Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter March 31, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Next Week is our Parish Lenten Retreat
Beginning with an Introduction following the Salutations Service on Friday Evening, April 5th then Saturday, April 6th from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm.
The Retreat is Open to ALL St. Anna Parishioners and Guests.
It is a Special Retreat Designed to Accommodate All Ages.
Yes, Children are Encouraged to Participate, but It is not Only for Children.
Age Appropriate Break Out Sessions will Take Place.
If You are a Senior, Please Join Us!
If You are Single, Please Join US!
If You are a Couple, Please Join Us!If You are a Family, Please Join Us!
We Need to Plan.
We Need to Prepare.
You Need to R.S.V.P., A.S.A.P.!

The Icon of the Dormition of St. Anna, to be hung above the Shrine of Her Precious Relic has returned from the Framer.
It will be available for Veneration in the Narthex for the Next Week before it is given its proper place.
Please say a special prayer of gratitude for our Iconographer, Andreea Ioana Bagiu, now of Brasov, Romania.
She has begun our next Icon, that of the Nativity of the Theotokos.


Weekly Bulletin for March 31, 2019

Weekly Bulletin for March 31, 2019 Lenten Retreat 2019


Services for Sunday, March 24, 2019

Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter March 24, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Following is another helpful article on the happenings of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church. This time by Rev. George Mastrantonis. Before you read this article, however, please consider the following:

I have attached the flyer for our Parish Lenten Retreat. This year, we are trying something new; that is to involve everyone, three-year-old’s to ninety-three year-old’s! There will be breakout sessions and activities that are age appropriate so please join us for this engaging and interactive experience, guided by Fr. Dimitrios and (welcoming home) Presbytera Danielle Burikas. Please RSVP to me at We really need a count for this one, since items need to be purchased for participants. There is no registration fee for this retreat. But as always, a free will offering is appreciated. 

The Parish Stewardship Ministry Team recently sent out emails to the kind folks of our parish who have yet to submit a 2019 Pledge Card. Please, if you have not submitted your current Pledge, do so as soon as possible. It is so incredibly important that we are all participating in the life of our parish. So, for those of you who pledged last year, and have not yet pledged, we’re reaching out to you. If you are continually giving to St. Anna’s (thank you) but have not actually pledged, we’re reaching out to you. If you have never before pledged to St. Anna’s, but consider this your spiritual home, indeed, we’re reaching out to you. Thanks and God bless.

 My commercials are now over…I return you to our regularly-scheduled programming. Please enjoy this fantastic article!

The Institute of Lent

There are institutes and symbols adopted by nations, churches or groups of men which represent certain ideals accumulated in the past. These institutes, that is precepts recognized as authoritative, and symbols represent the thoughts and feelings of those who created or adopted them and put in them all the experience of the past, often through struggle and sacrifice. A few feet of ribbon for instance, red, blue and white in color, have little value as is. But if one puts them in a certain pattern of stripes and stars, they become the flag of the United States and represent the ideals and unity of the people of America. The flag reminds us of the people’s struggle for liberty. It represents the national unity which attained for them their rights as a people. The same could be said for the institutes of a nation, army or any group of people. These institutes are created by the people and are used by them in certain ways for certain aims. Some of these institutes are the means for achieving certain values and ideals. In the life of the Church of Christ there are many institutes created and maintained to meet the needs of the people – the Ecclesia. Among these is the Great Lent which falls within the year-cycle of the life of the Church before Pascha-Easter. Lent is the period of time for self-examination by the believer; of putting on the spiritual armor of the Militant Church; of applying the riches of prayers and almsgiving; of adopting deeply the meaning of repentance; of atonement and reconciliation with God Almighty.

This great period of Lent before Easter is called by the Orthodox Church, Tessaracoste (Quadragesimal), which comes from the word forty (the 40 days of “fasting”). This Institute of the 40 days of Lent precedes the Resurrection of Christ. The celebration of the Resurrection of Christ does not fall on the same date each year, but according to the determination of the position of the moon and spring equinox, which is based on the original setting during the last Events of the life of Christ on earth. This 40-day period of Lent is a period of “abstinence” from foods, but primarily from personal iniquities. Abstinence from foods (fasting) alone is a means of attaining virtue; it is not an end in itself. During the period of fasting one makes a special attempt to evaluate his calling as a Christian; to listen to the voice of the Gospel and heed its commandments; to accept the constant invitation to enter Christ’s Kingdom. It is an open invitation to everyone willing to enter; who believes in Christ and repents his iniquities; who makes an “about face” directly to Christ. To accomplish this – Which is a year-round concern – the Christian Church, dating back many years, out of experience and according to the nature of man instituted certain days of prayer and fasting as steps in a ladder to help those who need guidance to reach this spiritual plateau. All of these steps must have genuine personal meaning to avoid becoming merely a habit and routine. Fasting encompasses the entire pious life of the Christian, as Christ proclaimed, that symbolizes a deep acceptance of His admonition to “repent”. This can be achieved not so much in terms of time, but in deeds in love of God and one’s fellow man.

During the period of the Great Lent the awakening of the spirit of man comes about through inspiration from the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. It is a time of self-examination and preparation, and of taking an inventory of one’s inner life. He and Christ know his exact condition. At this time one sees himself in the mirror of the Gospel – how he looks. One finds the means and ways to correct and improve himself. Lent is a period of time when one delves into himself with the light of the Holy Spirit in order to rid himself of the impediments which hold him back. It is a period when one strengthens his faith by more prayer and devotional life.

