Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Though I have very much enjoyed my time spending a couple days with my brother priests of the Metropolis of Denver, I look forward to returning home. Catching up with old friends and making new ones, in Christ’s holy Name are treasured blessings. I always enjoy returning to Texas, for our two daughters were born here, and the Lone Star State holds many fond memories for our family. I thank you for the opportunity to be here at our Clergy Pre-Lenten Retreat and ask you to pray fervently for our sister parishes and His Eminence Metropolitan of Isaiah of Denver.
We are by far, the largest Metropolis in term of land mass, and very much by far, the least populated Metropolis of our Archdiocese. However, we are per capita, the most generous, prolific and growing Metropolis in America. Our thinking is progressive, our hearts are open and our love for the Lord is deep and rich. I know all this to be true, and I am reminded of these blessed truths each time I find myself with the fine people of our holy Metropolis.
St. Anna’s is a prime example of all that is strong in our regional and national church (not my words, but publicly proclaimed by our metropolis leadership). It’s easier to accomplish any sacred task when your bishop is your strongest cheerleader. As a parish – keep up the good work! As individuals, while we make our way toward the Great Fast, I ask that you maintain your spiritual preparations for a fruitful and edifying Lent.
To that end, I have a special announcement and challenge to discuss this coming Sunday following the Divine Liturgy.
And though we do our best to avoid conflicts with Holy Trinity Cathedral, our celebration of Godparent Sunday is taking place on the same day that Bill and Sophie Drossos will be honored downtown by the Hellenic Cultural Association. Mr. and Mrs. Drossos are most deserving of this acknowledgement for they represent with dignity and humility, all that is sacred; and they typify all that has ever been positive within the Salt Lake Greek Orthodox community. To them, we proclaim, Axioi! They are worthy! They are the parents of two, incredibly dedicated St. Anna parishioners: Connie Cayias and Perry Drossos. We congratulate you on the recognition of your beautiful parents.
Again, Great Lent is around the corner. There is much work to be done and preparations to be made. If called upon, please assist in any and every way to make our Lenten Journey, Holy Week experience and Pascha, truly memorable.
Lastly, I remind you that tonight, Friday evening, we will celebrate our monthly Paraklesis Service to St. Anna at 7:00 pm. Please join us.
Wishing You Well From Texas and the Gulf of Mexico…
With Love in Christ,Fr. Anthony
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Each time I write a message to you, accompanied with the Weekly Bulletin, please know that I put a great deal of prayer and anticipation into my letters. Of course, some more than others. Sometimes my messages are light-hearted, and sometimes they are more serious in tone. Still, other times they are meant to motivate in some form or another. But always…always, they are intended as reminders of Christ’s love for each of us, and how the Church expresses His love.
To that end, please consider this week’s message as extremely important. It’s not funny, or witty or quippy. It’s purely didactic to the core. The Church has entered into a very important time of year: that is when our minds, hearts, ears and souls and eyes are making preparations for Great and Holy Pascha – the Celebration of Christ’s Resurrection and Victory over death. Following are some statements from differing resources that describe the days and weeks ahead of us. They correspond with the Church Calendar as a whole, and the St. Anna’s Liturgical Schedule to be specific. If you understand the themes of these coming weeks and place these virtues in your hearts, you will be ready to comprehend the rigors of Great Lent. So, let us take our first steps toward salvation.
The Paschal Cycle
For Orthodox Christians Easter, or Holy Pascha, is actually the center of what is known as the cycle of all movable feasts. This cycle is called the Paschal Cycle.
Sunday, February 3rd marked the beginning of this year’s Paschal Cycle (2019), which invites us to be renewed spiritually on the basis of what is most central and most sacred in our faith. It began with the reading of Zacchaeus a couple weeks ago.
The Paschal Cycle gives us the opportunity to consider the sacred feasts of this period and the particular meaning they have for Orthodox Christians.
The Paschal Cycle constitutes the heart of the Orthodox liturgical year. This is because Holy Pascha is regarded as the Feast of feasts and the Festival of festivals, as it commemorates the greatest event in human history, the Resurrection of Christ, through which death has been abolished for all humanity.
From Greek: three odes or modes. The Triodion is a Liturgical book containing the hymns, prayers and services of the movable feast before Easter, beginning ten weeks before Easter with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, until Easter Sunday. This includes the four weeks proceeding Great Lent, Great Lent, and Holy (Passion) Week. It is also the name of the time period when this book is used in the church, primarily during Orthros, Vespers and the Divine Liturgy. This Sunday, February 17, the Triodion begins. We are on our way to the doorstep of Great Lent.
