“Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.”
– Psalm 119:54
Dearly Beloved in the Lord,
Christ is Risen!
Truly He is Risen!
If you were new to the St. Anna community and visited our parish for the first time, you might pick up one of the black Welcome Packets that await you in the Narthex. These folders are designed for people who are either new to Orthodoxy or have rediscovered their Faith and returned to church after a long hiatus. Filled with information about our specific parish and doctrinal truths about our ancient faith, we have worked hard to provide our “guests” with all they’ll need in order to begin their new or revitalized walk with Christ. The Packet’s cover letter reads as follows:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I would like to take this special opportunity to welcome you to the St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Your presence with us today has enriched our worship experience and your prayers accompany the faithful voices of those gathered in this holy place. We have come together on this day to glorify God, praise His holy Name and to witness His loving mercy. Thank you for being with us!
Your visit to our parish, no matter the purpose, represents a prayerful action no less significant than a spiritual pilgrimage. When we make movements towards God and His house of worship, we enter into union with the saints, and Christ Himself. Standing in this church, at this very moment, you are in the company of sacredness as well as sinners, who are working for their own salvation. And now that you’re here with us, you’ve reached the comfortable delight of safe harbor.
Though our mission setting may be considered modest in terms of the grand and doctrinal traditions of Orthodox Christian architecture, the spiritual, visual, artistic and musical elements of this church and worship serve in every capacity. Our parish is committed to the command that all pilgrims reach their ultimate destination, that is, the Kingdom of God. And at St. Anna’s, indeed it is found; vibrant, actualized, and present in the world today, here beneath the glorious mountains of the Wasatch Range.
If today’s service was your first exposure to Orthodox worship, I can only imagine the questions and observations you may have, and I invite you to discuss them with us. If you are returning after a lengthy hiatus from church, welcome home. If you find yourself on a journey to celebrating your life in Christ through the Sacramental Life of His precious Orthodox Church, we are here to guide and instruct you along the way. Once again welcome to our parish! Through the intersessions of our Matron Saint, the Mother of the Theotokos (of the Virgin Mary), I remain
With Love in Christ,
Fr. Anthony Savas,
I crafted this welcome letter around the concept of a pilgrimage – a spiritual journey which is fulfilled in its destination, as it inspires through the process. In other words, reaching the end of the pilgrimage is only half of the benefit. The journey itself is equally rewarding. The Christian life is an engaged, active and continued pilgrimage. As we enter the church, we begin a pilgrimage. As we begin a fasting period and move towards a festal celebration, we begin a pilgrimage. As we approach the Chalice, we begin a pilgrimage. As we are baptized, ordained, married, confess…we set in motion, the events that will unfold within the context of our…you guessed it…pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage is movement with a purpose.
Pilgrimage is action that is sanctified.
Pilgrimage is divinely inspired and heavenly directed.
Pilgrimage is the blessed entanglement of faith and footsteps; sacrifice and reward; heaven and earth.
I ask that you all pray for our parishioners and friends who will be departing for our Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and to Asia Minor. We leave on May 1st and return on May 16th. We will spend two weeks venerating the sites, shrines, monasteries, churches, gardens and cathedrals of our Christian history. From Constantinople to Jerusalem to Cappadocia, we will take with us, through prayer and good will, the people of St. Anna’s and our participating sister parishes.
Most notably, we will pray for you as we celebrate the Divine Liturgy upon the Tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we will share the blessings we receive from His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome. Often, we will think of our friends and family who remain, while we ask for your cherished prayers for our health, safety and return without incident.
Please be mindful that all of us associated with our parish will be on this sacred journey to our historical past, actualized present and salvific future. For those of you who planned on participating but for a myriad of reasons, it did not happen, know that you are all, especially, with us every step of the way. And if God so ordains, we will do this again, perhaps in five years or so.
A pilgrimage can take you around the world, it can be accomplished up the aisle of a church, it can even be taken within our hearts and minds; having never physically departed from our home. The point is, we are a people on a pilgrimage. We are in constant motion and our motion propels us towards a higher union with God.
Union with God. The entire point of absolutely any pilgrimage.
With Love in our Risen Lord,
While I’m away on the Sundays of May 6th and 13th (Happy Mother’s Day) we welcome back our dear, Fr. Ambrose. Welcome Home, Father!