Let us then examine the meaning of fasting, which became an Institute of the Church. Fasting means the total abstinence from foods, as the original Greek word in the Bible, nesteia, literally means. The word fasting today is used for selection of foods and a limiting of their quantity. Fasting also can mean eating once a day bread, salt and water, after sunset. Although the period of Lent appeals to the function of man as a whole in repentance, self-examination, almsgiving, relationship with people with whom one is at odds, attitudes toward life, the abstinence from foods plays a vital role in the life of the Christian. The quantity and kinds of foods selected for this period of Lent help control carnal desires and develop discipline and a pious life. Fasting from foods is not a virtuous activity in itself, but a means for its achievement. But it has a distinct place in the life of the Christian, especially during the Great Lent.

The Origin of Fasting

One may ask how the Institute of fasting originated. Was it a tradition handed down by the Apostles? Was it determined as such by the early Church? Was the duration of fasting established from the beginning? These and similar questions require an answer.

Fasting before Easter was not determined by the early Church as such either in specific days or for certain foods. In the New Testament the word for fasting, nesteia, means abstinence from food entirely, and was originally a Jewish custom reluctantly practiced by the Jews, although it was not an official requirement. Bishop Irenaios of Lyon (192) wrote a letter to the Bishop of Rome that there is a great difference about the duration of fasting before Easter. Some people, he wrote, fast one day, others two, still others more days. Some of them fast 40 hours continuously, day and night, from all foods (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 524,12). Tertullian, an ecclesiastical writer of the 3rd century, refers to abstinence from foods as being two days, Friday and Saturday. Some of the early Christians abstained from foods the whole day and ate only in the evenings, while others ate not at all, day or night, as did those who were fasting for 40 hours. Other Christians extended the period of fasting beyond the two days to one week (during the mid-third century),’but everyone was allowed to extend the duration of fasting as long as he wanted. Thus, these Christians added hours and days of fasting at their own will, beyond the customary duration of time (Dionysios, Bishop of Alexandria, P. G. Migne 10, 1278).

The Further Development of Fasting

Over the years, the days of fasting increased to seven before Easter. These Christians ate in the evenings, and then only bread, salt and water, as recorded by Epiphanios in 403. The difference in counting the hours of fasting resulted from the different calculations of the time of the Resurrection of Christ in the Gospels (Matthew 28:1, before midnight; John 20:1, after midnight; Mark 16:2, at sunrise). The period of fasting before Easter was extended to 40 days without substantial evidence of any authoritative determination. The fact is that the 40 days of fasting was known to the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod (325). St. Augustine during the fifth century attributes the lengthy period of 40 days to the persecutions, 306-323. Others refer to the example of Christ fasting 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2); or to Moses (Exodus 34:28), or to Prophet Elias (1 Kings 19:8 – III Vasilion LXX) Probably the 40-day fasting period among the people was started during the persecutions, because the people took refuge in monasteries and followed the order of abstinence of the monks, which was very strict. Also hermits and other pious people of sobriety kept a fasting period of 40 days during the mid-third century, and this was handed down to the people. In reality, the 40-day practice for fasting before Easter was not a simultaneous practice in all the Christian lands, but a gradual process. Fasting as such was practiced by the people at the, very beginning for only two or three days per week, Wednesday and Friday and in some places Saturday (in the West).

In the course of time, a gradual increase in the number of weeks also took place. However, between East and West the number of weeks of Lent differed, with seven weeks being established in the East and six in the West by the mid-sixth century. The reason for the difference in the number of weeks between East and West was because in the West Saturday was a fast day along with Wednesday and Friday, while in the East Saturday was not a fast day except the Saturday of Holy Week, according to the Canons of the Church (Canon 66, Apostolic Fathers; Canon 55A Sixth Ecumenical Synod in 692 – Canon 18, Gangra Synod in 340-370). The adding of Saturday by the Church in the West as a fast day was related to the thought that the Body of Christ was in the tomb on this day. This innovation of fasting on Saturday was fought by Tertullian, Hippolytos (Ecclesiastical writer) and Bishop Jerome.

However, Bishop Inocentios of Rome (401-417) ratified the Saturday fast, and gradually this day became a fixed day in the West. In rebuke of this practice in the West, Bishop Ignatios of Antioch in a letter denounced this Saturday fast (ch. 13). During the seventh century, Bishop Gregory I of Rome added four days before the beginning of the six weeks of Lent, starting with Wednesday, known as Ash Wednesday. The Church in the East, on the other hand, added an additional week before the seven weeks, known as Cheese Week, to complete the 40 days of fasting in Lent before Easter, excluding the seven Saturdays and eight Sundays, which are non-fast days. The reason for the number of 40 days of fasting during the Great Lent is obscure. The famous canonist of the twelfth century, Balsamon, writes, “There is but a forty day abstinence, that of the Pascha, but if one also likes to keep the weekly fast for other feasts … he is not to be disgraced” (Migne PG 138,1001).

Fasting from foods is relevant to the condition of the health of the Christian, however. Fasting is not for the sake of fasting alone:

Fasting was devised in order to humble the body. If, therefore, the body is already in a state of humbleness and illness or weakness, the person ought to partake of as much as he or she may wish and be able to get along with food and drink.