Sphere Of Virtues
The first four Sundays constitute a preparation for, or gradual entry into, the sphere of virtues (sphera ton areton), which is the primary theme of the Great Lent. The precise meaning of this is revealed in the Sunday Gospel lessons of this period.
On the first Sunday, the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18.9-14) teaches us about the damage which one suffers on account of pride and how delivery from pride can be obtained with the virtue of humility.
This Sunday emphasizes humility as a key attitude for repentance. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, which means a change of mind. To repent we must not boast of our spiritual feats, but humble ourselves like the Publican who longs for a change of mind. We are called to learn this secret of the inward poverty of the Publican rather than the self-righteousness of the Pharisee who is convinced of his perfectness and not open to change because of his pride. There is no prescribed fasting for this week.
In other words, THE FIRST WEEK OF THE TRIODION IS FAST FREE. IN FACT, YOU ARE NOT “ALLOWED” TO FAST. NO FASTING NEXT WEEK.
On the second Sunday, the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-32) teaches us about the great virtue of repentance, whereby every sinner returns to God and receives forgiveness and salvation.
This Sunday teaches us about our need to return from exile. This parable shows us the mercy of the Father who with open arms receives his son, whose behavior he does not return, but is joyous of his return home. We are encouraged to examine ourselves in the period of Lent to purge ourselves of sin and “come home.”
The week that follows is called Meat Week as it is the last week we are to eat meat. The normal rule of fasting are applied to this week, fast on Wednesday and Friday.
Saturday of this week is the first Saturday of Souls where those who have fallen asleep in the hope of resurrection and eternal life are remembered at a special service “Saturday of the Souls.” Parishioners bring small dishes of kollyva to the church and submit a list of first names of deceased ones to the priest. We commend to God all those who have departed before us, who are now awaiting the Last Judgment. This is an expression of the Churches love. We remember them because we love them.
The third Sunday of the preparation is called Meatfare Sunday (Apokreos) because we eat meat for the last time until Pascha. This particular Sunday is also dedicated to the memory of the Second Coming of the Lord and the Last Judgment. This is most clearly revealed in the relevant Gospel reading (Matthew 25.31-46) which is recited during the Divine Liturgy that day.
The remembrance of the forthcoming Last Judgment teaches us that we must learn to avoid living carelessly. We should not misinterpret the longsuffering forbearance (makrothymia) of God, which makes Him delay the day of His coming. We should rather always be on the alert, working for what is good and being mindful that God is not only our Father Who loves mankind, but also the Righteous Judge.
The Thursday before Meatfare Sunday is known as Tsiknopempti, sort of the Orthodox version of Fat Tuesday, because people get together for the purpose of eating all kinds of meat delicacies.
The eve of Meatfare Sunday is known as the Saturday of Souls (psychosabbaton) because we observe a memorial service (mnemosyno) for all Christians who have fallen asleep in the Lord, since the Last Judgment is connected with the Resurrection of the Dead. Another such psychosabbaton is observed on the Eve of Pentecost Sunday.
Kollyva (i.e., boiled wheat mixed with pomegranate seeds, nuts, raisins and sugar) are also distributed on the first Saturday of Great Lent. This does not signify a psychosabbaton, however; it commemorates the miracle of Saint Theodore of Teron.
We are encouraged not to eat meat this week (after the Sunday of the Last Sunday), but we can eat fish, eggs, cheese and other dairy products.
The fourth Sunday is known as Cheesefare Sunday (Tyrine) because we eat cheese and dairy products for the last time until Pascha. On this particular Sunday, which is the Eve of the Inauguration of Great Lent, we remember the expulsion of the Adam and Eve from Paradise. Thus, we are reminded of the terrible consequences of sin and transgression against the Divine Will, and we are encouraged to take up the battle of fasting and obedience in order to obtain spiritual renewal and blessedness.
The Gospel lesson of Cheesefare Sunday (Matthew 6.14-21) teaches us that the right way to fast is to get rid of evil intentions, avarice and attachment to material goods. It is a custom that Christians grant forgiveness to one another during the vesper service of this Sunday, so that all of them together may enter with love and unanimity into the Lenten Season.
The 40 days of Great Lent begins on the Monday after Cheesefare Sunday, Clean Monday (Kathara Deftera), which this year (2019) falls on March 11th. On Friday the 15th of March we start the Service of Salutations to the Theotokos.
It is important to note that the Church leads us to this point gradually during the preparatory period of the first three weeks of the Triodion.
