Dearly Beloved in the Lord,
Well, I did it. The time for action came, and I did it. I responded to the call. You’ll be happy with the results.
I ordered the palms for Palm Sunday.
Indeed. I asked that a check be prepared to pay (in advance) for our palms. Nick graciously and immediately obliged. I put the check in the handy little order form that becomes a mailing envelope and I sent it off. Our order has probably arrived in Alamo, Texas by now. Boom, done.
Please know, that this event is more than a task that is checked off of my office “to do” list. The symbolism is rich and significant.
This Sunday, we will read the Gospel Story of Zacchaeus. The little man who climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus. This Sunday Reading is a turning point in the church calendar.
Much like the ordering of Palm Sunday palms, it signals that something important is around the bend. It heralds the preparations that must be made ready in anticipation of life changing events.
These preparations signal the commencement of the pre-Lenten season. These weeks will give way to the Great Fast. Those weeks will fold into the Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday. Then we will take the steps of Holy Week.
We will anticipate the Resurrection of our Lord.
Then, we will celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.
It all starts with the Reading of Zacchaeus. And before that, the ordering of palms. These events call to mind:
that we will soon be making spiritual decisions and making life-altering choices as the Fast approaches,
that we will explore the challenges of ascetic struggle,
that we will submit ourselves to greater levels of discipline and self control,
that prayer will be increased,
that generosity will be intensified,
that Christ will become, once again, the center,
that Christ might remain, once and for all, the center.
Palms are ordered; the first step, each year, in preparing for Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha.
The church will be ready.
Our hearts must be, as well.
With Love in Christ,
“And not many days after, it says, ‘the younger son gather all together, and took his journey into a far country’ (Luke 15:13). Why did the Prodigal Son not set off at once instead of a few days after? The evil prompter, the devil, does not simultaneously suggest to us that we should do what we like and that we should sin. Instead he cunningly beguiles us little by little, whispering, ‘Even if you live independently without going to God’s Church or listening to the Church teacher, you will still be able to see for yourself what your duty is and not depart from what is good.’” – St. Gregory Palamas
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We’ve often heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In fact, in not so many weeks, we will hear it in the Church as we make preparations for the lessons of Great Lent. However, St. Gregory Palamas, in his above-sited quote, identifies a certain detail that admittedly, I’ve never noticed before. In Luke’s Gospel, we read, “The younger son said to the Father, ‘Father, give me my share to the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all he had, set out for a distant country and there squandered his wealth with wild living.”
Not many days after. In other words, in what was probably an awkward time in their family, the kid stuck around. Having surprisingly received his request (more like a demand) he now took the time to plot, scheme and plan.
St. Gregory makes the point that making the decision to sin, and executing that sin are two different actions. They rarely happen simultaneously. Typically, the decision is made, then acting on that decision will lag behind. Of course, the length of time lag is always different for every circumstance and every person. But why is this important?
St. Gregory is speaking specifically to our Youth – for he uses the Prodigal Son as his example. Actually, he is addressing those of us who are responsible for raising our children in the Faith, in the ways of the Gospel and in the Sacramental, Holy Traditions of the Church. We are challenged to teach our kids that the first action; that is deciding to sin, will happen always and for the rest of their lives. Our task is teach them that the second decision does not always have to be made.
The Prodigal Son, remained in the protective and loving environment of his Father’s House for at least a couple of days. Perhaps he wrestled with his decision. A modicum of spiritual warfare may have raged within his heart and soul. Perhaps if he recognized the goodness and the longsuffering generosity of his Father, he might not have set out on his path to destruction. But he was compelled to leave. The stronghold of the demons were too strong.
My Beloved, the need for Youth Ministry and keeping our children in the Fold of the Faith is critical. I’ve reminded you many times, that sports alone, will not place your children in the Kingdom. Acting classes, dance teams, lacrosse and the continuing list of our countless activities do not lead unto salvation if the weightier matters of life are neglected . Even at our little St. Anna parish, we offer the same opportunities to bring our children together as much larger communities. We offer more Youth Ministry programs than quite a few large parishes. So…
Please be mindful of them and bring your children. JOY, GOYA, Sunday School, Family Nights, Retreats, Summer Camps, even Folk Dance are programs that enrich our children’s relationships with each other and with the Lord. It needs to start early. Later this month, JOY will meet then GOYA will join them in a service project to help the homeless youth of our city. Please, bring your kids.
This weekend, the long weekend of Martin Luther King Day, there will be over 7,000 people gathered in the name of Youth Ministry in the Greek Orthodox Metropolis’ of Denver and San Francisco. Our annual GOYA Basketball Tournament will be in Dallas, while the west coast will come together with over 5,000 people to participate in FDF, their annual Folk Dance Festival. These kids will play games and perform. They will dance, laugh, hang out and build relationships. But it does not end there:
They will attend spiritual workshops,
They will pray for one another and others will pray for them.
They will be in the presence of their respective hierarchs.
They will attend divine services and participate in the Divine Liturgy in large, hotel ballrooms, surrounded by their peers.
Thousands of dollars will be spent for the purpose of bring our children together in His Name.