Canon 8 of St. Timothy of Alexandria, 381

The Meaning of the Feast Days of Lent

Great Lent is a period of time when the people are more conscious of their spiritual character. The passages of the Gospels and the Epistles, the hymnology and prayers, the spirit of the Church – all endeavor to help the Christian cleanse himself spiritually through repentance. “Repent” is the first word Jesus Christ spoke in His proclamation to the people, as the epitome of His Gospel. Repentance is the main motivation of the Christian which acts to free him from sin. One’s recognition of his sin, his contrition over it and lastly his decision to make an about-face change of his attitude are the steps of repentance. For one can learn to recognize iniquities from the Bible and the teachings of the Church. During the period of Lent the Christian is called to self-examination and self-control by the radiance of the Event of the Resurrection of Christ. This is why the Church designated such a period of time be observed before this great feast day.

Fasting in its religious setting is abstinence from food, always in relation to a religious event or feast. Fasting in itself has no meaning in the Christian Church, but has a role the attainment of Christian virtues. It is not to be accepted as a mere custom without a spiritual purpose. Fasting is understood as a means of temperance and sobriety, especially in relation to prayer, devotion and purity. It is also understood to be related to giving alms to the poor. The roots of fasting in the Christian Church are to be found in the Old Testament and the Jewish religion, both for certain days and certain foods. As a general rule, fasting precedes a religious feast. Many verses in the Old Testament refer to this:

Thus says the Lord of Hosts: the fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore, love, truth and peace

Zechariah 8:18-19

In continuation of the practice of fasting, the Christian Church determined the period of Lent to depend upon the great Feast of Easter, as set forth by the First Ecumenical Synod in 325. The Church determined the day on which the Resurrection of Christ would be celebrated, according to the conditions that existed at the time of this Event. Thus, the Synod set forth that the great Feast of Easter would be celebrated on: the first Sunday, after the full moon, after the Spring Equinox (March 21), and always after the Jewish Passover. Thus, this great Feast is a movable date in the calendar. Therefore, Great Lent, which depends upon the date of Easter, also is movable, each year being celebrated on a different date, (Sunday), depending on the above conditions.

The four weeks which precede Great Lent are considered preparatory, a forerunner to Lent. These four weeks, along with the eight weeks of Lent, are characterized by the Church as Triodion, meaning “thrice-hymns”, a name which has no bearing on the substance of Lent itself:

  • The four weeks preceding Lent are known as:
    1. Sunday of the Tax Collector and Pharisee (from the Parable),
    2. Sunday of the Prodigal Son (from the Parable),
    3. Sunday of Meat (the Final Judgment),
    4. Sunday of Cheese (Adam’s expulsion from Paradise); 
  • The eight weeks of the Great Lent are:
    1. First Sunday (Sunday of Orthodoxy),
    2. Second Sunday (St. Gregory Palamas),
    3. Third Sunday (Adoration of Cross),
    4. Fourth Sunday (St. John of Climax),
    5. Fifth Sunday (St. Mary of Egypt),
    6. Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.
  • During Great Lent:
    1. Every day the Great Compline is read,
    2. Every Wednesday and Friday the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is officiated.
    3. On four Friday evenings a fourth of the Akathist Hymn is read, with the entire Hymn read the fifth Friday.

The Four Preparatory Weeks

The Sunday of the Tax Collector and Pharisee (John 1:43-52)

Arrogance is the perversion of the soul and spirit of man; it is the greatest weapon of the evil one; it is the mother of hypocrisy; it is the obstacle of spiritual progress: it is the degradation of civilization; it is the greatest enemy of man; it is the opposite of repentance; it is the corruption of the conscience of man. This is why the Church designated the first Sunday of preparation for acceptance of the Message of the Resurrection of Christ, with the Parable of the Tax Collector and Pharisee being read. The root of evil, arrogance, should be uprooted and replaced with the virtue of humbleness, which is the teaching of this Parable. The highest degree of man’s arrogance is when a person speaks to God in prayers as did the Pharisee, who said, “God I thank thee”, only for the opportunity to enumerate his achievements publicly, comparing himself to others who, according to him, were sinners, saying “I am not like other men, sinners, or even like this tax collector”. He extolled himself saying, “I fast, I give tithe”, which he did. But the more he boasted, the more he condemned himself through arrogance.

On the other hand, the tax collector confessed: “God be merciful to me a sinner”. The repentance of the tax collector is the basis of Christian life; it is the passage into the Kingdom; it is the reestablishment of the image of God in the soul of His creature. Humbleness is the queen of all virtues. Thus, the first phrase of the hymnology of the day is: “Let us not pray pharisee-like. . . . Open to me the doors of repentance”. The combination of almsgiving, prayer and piety, along with the intention of repentance like that of the tax collector, is imperative in the life of a Christian. The attitude of the tax collector made him a steward of divine gifts. Repentance and confession of faith is the same two-sided coin.

The Sunday of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)

This Parable relates to man’s prodigality with the divine gifts to man. It is the consequence of arrogance. Prodigality is the unreckoning extravagance in sensuality. The prodigal is one who cannot be saved, whose life is dissolute, who squandered his father’s property. Prodigality, then, is the second basic corruption toward which man is inclined. This is why this Parable is known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the subject matter of this week. Despite the characterization in this Parable, its main subject is the warm parental love of the Father. The father’s love was unbroken and firm for his prodigal son. His love was shown more at the return of his son than in the beginning, despite the fact that his son squandered his “properties”. In the end, however, the son exchanged his prodigality for repentance, and this is the crux of the parable. This moment changes the prodigal son into the prudent son, expelling arrogance with repentance. While the son was returning to his father, he kept rehearsing over and over again: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you”. But when the son saw his father’s house from afar, his father saw him, and ran to him and embraced him warmly. Thus, the son did not have the opportunity to tell his father what he had been rehearsing. The son at the beginning said, “give me”, but in the end he asked, “make me”, which is the depth of repentance and obedience, the challenging factors of a Christian.