During the first week, She allows us to eat everything, even on Wednesdays and Fridays. During the second week, we can eat everything, except for meat on Wednesday and Friday. During the third week, we are no longer allowed to eat meat, but we can eat fish, eggs and dairy products.
The Church has thereby introduced us gradually into the more severe fast of Great Lent which begins on Kathara Deftera, when the faithful embrace a totally vegetarian diet.
The custom of preparing Christians for the celebration of Pascha through fasting and prayer is very ancient, but neither the length nor the type of fast was strictly specified during the first centuries.
For instance, Saint Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons at the end of the 2nd Century AD, tells us that some fasted for one day, others for two days, others for more, and still others for only 40 hours. Socrates, the 5th Century church historian, tells us that some did not eat meat while some ate poultry and fish, and while still others ate only vegetables.
In the 4th Century, however, the fast of the Paschal Cycle began to take a more specific form, at least in regard to length. It was extended to 40 days in commemoration of the 40 days, which the Lord fasted in the wilderness, hence the term Sarakoste (i.e., Lent).
Pure Monday: Great Lent Begins
Great Lent is the period that the Church has in her wisdom set aside for us to intensify our own spiritual growth through fasting, prayer and worship. If you follow the Church guidelines on fasting, make time to attend the services and intensify your own prayer life, you will be rewarded with a greater closeness to God.
As we draw closer to Great Lent, I will offer some thoughts on the themes of those weeks. For now, please pay close attention to the lessons that are directly in front of you. I am grateful that this time is at hand. Together as one Orthodox Christian Family, we will support each other, encourage one another, and be peaceful toward each other, walking the path which leads to Great Lent.
With Much Love in Christ,
“As the Holy Trinity, our God is One Being, although Three Persons, so, likewise, we ourselves must be one. As our God is indivisible, we also must be indivisible, as though we were one man, one mind, one will, one heart, one goodness, without the smallest admixture of malice – in a word, one pure love, as God is Love. “That they may be one, even as We are One” (John 17:22).”St. John of Kronstadt
Dearly Beloved in Christ,
With all of the talk and anticipation surrounding our new church building, God willing that will be in our possession by this coming fall, I enjoyed a blessed experience today that is linked to our new location at the Atrium.
I was invited to participate in the annual Sandy City Interfaith Leaders Luncheon. The City Council hosts this event so that the faith leaders of the area can come together and celebrate the spiritual diversity of our anticipated community.
From the time of my theological studies, and well into my ordained ministry, I have always appreciated ecumenical dialogue, the opportunity to share our rich, Orthodox Christian traditions and to learn from the beliefs of like-minded religious leaders who represent differing faiths and confessions. Sitting around a table at the Hale Center Theater today, was no different.
You will be happy to know that there is a dynamic representation of world faiths and Christian creeds in the Sandy area. I considered it a gracious expression of Sandy’s continued embrace to invite me to this gathering, though we are not yet members of their community. Once again, they have sent the clear message that St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church is a welcomed addition to the fabric of their city.
Having served many years in Los Angeles, I was used to a diverse, interfaith community, with fellow pastors who’s desire to work together was stronger than any division that our differing beliefs could cause. My experiences in those settings was consistent with my interactions today. We all live in the same, general area. We are raising our families. We love our nation. We are obedient to the Lord.
We, as pastors, priests, and other religious leaders are blessed with the awesome responsibility to stand in front of our congregations. We represent the work of the Lord to the people. And to the Lord, we stand on behalf of the people.
Each and every one of us who sat together, sharing a meal and swapping pastoral stories, understood the great gift that has been given us, and shutter at the awesomeness of the responsibility that has been given us. We are all small, unimportant sinners who have been charged with tasks that can only be accomplished through God’s grace, through His will and for His purpose.
The other beautiful aspect of today’s gathering, besides meeting spiritual leaders of the area, was to have yet, another opportunity to meet and know our leaders at City Hall. They called this meeting and extended the invitation. The city opened its heart and presented the opportunity to celebrate the common thread which binds us: to serve.
All of us; civic leaders and religious leaders alike, will always have that in common. We are servants. Our mission, our calling, our vocation is to serve the needs of others. We do it joyfully, thankfully and with all the energy that can be called upon. Tonight, my heart is filled with gratitude towards God and for all the dear parishioners who call St. Anna our spiritual home.
You have heard me say this many times…I’ve written it…printed it…preached it…prayed about it: that we as a community will also be called to serve our greater community. Once we are firmly planted in a permanent home in the City of Sandy, we will be counted upon to be civic partners, Christian neighbors and fellow sojourners on this journey that is life. Not that we presently neglect these callings, but it will be different once we have our own address.