Please support your children in their quest for salvation and allow them to know the Lord. Let’s participate in the activities of the local parish, and support the programs in the larger settings. It starts with the adults acting on behalf of their children, grandchildren and godchildren. I, as always, look forward to serving the spiritual needs of your children; together with our dedicated and gifted group of teachers and youth workers.
Someday, our own children will depart from our homes, much like the Prodigal. Where will they go? Who will they be? How did we prepare them?
With Much Love in Christ,
“O Baptist John, who recognized me as the Lamb when you were still in the womb: serve me now in the river, and with Angels minister. Reach out with your hand and touch my immaculate head. And when you see the mountains trembling and the Jordan turning back, cry out with them, “O God incarnate of the Virgin for our salvation, glory to You, O Lord.” – Doxastikon Hymn of the Forefeast of Theophany
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On Friday morning, we will gather as an Orthodox Christian Family to celebrate the Forefeast of Theophany. Matins and Royal Hours are at 9:30 am, and continued with the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil and the Lesser Blessing of the Waters at 6:00 pm. Saturday is Epiphany; the feast of Revelation, or specifically, Theophany – God’s Revelation to the world. I took the time last week to discuss the significance of these days and once again, I invite you to participate to the fullest degree possible.
Tonight I want to bring to your attention something that is also important. Not in the same way as participating in the Divine Services of the Church. But, nevertheless, a way of participating in the life of the Church. Here is a
Spoiler Alert: Fr. Anthony is now going to talk about Money, Time Commitment, Overall Participation. Of course, this does not mean that you tune out and move on, at least I pray that you don’t. This is the kind of spoiler alert that calls your attention, captures your sense of responsibility and as did the Baptist, as expressed in the above-sited hymn; Serve Him Now and with Angels, Minister.
In this week’s Sunday Bulletin, we have begun to publish the activities of 2018 Stewardship. So far, about half of the parish has turned in their Pledge Cards. For many Greek Orthodox parishes in our Archdiocese, that would be a remarkable number. But for St. Anna’s, we can and should do better than this. Last year I noticed that there were fewer people who turned in Pledge Cards, though remained committed and active parishioners of St. Anna’s. Pledge Cards are only one way to measure the participation of the Faithful in a parish. But they are an important indicator.
A Pledged Steward emphatically calls St. Anna’s their spiritual home.
A Pledged Steward has taken the time to pray about their acts of Christian Stewardship.
A Pledged Steward gives the Parish Council the tools to make sound/responsible financial decisions without having to guess what the parish can support.
A Pledged Steward recognizes that their Time, Talent and Treasure is directly reflective of their relationship with God.
A Pledged Steward identifies the areas in which they would love to serve as volunteers, leaders and co-ministers.
When I was first assigned to St. Anna’s (The Greek Orthodox Mission Parish of Utah, at the time), I was told that “Stewardship in this parish is easy. People are eager to give and willing to sign their pledges early.” Not that this has changed much, but I take no one for granted, and believe that if Stewardship is “easy,” then its not Stewardship. Again:
If Stewardship is easy, then its not Stewardship.
If a Church takes the easy path to Stewardship, without engaging, challenging or educating the Faithful, then it’s not proper Stewardship. Inversely, if an individual or family views Stewardship as an obligatory action; detached from prayerful contemplation, a sacrificial spirit, and a deep appreciation for God’s abundant gifts, then the household is responding to a lowly fundraising effort, not to Stewardship.
Stewardship is offered, not simply given. There is a difference.
Stewardship is received, not collected. There is a big difference.
Stewardship is the way we serve Him. John the Baptist served Him in the River. We serve Him in our hearts, through our priorities, with our zeal and by His command.
To begin our 2018 Campaign, we distributed Pledge Cards after Sunday Divine Liturgies, mailed them to your homes (if you didn’t pick up your packet), and have them available in the narthex. Here is your next opportunity to receive your 2018 Pledge Card. And hey, let’s be honest for a moment about a couple realities:
Last year, we began an Capital Campaign in earnest, in order that we can begin to plan for our future. If we look at Stewardship in an improper light, that can detract from our 2018 enthusiasm. And remember, that is also an ongoing effort. We haven’t packed moving boxes yet! And likely won’t for quite some time.
Our parish is now almost four years old. Yes, we are still new, but is the “newness” fading? Of course it is! We can’t remain “new” forever! You don’t stunt the growth of your children and capture time in a bottle – you let them grow, you embrace change, you evolve and you live in the now. This is all natural and consistent with human nature. But what should never fade: commitment, enthusiasm, purpose, glorification of God, support for our mission, the quest for spiritual maturity, the support of our church.
All that said, my dearly Beloved in the Lord, please; if you have yet to send in your 2018 Pledge Card, please do so as soon as you’ve taken the time to pray over the concept, responsibilities and opportunities that avail when we give back to God the first fruits of what He has already given. Let’s stay the course and continue the good fight. Come to services, participate in classes and ministries, volunteer as helpers, lead, guide and inspire future generations of Greek Orthodox Christians in the Salt Lake Valley and surrounding areas.
Let’s be clear and honest: the need to support our growing parish will only increase with time. It will never get any easier. But that is good news. That’s what we signed up for when we dared to dream, answered the call and set in motion, that which would become our dear St. Anna parish.
He called the Baptist to serve Him. He calls us, as well. And serving Him is the greatest joy that can ever be imagined.
With Much Love in Christ,