The Sunday of Meat (Matthew 25:31-46)

It is a strong conviction and belief of the Church that Christ will come a second time into the world, not to save the world, but in “glory” to judge the world. In as much as God knew in advance the destiny of each man, why did He not prevent the non-believers and wrong-doers from being born and being condemned everlastingly, someone might ask. The fate of people is wrought on this earth, because after death, there is no opportunity for repentance in order to better one’s state. Man’s finite mind cannot comprehend God’s love for his salvation and judgment for his condemnation. Yet, here is the center of the belief that there is a Supreme Judge for those who committed iniquities and wrong-doings without punishment or discovery while on earth. Approaching Lent and Easter, the Christian is admonished to correct his faults by fasting, praying and almsgiving, as recorded in the Gospel passage of the day. The Last Judgment will be made according to the good works of each person as a result of his faith in and worship of God. These good works are directed to the “least”, those in need, as Christ Himself says, “as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me”, (v. 45). This Sunday is the last day before Lent that the believer eats meat.

The Sunday of Cheese (Matthew 6:14-21)

The theme of this Sunday refers to the expulsion of Adam from Paradise. Adam in Paradise misused his freedom by allowing himself to be persuaded by the evil one to disobey the command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The evil one convinced him that by so doing he would know more than God. The Church in its hymnology presents the condition of Adam outside of Paradise as weeping and working hard for his livelihood. The Gospel passage of the day refers to the manner of praying, fasting, almsgiving and all good works. These are to be done in secret, without boasting. The meaning of this Sunday is the condescension of God to the human weakness, “for if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (v. 14-15). This is emphasized in the Lord’s Prayer. The name of this Sunday, “Cheese”, implies that the fast of this week is the gradual transition from eating meat to the strict fast of Lent, which starts the next day, Monday, with the first Sunday of Lent at the end of the preliminary seven days (Sunday of Orthodoxy).

The Seven Sundays of the Great Lent

First Sunday of Lent – Sunday of Orthodoxy (John 1:43-52)

This Sunday commemorates the return of the Icons into the churches, according to the decision of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod (787). The Church determined that this celebration would take place each year on the first Sunday of Lent, as the Sunday of Orthodoxy, starting March 11, 843. On this Sunday every year the triumph of the faith of Orthodoxy is celebrated with ceremony. The Icon of Christ, according to St. John Damascus, is a distinct affirmation and a reminder of the fact of His Incarnation, which has a vital significance for the salvation of the faithful, an affirmation which prevails to this day in the Orthodox Church. The celebration of the day includes the procession with the Icon of Christ around the inside of the church with pomp and reverence. The Sunday of Orthodoxy calls upon the people to rededicate themselves to the deep meaning of their faith and to declare in unison, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”.

Second Sunday of Lent – St. Gregory Palamas (Mark 2:1-12)

This Sunday commemorates the life of St. Gregory Palamas (14th century). The Church dedicates this Sunday to St. Gregory for his orthodox faith, theological knowledge, virtuous life, miracles and his efforts to clarify the orthodox teaching on the subject of Hesychasm (from the Greek, meaning quiet.) Hesychasm was a system of mysticism propagated on Mt. Athos by 14th century monks who believed that man was able, through an elaborate system of ascetic practices based upon perfect quiet of body and mind, to arrive at the vision of the divine light, with the real distinction between the essence and the operations of God. Gregory became noted for his efforts to explain the difference between the correct teaching and this theory. Gregory was dedicated to an ascetic life of prayer and fasting, which are practices of Lent.

Third Sunday of Lent – Adoration of the Cross (Mark 8:34-38; 9:1)

This Sunday commemorates the venerable Cross and the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Cross as such takes on meaning and adoration because of the Crucifixion of Christ upon it. Therefore, whether it be in hymns or prayers, it is understood that the Cross without Christ has no meaning or place in Christianity. The adoration of the Cross in the middle of Great Lent is to remind the faithful in advance of the Crucifixion of Christ. Therefore, the Dassages from the Bible and the hymnology refer to the Passions, the sufferings, of Jesus Christ: The passages read this day repeat the calling of the Christian by Christ to dedicate his life, for “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Christ)” (v. 34-35). This verse clearly indicates the kind of dedication which is needed by the Christian in three steps:

  1. To renounce his arrogance and disobedience to God’s Plan,
  2. To lift up his personal cross (the difficulties of life) with patience, faith and the full acceptance of the Will of God without complaint that the burden is too heavy; having denied himself and lifted up his cross leads him to the,
  3. Decision to follow Christ.

These three voluntary steps are three links which cannot be separated from each other, because the main power to accomplish them is the Grace of God, which man always invokes. The Adoration of the Cross is expressed by the faithful through prayer, fasting, almsgiving and the forgiveness of the trespasses of others. On this Sunday the Adoration of the Cross is commemorated with a special service following the Divine Liturgy in which the significance of the Cross is that it leads to the Resurrection of Christ.

Fourth Sunday of Lent – St. John Climacus (Mark 9:17-31)

This Sunday commemorates St. John of the Climax (6th century) who is the writer of the book called The Ladder (climax) of Paradise. This book contains 30 chapters, with each chapter as a step leading up to a faithful and pious life as the climax of a Christian life. The spirit of repentance and devotion to Christ dominates the essence of this book, along with the monastic virtues and vices. He was an ascetic and writer on the spiritual life as a monk-abbot of Sinai Monastery. These steps of the ladder as set forth by St. John are to be practiced by the Christian especially during this period of the Great Lent. Each step leading to the top step of the ladder, is the climactic essence of the true meaning of a Christian life.