Please, my Brothers and Sisters in Christ, pray for our present and future communities and all the people whom these cities represent. Pray for the people in the cities where you live and pray for the comfort and salvation of all people in all cities throughout the world.
Please pray for the spiritual leaders who are called to serve, that our hearts can remain pure and that our every action is honorable before the Lord. Please pray for the civic leaders at every level of government. Ask God to keep them grounded, humble, right-minded and without a lust for power.
Your bishop, your policeman, your priest, your mayor, your dog catcher and your clerk…we all represent those who are called to serve. Faith leaders of all backgrounds and confessions are called similarly, fulfilling the needs of their communities. And as St. John reminds us in the above-referenced quote, we are called to do it as one.
Doctrines, Theologies, Dogmas and Creeds can divide. Love and mutual respect will unite. This is the spirit that permeates our new city. I say with all humility; we’re going to fit in just fine.
With Much Love in Christ,
“The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”St. John of Damascus
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
There is a certain country that seems to be in the news quite a bit, these days. Our neighbor to the south has gained much attention since we share a border. What exactly we intend to do with that border is the subject of much debate, conflict and seems to be bringing out the worst in our humanity, rather than entertaining our level-best selves.
Honestly, however we secure our border with Mexico, and how ever we regulate who comes into our country, by what means, and for what purposes, there will also be a remaining truth that the Christian heart cannot (and should not) escape. And that is to say that the people who live in that, and any other country, are also “icons of the face of God.” White faces, black faces, red faces, brown faces, yellow faces, olive-complexion faces (such as my own) are all colors chosen by God to complement the pallet of His creative endeavor. Who is any one person, of any one color, to designate himself above any other?
The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.
Please be keenly aware, as I venture into these waters, that this message is not a political statement in any way. It serves more like a humanitarian announcement; an introduction to a blessed opportunity. This coming summer, we at St. Anna’s have a unique opportunity to engage in our own Border Crossing. I intend, through God’s grace and loving mercy, to lead another mission team to build a home for Project Mexico. Yes, we are going to the southern border, we are going to cross over. We will be sojourners in another land. We will be visitors among friends. We will be deliverers of mercy and we will be witnesses for Christ.
Project Mexico, together with St. Innocent’s Orphanage is a ministry of the Orthodox Church which works to provide a safe home and environment for orphan boys, as well as the building of homes for poor families who have acquired small (and I mean very small) parcels of land, but have no means to construct a home. This is where we come in.
The Key Information is this:
- WHAT: Home Building Mission to Project Mexico
- WHEN: June 27th through July 3rd, 2019
- COST: Approximately $1,000 (Personal and collective fund raising will offset the cost.)
- INFO: There will be an Information Meeting on Tuesday, March 12th at 7:00 pm in the church.
We have 12 spots open for our trip. We will be participating together with the kind folks from the Greek Orthodox Church of the Nativity in Castro Valley, California, together with my friend, Fr. Niko Bekris. He is taking his parish youth to engage in this act of Christian love. I encourage our young adults and older teenagers to pray about and consider joining us. The work is indescribably rewarding as you look upon a completed home, participate in it’s blessing, and engage with the family who will move in after we leave.
Of course, to use the word “home,” it is a relative measure to say the least. It is actually the size of a large tool shed, per what many of us are accustomed. Families are moving out of trailers, boxes, and literal sheds as they take possession of a newly-constructed Project Mexico Home, thus receiving a portion of protection and security that they’ve never before experienced.
The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.
Let’s remind ourselves that those who live in other places, who’s lives are different than our own, who’s circumstances are unrecognizable to us, share an equal favor before the Lord. Participating in a trip such as this is a life-changing experience. The lessons of humanity, humility and gratitude are brought to life in ways that can only be experienced while swinging a hammer in a foreign land.
Please consider joining us or allowing your child to participate. I intend to take three of our children with us.
This is not specifically a youth trip. All are welcome to participate. I am simply issuing a special challenge and invitation to our young people so they can learn to appreciate, from now, the multitude of gifts that have been bestowed upon them, and how they can begin to pay it forward.
Come to the meeting. Learn about Project Mexico. Become inspired. Cross a border. Appreciate that we up here, and those down there share a common characteristic; we are an icon of the face of God.
Wall…fence…whatever. We’re building a bridge. Well…actually, a little house. Same thing, right?
With Much Love in Christ,