Dearly Beloved in the Lord,
Christ is Risen!
Truly He is Risen!
Admittedly, It’s been quite some time since I’ve addressed you by means of this weekly message. Sure, you’ve received bulletins, downloaded posters and read announcements. But no real pastoral message to speak of during the increasingly busy Lenten and Holy Week season. Of course, there were numerous and varied other opportunities to hear and read God’s Word; placed into practical settings for our inspiration and guidance in our busy lives. Simply put, that is what I’ve always strived for in these messages; practicality and theology fused into a little essay.
Since you have last read one of these, we have celebrated Christ’s victory over death through His Third Day Rising. What a glorious and amazing Holy Week and Pascha, experienced at St. Anna’s!
While entertaining in their homes, I think the worst thing that could have happened in our grandmothers would be to run out of food. In their generation, it would have indicated that they disrespected their guests, received them casually and ill prepared. I must say, that while I share the sentiment that we should be prepared for “whoever comes over,” it still astonishing to me that we actually ran out of Palm Crosses at the beginning of the week, candles towards the end of the week, and red eggs at the conclusion of the week. That is after significantly increasing our orders of these items from last year. Our community continues to welcome new guests; guests who become family and family who witnesses Christ.
Though we’ve printed our acknowledgment of gratitude for all of your Holy Week and Paschal participation, volunteerism, generosity and prayerful attention, I say it again here; thank you for your ever-increasing appreciation of the divine services for this most sacred time of year. Your sacrificial and enthusiastic response was noticed and appreciated.
So now that we are nearly two weeks past the Resurrection and life in and out of the church is settling into predictable norms, the question can be asked (and will be asked) “What exactly did we learn from the events of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection? What’s the takeaway?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, if there is one, concise truth to our recent and salvific events, it is that through Him, life has been granted, redemption has been given, death has been defeated, the gates of Paradise have been opened, God has been glorified, and we have been saved. It took over 500 pages in our Holy Week Book to cover what I just mentioned in one (large) sentence.
We should hold these truths to be given, understood, accepted and practiced. Not taken for granted, God forbid! But received and naturally internalized. In Christ’s contemporary setting, the world could not see this. At least most of the world could not see Him as His true Self. The Romans saw a menace. The Jews saw a threat. The followers indeed saw their Christ…but knew little of anything about what that actually meant. Even the Disciples themselves lacked ultimate understanding until the event of Pentecost.
The world saw a poor carpenter with a following and revolutionary message. Sometimes we don’t see what is plainly before us. As Christians, we are called to see Him with absolute clarity, as revealed in the brilliance of His Resurrection.
It’s live a wealthy father who wanted to teach his children the value of blessings and an appreciation for all they had, so he sent them to live with his impoverished brother in the country for a summer. “This experience,” he thought, “will give them an understanding of how lucky they are to be in a home such as ours.”
When the children returned, they thanked him with a zeal that he could not have expected or even hoped for. They appreciated seeing “how poor people live.” They appreciated the lesson because:
“We have one dog and they have four.”
“We have a swimming pool that reaches to the edge of the garden, and they have a creek that runs through their yard.”
“We have iron and gas lanterns in our landscape, and they have bright stars.”
“We have servants to serve us, and they serve each other.”
“Great lesson, Dad. Thank you for showing us how poor we actually are.”
Hardly the lesson he intended, but a lesson never the less.
Hardly the Christ expected, but the Christ, never the less.
Hardly the outcome anticipated, but the outcome never the less.
The world attempted to teach the lesson that when God tries to challenge, stretch, teach, inspire and save us, we crucify Him
What God taught is that while He absolutely, with out questions, one hundred percent knew that this is how we would react to Him and treat Him, He loves us anyway. He loves us in spite of our tendencies and weaknesses.
This Sunday is the Sunday of the Myrrh Bearers. We commemorate those few people, those VERY few people who demonstrated the same sacrificial love to Christ, as He displayed before His accusers and executioners. They had clarity. They had vision. They had unbridled love.
If we’ve learned anything from the events of Great Lent, Holy Week, Pascha and our current, Paschal season; its to obtain their heart and mimic their actions. God keep and bless you in the light of the Resurrection!
With Much Love in our Risen Lord,
P.S. I enjoyed, once again, staying up until 1:30 am to write a Pastoral Message. I need to start these earlier. Getting too old for this.