Fifth Sunday of Lent – St. Mary of Egypt (Mark 10:32-45)

This Sunday commemorates the life of St. Mary of Egypt, who is a shining example of repentance from sin through prayer and fasting. She lived a sinful life for many years, but was converted to a Christian life. She went into the wilderness to live an ascetic life for many years, praying and fasting in repentance of her previous sinful life, and dying there. St. Mary’s life exemplifies her conviction about Christ, which motivated the changing of her life from sin to holiness through repentance. Her understanding of repentance involved not a mere change from small things in her life, but an extreme change of her entire attitude and thoughts. The Church commemorates St. Mary for her recognition of her own sins as an example of how one can free oneself from the slavery and burden of wrongdoings. This recognition of sin is imperative during Lent for the faithful as a means of self-examination and preparation for a more virtuous life in anticipation of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Christ.

Palm Sunday (John 12:12-18)

This Sunday commemorates the triumphant entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem received Christ as a king, and, therefore, took branches of palms and went out to meet Him, laying down the palms in His path. The people cried out the prophecy of Zechariah: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (v. 13; of Zechariah 9:9). The celebration of the Jewish Passover brought crowds of Jews and converted Jews to Jerusalem. They had heard of the works and words of Christ, especially about the resurrection of Lazarus. All the events related to Christ had a Messianic meaning for the Jews at the time. This vexed the high priests and pharisees. As usual, Christ went to the Temple to pray and teach. That evening Christ departed for Bethany. The tradition of the Church of distributing palms on this Sunday comes from the act of the people in placing the branches of palms in front of Christ, and henceforth symbolizes for the Christian the victory of Christ over evil forces and death.

Holy Week

The period of Great Lent includes the days of Holy Week. This is the time when Christians who went through the whole period of Lent in prayer and fasting approach the Feast of Feasts to celebrate the Passions of Christ and His Resurrection. During the entire Lent the faithful try to practice and live the ideals and standards of this period in the light of Easter. This is why the Hymnology of the entire period of Lent, especially during Holy Week, refers to the Resurrection of Christ as the center of the Christian Faith. Each day of Holy Week is dedicated to the Events and teachings of Christ during His last week on earth. The faithful who participate in the services of this week are more conscious of their duties to themselves and to their neighbors through fasting, praying, giving alms, forgiving the trespasses of others; in other words, participating, day by day, in the spirit of the Gospel of Christ.

The Significance of Great Lent

Great Lent before Easter is when the Christian participates fully in preparing himself to praise and glorify his God as Lord and Savior. Great Lent is like a “workshop” where the character of the faithful is spiritually uplifted and strengthened; where his life is rededicated to the principles and ideals of the Gospel; where the faith culminates in deep conviction of life; where apathy and disinterest turn into vigorous activities of faith and good works. Lent is not for the sake of Lent itself, as fasting is not for the sake of fasting. But they are means by which and for which the individual believer prepares himself to reach for, accept and attain the calling of his Savior. Therefore, the significance of Great Lent is highly appraised, not only by the monks who gradually increased the length of time of the Lent, but also by the lay people themselves, although they do not observe the full length of time. As such, Great Lent is the sacred Institute of the Church to serve the individual believer in participating as a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, and, from time to time, to improve the standards of faith and morals in his Christian life. The deep intent of the believer during the Great Lent is “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”, Philippians 3:13-14.


Weekly Bulletin for March 24, 2019

Weekly Bulletin for March 24, 2019 Lenten Retreat 2019


Services for Sunday, March 17, 2019

Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter March 17, 2019

Dearly Beloved in the Lord,

I pray that as we have begun our Lenten Journey, the days have been fruitful and productive. To that end, I have taken an excerpt from the article “The Liturgical Cycle of the Great Lenten Period” by 

Rev. Pavlos Koumarianos, Ph.D. to serve as a useful resource in understanding the themes, services, hymns and prayers that will be offered during these sacred days. Enjoy! – Fr. Anthony

The Liturgy of Saint Basil and the Akathist

From the above list of the peculiarities of the liturgical life of Great Lent, we need to say that the first two, namely the Liturgy of Saint Basil and the Akathist are not purely Lenten idioms. In the Byzantine Church the liturgy of St. Basil was celebrated every Sunday and feast day of the whole year. It was the official Eucharistic Liturgy to be celebrated on a regular basis throughout the year. It is not clearly known why towards the end of the first quarter of the second millennium the Liturgy of Saint Basil was replaced by a liturgy attributed to Saint John Chrysostom. For the survival of celebrating Saint Basil’s liturgy during Lent, Baumstark says that it happened because of the conservative liturgical character of Lent. I would insist that two more reasons lead the Church to keep the Liturgy of Saint Basil during Lent: the intention of the Church to dedicate more time to prayer during Lent, as well as, the expressively doctrinal and educational character of the Liturgy of Saint Basil. The Church found the Lenten atmosphere of more dedicated devotion as a good opportunity to teach the faithful the dogma by making them listen to the profound and all-embracing theological elucidations of the Basilian Liturgy, especially the Anaphora.

As far as the Akathist is concerned, this is rather a interval in the compunctional and penitential character of Lent. The singing of the Akathist is not a part of the particular devotional atmosphere of Lent. It is rather related to the feast of the Annunciation, which always falls in the midst of Lent. Let us explain it having made an observation first: in the present day we celebrate Akathistos every Friday evening together with the service of Compline. Originally though, the Church sung the Akathistos in the Orthros of every Saturday of Lent. Thus the real question is why the Church established this practice to celebrate Akathistos every Saturday morning? The answer is the following: The period of Lent has a basic penitential and mournful character. Annunciation, though, is a great feast with a profoundly joyful character, and according to the Orthodox Liturgical Tradition, it should have its own pre-festal and post-festal joyful period.

