I am Your message, Lord. Throw me like a blazing torch into the night, that all may see and understand what it means to be a disciple.St. Maria of Paris
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Firstly, let me just say that I love this quote. I love everything about it. I love the imagery. I love the message. I love its power. I love its motivation. I love its trust. I love its command.
The author of the quote, St. Maria of Paris is an unassuming saint with an unexpected back story. Born Liza Polenko, she took the name of Maria as she was tonsured an Orthodox Christian monastic. So yes, obviously she was a nun.
She was a twice-divorced, beer-drinking, chain-smoking nun.
But a nun nevertheless.
When we hear these small (but substantial) details of this saint’s life, we may be tempted to embrace the false sense of over simplifying the struggles in her life and perhaps thinking “wow, if she can be a saint, I certainly qualify!” As we identify with her vices and sympathize with her lowest points, we begin to naïvely ease up the process toward sanctification and dilute the virtuous efforts of salvation. We want to be like the saints, but in reality, we want them to be like us, so we can in turn…be like them, just without the effort. St. Maria of Paris is a perfect example of us “admiring” a saint for perhaps the wrong reasons.
To be sure; her generosity, her writings, her work with the poor, and ministry to the most vulnerable of her day would certainly cast her in a recognizable, sanctified light.
Again, read the above-referenced quote. It reads as if written by an Athonite Monk or a Cappadocian Father. But, no. Those few, yet convicting words come from the mouth of a woman who lived through the ravages of war, endured the death of her young daughter, suffered two failed marriages, and then through His redeeming grace and longsuffering love, preached the Gospel through living the Gospel. She ultimately died a martyr’s death.
She clandestinely took the place of a Jewish woman destined for the gas chamber. And it is there, where she died: in a Nazi Concentration Camp.
Mother Maria of Paris, boldly proclaimed to the Lord and to us, that she is His message. His message of redemption and salvation was proclaimed to the world; not simply through her words, but most notably, through her actions. Her sacrificial actions.
But my beloved in the Lord, I now wish to share my actual message. St. Maria’s life, though captivating as it is…her quote itself, is really where I want to concentrate my efforts.
Again, I absolutely love the imagery of her words: the saving message of God, thrown as a brilliant torch into the darkness of night, to illumine the faithful and light their pathway towards the comfort of safe harbor. Those who were once lost in darkness and stumbling over perilous obstacles, now enjoy the benefit of clarity, light, knowledge and direction.
So here it is: in a few short weeks, September 8th to be exact, the 2019-2020 St. Anna Sunday School year will begin once again. Our children, no matter their age, live in a fallen world. A world without God is a world that is dark, cold, dangerous and lonely. This is the world that can await our youth if we do not do our collective and individual best to ensure their strong footing in His holy Kingdom. The world’s definition of love is very different than God’s definition of love. But to walk in His light, and feel His love begins with our knowledge of Him. We learn of God’s love at home, in the Liturgy, through Scripture, during prayer and, quite obviously, in Sunday School.
Last evening, I held a preparatory meeting with our Sunday School staff. This blessed collection of dedicated youth workers came together in order to be fully prepared to receive the children of our St. Anna parish into their capable and prayerful hands. As we discussed the probable rosters of the new year, we noticed that many of our past students have come only mostly-consistently. And some, came sparingly.
Please, moms and dads, grandparents, godparents: take extremely seriously the spiritual lives of our young people. While I am exceedingly grateful to have seen yet another summer with an average of about 160 people coming to church each Sunday, we need to look to the start of this school year and dedicate ourselves to the well-being and strength of the young souls that are entrusted to our care. I say without hubris or hesitation, that our Sunday School teachers are among the absolute best that I have ever worked with in over 20 years of parish ministry. Our teachers are gifted educators who are wholly engaged in their ministerial task. Let’s pledge to ourselves and to the Lord that we’ll make every effort to have our kids at church and in Sunday School each week.
As it stands today, our registration will be at about 70 kids. We came up with an honest list, keeping on our rolls the children whom we believe are still active and involved in our parish. So let’s have these kids with us each Sunday. Please. Let’s see that these children are active in our youth ministries and family events. Please. Let’s see that their participation is active, vibrant, consistent and genuine. Please. Let’s minister to our kids. Let’s impart to them the teachings and traditions that are handed down from Christ, Himself. Let’s be committed to their clarity, offer them light, share God’s knowledge and lead with direction.
