Anna. I encourage and remind you all to participate in this joyful celebration of thanksgiving for all that the Lord has provided us, through, no doubt, the intercessory influences of His maternal grandmother. 

Tomorrow is also the second of the Saturday of the Souls Services. If you are at all available, you can also prepare a Kollyva, or traditional memorial wheat, to bring to the service. It would be a blessing for us to be together in prayer for the repose of our loved ones and to express our hope in the Resurrection of Christ. Orthros, 8:00 am and Divine Liturgy at 9:00 as usual.

Then on Sunday, our hearts, minds, souls, and every fiber of our physical being shift into the glorious preparatory time of Great Lent. Sunday is the Sunday of Forgiveness and on that very evening during the Great Vespers Service, we will encounter the transformation from the Pre-Lenten Season into the throws of the Great Fast.

In order to help prepare us for that transition, I would like to share a particularly informative and inspirational writing, concerning these days, from a paramount theologian of our day, Fr. Alexander Schmemann. Enjoy:

In the Orthodox Church, the last Sunday before Great Lent—the day on which, at Vespers, Lent is liturgically announced and inaugurated—is called Forgiveness Sunday. On the morning of that Sunday, at the Divine Liturgy, we hear the words of Christ:

“If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses…” (Mark 6:14-15).

Then after Vespers—after hearing the announcement of Lent in the Great Prokeimenon: “Turn not away Thy face from Thy child, for I am afflicted! Hear me speedily! Draw near unto my soul and deliver it!”, after making our entrance into Lenten worship, with its special melodies, with the prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, with its prostrations—we ask forgiveness from each other, we perform the rite of forgiveness and reconciliation. And as we approach each other with words of reconciliation, the choir intones the Paschal hymns, filling the church with the anticipation of Paschal joy.

What is the meaning of this rite? Why is it that the Church wants us to begin the Lenten season with forgiveness and reconciliation? These questions are in order because for too many people Lent means primarily, and almost exclusively, a change of diet, the compliance with ecclesiastical regulations concerning fasting. They understand fasting as an end in itself, as a “good deed” required by God and carrying in itself its merit and its reward. But the Church spares no effort in revealing to us that fasting is but a means, one among many, towards a higher goal: the spiritual renewal of man, his return to God, true repentance and, therefore, true reconciliation. The Church spares no effort in warning us against a hypocritical and pharisaic fasting, against the reduction of religion to mere external obligations.

As a Lenten hymn says:

“In vain do you rejoice in not eating, O soul!
For you abstain from food,
But from passions you are not purified.
If you persevere in sin, you will perform a useless fast!”

Now, forgiveness stands at the very center of Christian faith and of Christian life because Christianity itself is, above all, the religion of forgiveness. God forgives us, and His forgiveness is in Christ, His Son, whom He sends to us so that by sharing in His humanity we may share in His love and be truly reconciled with God. Indeed, Christianity has no other content but love. And it is primarily the renewal of that love, a growth in it, that we seek in Great Lent, in fasting and prayer, in the entire spirit and the entire effort of that season. Thus, truly forgiveness is both the beginning of, and the proper condition for, the Lenten season.

One may ask, however: Why should I perform this rite when I have no “enemies?” Why should I ask forgiveness from people who have done nothing to me, and whom I hardly know? To ask these questions is to misunderstand the Orthodox teaching concerning forgiveness. It is true that open enmity, personal hatred, real animosity may be absent from our life, though if we experience them, it may be easier for us to repent, for these feelings openly contradict Divine commandments. But the Church reveals to us that there are much subtler ways of offending Divine Love.

These are indifference, selfishness, lack of interest in other people, of any real concern for them—in short, that wall which we usually erect around ourselves, thinking that by being “polite” and “friendly” we fulfill God’s commandments. The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize—be it only for one minute—that our entire relationship to other men is wrong, makes us experience that encounter of one child of God with another, of one person created by God with another, makes us feel that mutual “recognition” which is so terribly lacking in our cold and dehumanized world.

On that unique evening, listening to the joyful Paschal hymns we are called to make a spiritual discovery: to taste of another mode of life and relationship with people, of life whose essence is love. We can discover that always and everywhere Christ, the Divine Love Himself, stands in the midst of us, transforming our mutual alienation into brotherhood. As I advance towards the other, as the other comes to me—we begin to realize that it is Christ who brings us together by His love for both of us.