However, the establishment of a joyful pre-festal and post-festal period for the feast of the Annunciation in the midst of Lent, would cause a certain disorder in the constant flow of the penitential attitude through the weeks of Lent. Nonetheless, it would neither be fair, nor pastorally good to leave the feast of the Annunciation without a pre-festal period of preparation and a post-festal period of celebration. How then could a pre and post festal period be established without damaging the penitential character of Lent? The solution was found in relationship to the fact that Saturdays and Sundays were already excluded from the penitential Lenten routine. Thus the Church used the celebration of the Saturday Orthros of Lent, in order to remind the faithful of the upcoming or just passed joyful feast of the Annunciation.

The Scriptural Readings of Great Lent

Then, after the explanation of the liturgical character of the first two elements, let us turn our attention to those liturgical elements which have a purely Lenten character.

The backbone of the organization of the 6 weeks of Great Lent is the system of readings and celebrations of the Saturdays and Sundays of Great Lent. The Gospel readings of the Saturdays and Sundays of Great Lent are taken from the Gospel of Saint Mark with one exception: the 1st Sunday of Lent, when the Gospel is taken from the Gospel according to Saint John. The Epistle readings are from Hebrews.

I think the reasons of this selection are obvious. As far the Gospels are concerned, Mark is the evangelist who presents Christ as the prototype of a Martyr, actually the unique, true and authentic Martyr. In view of the liturgical celebration of the passion of Christ during Holy Week, what else would be more suitable and appropriate than to read the Gospel that emphasizes the martyr character of Christ. As far as the Epistle readings are concerned, the Epistle to the Hebrews, is the Epistle that emphasizes the intercessional, mediatory and placatory role of Christ’s self-sacrifice: “For Christ has entered not into a sanctuary made with hands… but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. … He suffered once for all anticipating the end of all the worlds, in order to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. … So, Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to appear for their salvation to those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” (Hebrews 9: 24-28 the Epistle reading of Saturday of the 5th week of Lent.)

Now, based on the readings, the Sundays of Lent are dedicated to a variety of themes, with which the spiritual stream of Lent flows naturally into the climate of Holy Week. Thus, according to the Gospel of the 1st Sunday, Philip calls Nathaniel to get to know Jesus personally. He calls him with the words “come and see”. The words of Philip are obviously an allusion to the visual character of Holy Icons. The 2nd Sunday is dedicated to the double healing of the paralytic, through the forgiveness of his sins followed by the restoration of his physical health. The relationship between this Gospel passage and the penitential character of Lent is obvious! The 3rd Sunday is dedicated to the self-denial, self-sacrifice and Cross, not of Christ, but of every faithful person who wants to follow Christ. The 4th Sunday’s gospel is the miracle of a healing of a demon-possessed young man. When the disciples asked Christ why they were not able to heal the boy, Christ in reply emphasizes the instrumental importance of Prayer and Fasting to the effect of getting rid of the evil powers.

There is nothing more relevant to the struggle of Fasting and the insistence on Prayer that constitute the main aspects of Lenten spirituality. Finally the 4th and the 5th Sundays’ readings contain preannouncements of Christ’s voluntary death on the cross, whereas the 5th also contains the lesson of humility and self-offering as a response to the selfish and naive worldly query of the disciples about “who is greater” among them. Let us add here that all these Sunday Gospel themes are the coninuation of the fundamental ideas proclaimed through the Gospel readings of the first 4 Sundays of the Triodion, the most significant among them being that of limitless love towards neighbors, which is expressed as an unconditional gift of forgiveness.

Sunday celebrations during Great Lent

However, as far as the Sundays of Lent are concerned, let us note here that in addition to the original connections of every Sunday to a Scriptural theme, later events in the history of the Church or further pastoral needs, gave to the Church the opportunity to connect every Sunday of Lent with some additional themes: the celebration of Orthodoxy on the 1st Sunday, the commemoration of Saint Gregory Palamas on the 2nd, the Veneration of the Cross on the 3rd, the veneration of Saint John the author of the Ladder on the 4th, and Saint Mary of Egypt on the 5th.

With these celebrations, the festal themes of every Sunday of Lent in their totality form an exposition of the aspects of theory and practice in the life of the Church as they celebrate and expose basic doctrinal and ascetical principles. However, let us note here that in the Sundays of Lent the doctrinal truths and the ascetical methods of the Church are not presented as theoretical and abstract intellectual concepts. Dogma is presented as history, as a dynamic achievement of human beings struggling to explore the Truth. It is not an abstract formulation of dogma that is presented, but a historical event, the triumph of the veneration of the holy icons, or a person, a theologian, like Saint Gregory Palamas, a Saint who became a theologian by his personal dedication to prayer and self-purification. The ascetic life and the practice of holiness are also presented as living experiences of real human persons. It is not the abstract notion of holiness that is presented to the faithful, but the persons of Saint John the Sinaite and Saint Mary of Egypt. And, finally, in the midst of Lent, both dogma and ethics are recapitulated in the veneration of the Cross of Christ!