In the end, if we all do our part: that is if our parish offers quality programming, and our parents respond accordingly, then our children will be the blazing torch that is thrown into the night. Once they become receivers of the Light, they will then become bearers of the Light.
Sunday School begins September 8, 2019.
Please plan from now, to enroll your kids, and support them with active participation throughout this new year and always.
With Love in Christ,
She who is higher than the heavens, and more glorious than the Cherubim, and is held in greater honor than all creation; she who for surpassing purity became the vessel of the eternal Essence, today commits her all-holy soul into the hands of her Son. And together with her all things are filled with joy, and on us is bestowed the great mercy.Doxastikon Hymn for the Dormition of the Theotokos Great Vespers
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I trust and pray that all of you who celebrated your Name Day yesterday, enjoyed a most blessed Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. Our Lady and Queen is the very protector of all that is sacred in our lives and her perpetual influence, before very throne of God is a source of comfort and sustenance that can never fade. Her departure from this life, though bringing great sadness to her contemporary world, empowers her to pray eternally and to enjoy a never-ending proximity to her Son and our God, our Lord Jesus Christ. May she continue to pray for us, inspire us, guide us and protect us.
Last evening, following a day filled with her grace and love, our parish of St. Anna was able to once again, experience the continued blessings of our Lady the Theotokos, and her tender mother, our Matron St. Anna. Together, these most-powerful women of God have demonstrated their ability to progress the Name of the Lord and expand the witness of His Orthodox Church. How can we help but think that the Panaghia prayers for the faithful to grow, for the Church to expand and that more people can be led to salvation. She herself, in these last days, received the gift of eternal life…an eternal life that she made possible in bearing the Son of God. She partook of her own blessed fruit. She, herself, along with the entirety of humanity, benefits from her humble obedience and trust in the Lord.
So last night, our parish stood before the Planning Commission of Sandy City; seeking to obtain a Conditional Use Permit to operate a church on a property, and in a building, that was originally constructed as a nursery, then later converted into a reception center. The panel of officials heard the report presented by the Sandy City Planning Department, and the comments offered by our parish council president, Michael Petrogeorge. Michael, as the official applicant shared our vision, purpose, intentions and aspirations. He was not doubt guided and gifted by our precious Lady and Mother of God.
On August 15, 2019, our parish was granted our petition and we now have the go-ahead, from our new city, to establish a new spiritual center in the heart of Sandy’s east bench. We were congratulated by city officials and given well-wishes from the people who needed to tell us “yes.” If we want to establish a new church in their city, we needed to hear “yes.” If we want to plant a banner for the sake of the Gospel and the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we needed to hear “yes.” If our parish dreams, our hard work, our intensified push for a home for ourselves was to be realized, we needed to hear “yes.”
If salvation was to granted the people of God, if the Father’s plan for redemption was to be fulfilled, if the divine Logos was to take on flesh, we…needed…to…hear…”yes.”
Universal salvation was celebrated yesterday on the Feast of Her Dormition. As a local parish, as a small community of believers, as the children of St. Anna, we were also able, just yesterday, to reaffirm our responsibility in the salvation of mankind, to provide a house of worship dedicated to the ministry of Christ and the sharing of His Gospel.
While the entirety of the Orthodox World celebrated her translation from this life to the next, we, as a tiny, nearly undetectable portion of His Body, were able to share joy over the same word that changed the course of human history. Yes.
Sandy City said yes, we can operate.
So once again, the narrative switches back to us. As you will see in the latest updates of our capital campaign, we have achieved 96% of our goal to purchase the Atrium Property with putting down half of the purchase price with $1.5 million. My most beloved in the Lord, this is a staggering number. No longer is it staggering because it needed to be obtained…it is now incredible because we are only about $65,000 from responsibly attaining this dream. I ask that whomever is among us that has not yet participated in this historic and significant effort to establish ourselves with a permanent home, now is the time for your own “yes.”
Please, we are so, so close. Let’s quickly wrap this up and dedicate our God-inspired efforts elsewhere. I thank you for your tireless work, trust and vision. I thank you for your unyielding faith. I thank you for your dedication to Christ and His Church. I thank you for an infectious and sustained positive and welcoming attitude. I thank you for your appreciation of St. Anna. I thank you for your “yes.”
With Much Love in XC,