And because we make this discovery—and because this discovery is that of the Kingdom of God itself: the Kingdom of Peace and Love, of reconciliation with God and, in Him, with all that exists—we hear the hymns of that Feast, which once a year “opens to us the doors of Paradise.” We know why we shall fast and pray, what we shall seek during the long Lenten pilgrimage.

Forgiveness Sunday: the day on which we acquire the power to make our fasting—true fasting; our effort—true effort; our reconciliation with God—true reconciliation.

—Father Alexander Schmemann

Forgiveness Great Vespers is this Sunday Evening at 7:00 pm. Please make every effort to bring your family and attend. This service is usually and sadly, sparsely attended. This should not be so. Take your first steps of Great Lent in a proper way. Come to this service.

With Much Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, please forgive me, the sinner. 

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter February 9, 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

There is so much on my mind and in my heart at this time, that I am finding it impossible to put my thoughts and feelings into writing. The events of the past week are still surreal to me. So much has transpired on so many levels: spiritually, personally, ministerially, institutionally, practically and realistically.

We are in our new building.

That sentence is simple enough, but the factors that have contributed to that statement, and the nuances that support it as reality are still elusive to me. We are still setting up offices, creating classroom space, figuring out where things are, identifying vendors, creating procedural documents and finding our way around.

I am still prayerfully working on crafting some sort of a semblance of all I am thankful for at this time. The individuals, our parish council, our ministry leaders, my family. It’s all swirling around in my mind and I know that very soon, I will be able to properly give thanks to you all. You have accomplished so much as a parish in such a short amount of time. God’s love shines brilliantly upon you.

So for now, and at this time, I am going to jump into some normalcy and call attention to some activities in the life of our St. Anna Parish.

Last Saturday evening, as you well know, we sponsored a Gala Celebration in commemoration of finalizing our move to the new church and giving thanks to the good people of St. Thomas More. As I have shared before, I felt it to be burdensome to our parishioners to hold a Glendi and an Apokreatiko (Meat Fare) Celebration in such close proximity to each other. We went forward (successfully) with the Glendi. But, Great Lent is still upon us and we should usher it into our lives – of course spiritually, but also with some good fun.

So please join us on February 21 at 7:00 pm for our Mardi Gras Family Night. Just like our other Family Nights throughout the year, such as Halloween and Christmas, we will come together in a more casual atmosphere; this time easing ourselves into the rigors of the Great Fast. Remember that Family Nights are a celebration of our St. Anna Family. If you don’t have children or grandchildren, it does not mean that this party is not for you.

Please remember that Sunday School Classes resume this week. There are many things different about the program at this time. Notably the children will be excused for class at the conclusion of the Liturgy.

IF WE HAVE NEGLECTED TO BE CLEAR ABOUT THS BEFORE, LET ME BE CLEAR NOW: SUNDAY WORSHIP WILL NOW BEGIN WITH THE ORTHROS AT 9:00 am FOLLOWED BY THE DIVINE LITURGY AT 10:00 am. WE ARE STARTING EARLIER BECAUSE SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASSES WILL BEGIN LATER. THIS WAY, WE SHOULD FINISH THE DAY’S ACTIVITIES AT THE SAME TIME AS BEFORE. THIS IS OUR PLAN. WILL IT WORK OUT PERFECTLY? I HONESTLY DON’T KNOW. WE WILL FIND OUT TOGETEHR AS WE BEGIN OUR NEW NORMAL.

I do want to share one final thought about last Sunday. It’s a personal thought. After the conclusion of our first Liturgy, His Eminence elevated my priesthood by bestowing upon me the title of “Protopresbyter.” This was a great and humbling honor, as this is the highest office a married clergyman can hold in our Orthodox tradition. Through the work of the Parish Council, you the parishioners of St. Anna’s gifted me with a pectoral cross that is lovely beyond measure. I am ever grateful for your generosity and Christian love. Thank you so much!

As gilded and bedecked as it is, it is still a cross. It bears the image of the crucified Christ. It is a symbol of our collective sacrifices and labors unto God’s glory. As a parish, we all share in the successes and celebrations we enjoy. Just as we all carry our responsibilities and suffer each others challenges. We are One. We have been blessed as One.  We glorify God as One. 

Thank you for your patience in this disjointed writing. I am praying for focus and clarity in these busy days. But as I said before, normalcy is returning. God bless you for all that has been accomplished. Let us go forward in peace, joy and Christ’s love.

With Blessings and Gratitude,

Fr. Anthony