Sacred Hymnology

As far as the hymnology and the services of the weekdays of Lent are concerned, things are more elaborated and the enrichment more intense. We could at least mention the penitential orientation of the hymns of this period. I think that it is here that the particular character of Lent is most obvious. The best example of this case could be the canon of Saint Andrew of Crete, inserted into the regular service of Great Compline of the first 4 days of the 1st week of Lent, as well as into the Orthros (Matins) of the Thursday of the 5th week.

The literal, spiritual, and theological content of the texts of hymns and prayers of Lent constitute an excellent school of self-knowledge. The highest conclusions of the psychology of depth and the best methods of psychotherapy look like lessons of elementary education in front of the healing power of the hymns, prayers and services of Great Lent, if they are used appropriately. In the hymns, prayers and patristic readings of this period all the hidden folds of the human soul are exposed to light.

The hymns of the Triodion teach us first about the consequences of sin. They describe the human soul as full of passions, sinful tendencies, spiritual weaknesses, psychological inclinations that go against the will of God almost naturally. In the Ascetic Literature, passions are sinful habits that serve, slavishly and almost naturally, the effective power of death and separation from God.

However, these hymns do not describe only the negative aspect of the human fall. They inspire also optimism and cheerfulness in the hope of the open possibility of return to God, the possibility of salvation through repentance. They tell us that if we want, we can fight against the passions and defeat them.

What is more important though is that this hymnology offers the healing experience of being a part of a communion of persons with bonds of authentic love: the Church. Through the Church as a communion of life, it is obviously manifested that spiritual weaknesses and sinfulness fall, and spiritual achievements and holiness are shown to have a character of commonality and are equally shared experientially by all. Nobody is alone or rejected in his/her failure in the Church, and the Saints do not form an elite group of people separated from the rest of the members of the Church’s body: the personal spiritual achievements of the Saints can be a benefit for and a gift to all the members of the Church. Saints and sinners are together members of the one holy body of Christ.

You learn then that you fail and fall, but not alone, because you fail and fall as a member of the Church, which means, that in spite of your personal sinfulness you are a part of the same body with the Saints, the angels, the Theotokos and finally Christ Himself. And Christ and the Saints take on their shoulders your weakness, making your falls their loving care, and allowing you to take part in their purity and holiness. Thus, even as a sinner, you are sanctified by grace, as long as you repent and fight and keep yourself in the Church.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

In harmony with the just mentioned joyful and hopeful penitential character of the Lenten services and hymns is the most imposing Lenten liturgy: the liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts a unique expression of the pastoral wisdom of the Byzantine liturgical tradition, the pearl of Lenten devotion.

In the Byzantine times, the liturgy of the Presanctified was celebrated daily. In the spiritual struggle of Great Lent, the faithful needed more than ever the strengthening partaking of Holy Communion. Thus, by the celebration of the Presanctified the opportunity of receiving Holy Communion every day was given to the faithful.

It is very interesting though to observe the reasons why this communion takes place from presanctified gifts and there is no consecration in this service:

In order to have the consecration of the Gifts, you need to have this important part of the Eucharistic Liturgy that is called “Holy Anaphora”. The Holy Anaphora is the prayer with which the bread and the wine become the body and the blood of Christ in the Liturgy. If we compare the structures of a complete Eucharist with the service of the Presanctified we will notice that it is exactly the Anaphora which is missing. Why? The Anaphora is not only the consecration of the Gifts through the epiclesis, but before this it is the act of offering the Holy Gifts to God joyfully, praising Him triumphantly for the gift of our salvation.

The Anaphora, the act of offering the gifts to God, always had the cheerful and triumphant character of boldness and confidence before God. However, boldness and triumph do not fit with the penitential character of Lent. Thus, the wisdom of the holy fathers formulated the service of the Presanctified Gifts as a participation in the Eucharist but without the Anaphora, a Eucharist without thanksgiving and jubilation, a Eucharist that is rather a cry for help than a joyful acclamation: “O God set free our senses from deadly passions, let our eyes abstain from evil sights, our hearing from idle talk … purify our lips as they sing your praises, let our hands produce only works that are pleasing to You…” (1st Prayer of the faithful of the Liturgy of the Presanctified). And this cry finds response and comfort in the self-giving love and grace of God. Holy Communion is finally given after the penitential and purifying course of prayers and hymns of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

Fasting and Devotion

The time does not allow us to move on to further analysis of other services and other aspects of Lenten devotion. I will finish with an observation on the historical evolution of Great Lent. We have already mentioned that it seems that the Church, through the centuries, in formulating the services of Lent, tried to add things to the already existing liturgical elements, as if she was trying to make this period of the liturgical year as heavy and more tiresome as possible! The Church maintained the Liturgy of Saint Basil for the Sundays of Lent, added Psalms and canons to the various services of the Liturgy of the Hours, used the Egyptian longer version of Compline, the Great Compline, instead of the regular Palestinian Compline, etc. The same can be observed with the practice of fasting. In the early centuries it was just two days of fast before Easter Sunday. The two days became a whole week later on. The whole week became three weeks in Rome in the 4th century. The three weeks became 5 weeks in Egypt in the 4th century. The 5 weeks became 6 in Antioch and Constantinople in the 4th century, in Jerusalem in the 5th century, in Alexandria in the 7th century. The monks of Palestine would fast for 8 weeks since the 4th century. In Constantinople, an 8th week of moderate fast was added during the 7th century. It is really hard to understand this increase of numbers of weeks of fasting, as well as the increase of length and number of prayers, hymns, prostrations and other liturgical practices.

The selfish and comfort-seeking spirit of the Western society would lead us to the opposite kind of acts: to try to cut short all the services and the days of the fast. However, this urge and willingness to suffer more and to be more patient, has always been a common and constant tendency of the Church. I think the explanation can be found in the words of Saint Ignatius, when he was trying to convince his friends in Rome not to do anything to spare him from going through the martyrdom, even if they had the power and the possibility to do so. Saint Ignatius, having used all sorts of arguments to convince them to allow him to be martyred, he concludes:

“Christ, my passionate love, has been crucified!”

I think this small sentence of Saint Ignatius says everything!


Weekly Bulletin for March 17, 2019

Weekly Bulletin for March 17, 2019 GOYA Lenten Retreat 2019 Sunday of Orthodoxy 2019 Project Mexico Pancake Breakfast 2019


Services for Sunday, March 10, 2019

Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter March 10, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

God Bless!

The time has come. The hour has been received. The opportunity to respond to our Lord’s gift of salvation is at hand. Beginning with this Sunday evening, The period of Great Lent will begin for 2019. Let us not be like the foolish virgins referenced in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel; locked out, unrecognized; discarded. They were late to the celebration for they were ill-prepared and while leaving to find oil for their lamps, the Bridegroom came, welcomed in the wise women, shut the door of the feast, then found those who wandered through the dark streets in vain, to be unworthy of entry.

Great Lent is the exact time to think of such a message. What shuts us out of the kingdom? What removes us from the sight of the Lord? Are we counted among those whom He does not recognize? Entering into an ascetic struggle, a heightened spiritual awareness, a stricter discipline of prayer, a more conscious awareness of needs around us, and committing to a deliberate attempt at the Fast will allow us to begin the process of attaining wisdom. The wise are saved. The foolish parish. Of course I don’t speak of the wise and foolish as pertaining to the intellect, but rather to the maturity of the soul.

The wise, in this sense, are aware of God’s gracious and longsuffering love towards them. And they respond in kind and with prayerful humility. The foolish depend on only themselves, not realizing that their every accomplishment is actually a blessing from the Lord. Their strengths are freely-given gifts from the hand of their Creator and their successes are allowances from above.

The wise are brought in. The foolish are left out. The wise are welcome. The foolish are sent away. The wise are beloved of the Lord. The foolish, though pitied, are rejected.

The rich and beneficial days of the Fast shape and contour our character, resolve, self respect and dedication. This is the process towards wisdom. This is the rejection of foolishness.

The foolish Virgins were shut out of the celebration for they did not demonstrate a true desire to be in the presence of the Bridegroom. Their words did not match their actions and their efforts fell short of their intentions. Please, as your pastor and spiritual father, I implore you not to make the same mistake as we approach our own entrance into the eternal celebration that is the Kingdom of Heaven.

This Kingdom is re-opened to us by a Savior who died for our sake, rose from the dead and lead us back through the gates of Paradise. This same Savior, before His glory is made manifest before the entirety of the world, will be rejected, convicted, violated, mutilated, humiliated and sentenced to an inhumane death. These are the days when we soberly account for all He came to remove and all He took on for Himself. Our sins placed Him in the Cross. His love keeps us from the jaws of death. His love is sacrificial. Our love towards Him, often times is superficial. We can use the days of the Fast to reverse the course of our stubbornness towards Him, the Gospel, and an actual relationship with Jesus Christ.

The foolish women were kept from joining the party perhaps because they did not keep the commandments, observe the Law, love as He loves serve as he serves. They neglected the weighty and important aspects of life. They were flippant and casual. Now is our chance to not imitate those qualities and suffer a similar fate.

On a practical front, how is this going to be made possible? Will reading more spiritual books during Lent save our souls? No. But it will help. Will fasting allow for life everlasting? No, but it will prepare us for the rigors that will. Will praying more often lead us to Heaven? Well, perhaps no if we are praying for the wrong reasons, asking the wrong questions, blaming the wrong persons and not repenting for the sins committed. These days allow us to put all of these, and other practices to the test. And when observed for the singular purpose of glorifying God, we are seen through the eyes of mercy and judged through the process of forgiveness. That said, during Lent:

Pray more often and come to the Services of the Church. Not for your own sake, but because you love the Lord and desire to encounter Him in His House.

Feed the poor. Not for an eternal reward, but because people are hungry.

Give alms and demonstrate selfless generosity. Not because it makes you feel good, but because it will make someone feel valued.

Visit those who are sick. Not because you need something to do, but because they need someone to see.

To that end, we are in the process of working towards a stronger ministry towards our St. Anna Shut-Ins. If you are aware of someone in your family or a friend who is unable to get to church, please send their information to Gary Barker at He is the chairman of our Men’s Ministry Visitation Ministry. And together with our St. Anna Men, I would like to greatly enhance this much-needed and too often neglected ministry.

God bless you in this journey. God strengthen you in the task ahead. God inspire you in the process that awaits. Please be aware that I have received the second shipment of the book Tending the Garden of our Souls, and they will be available for purchase this Sunday. Please purchase this Lenten Meditation book and, as I wrote about last week and have been preaching about for a while, share the daily devotionals with your family and dedicate a deliberate amount of time to contemplation and study. It will be a tremendous addition to your Lenten plans.

And lastly, as you gaze upon the above referenced icon and ponder its theological truths, doctrinal message and Scriptural basis, please also pay attention to the obvious. Read the message and remember we lose an hour this Sunday with Daylight Saving Time.

With Much Love in Christ,
Fr. Anthony

Special Reminder: This Sunday, following the Divine Liturgy, the 2019 St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival will take place in the church. Please join us as we listen to what these brilliant, young people have to share about their vibrant faith.