Pastoral Letter September 23, 2018

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
– 2 Corinthians 1:1-4

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the statement quoted above, which serve as St. Paul’s introduction to his second correspondence with the church in Corinth, we find the key words “church,” mentioned once and “comfort,” mentioned five times. That is, the word “comfort” was written five times in only four verses of the Bible.

I believe that two of the most positive words in the English language are “church” and “comfort.”

When we hear “church” we think of glorious, Byzantine structures, doctrinal entities, rich liturgical practices, sacred traditions, social networks and the place to be, among the people with whom, we want to be.

When we hear “comfort,” images of cozy spaces, pats on the back, familiarity, warm relationships, confidence in one’s surroundings, and predictability are conjured up, in the mind.

Of course, I am basing my thoughts on 21st Century English. St. Paul however, wrote in 1st Century Greek. Big difference. Big, big difference. The two languages are separated by centuries, context, linguistic roots, grammatical structures and cultural realities.

In other words, St. Paul is using these words in very different ways than we might understand them today, in our time and in our language.

We must also understand the words for “church” and “comfort” are linguistic expressions which stem from the same Greek root. Christian author, Steve Sweetman breaks it down for us in this way (Please stay with me, this is important.):

Try to think this through with me. Both “church” and “comfort” are translated from the Greek root word “klesis.” “Klesis” means, “call, called, or, to call,” depending on whether it’s used as a verb or a noun. The only difference between “church” and “comfort” in Greek are their prefixes, that is, the letters in front of the root word “klesis.” That’s why they’re linguistic limbs, stemming from the same root. The two words are closely related.

Our English word “church” is translated from the Greek word “ekklesia.” “Ekklesia” is made up of “ek,” meaning, “out of,” and, “klesis,” meaning, “call or called.” Thus, “ekklesia,” or “church,” when applied to people are those who “are called out of.” Note the similarity between “ekklesia” and “paraklesis.” Our English word “comfort” is translated from the Greek word “paraklesis.” “Paraklesis” is also made up of two Greek words. They are, “para,” meaning, “alongside,” and “klesis,” meaning, “call or called.” Thus, “paraklesis,” or “comfort,” means, “to come alongside.”

In simple terms, “church” (ekklesia) is comprised of people whom Jesus has “called out of” (ekklesia) the world and placed “alongside” (paraklesis) other “called out people.”

If you can dig your way beneath our English text, into the world of 1st century Greek language and culture, you’ll understand what Paul is getting at when he uses the word “comfort” in the context of “church.” Comfort has little to do with hugs, kisses, and warm fuzzy feelings. It has everything to do with being placed “alongside” others in the Body of Christ and doing whatever is necessary in helping others to fulfill God’s will for the Church. The word “comfort” as defined in Biblical terms is more related to the word “church” than it is to what we might think it means today.

Got that? Good. Greek Class dismissed.

All that said, those two words are linguistically and spiritually linked to mean that they are really one in the same. to be called out in service to God, and to stand next to those who have also received their calling unto salvation, is the understanding of both “church” and “comfort.”

Here is my point to all this, (and thank you for not abandoning this message): that in the realities of our Orthodox Christian worship and practice, St. Paul’s 1st Century understanding of the words, and our contemporary context are fused together with such graceful harmony that it can only come from God.

The Paraklesis Service in the Orthodox Church is a service of prayerful acknowledgement that we, as sinners, are in need of comfort. We are in need of the Church. We are in need of being called out by God to fulfill His purpose in us, and we are called to stand in the midst of those who have been similarly called out. You see? The English and Greek speaking worlds of today and those, long past are seamlessly presented before us.

The Paraklesis service (same word, same Greek lesson), is a supplicatory cannon, that is written to any number of saints, in order that, in response to our prayer, the requests of the Faithful are answered by God. That is: answered by God through the intersessions of the saint, with whom we direct our prayers to our loving King and Master.

Of course, the most common Paraklesis Service is chanted to the Theotokos; primarily during the first two weeks of August in preparation for the celebration of her Dormition.

There are many other saints, to whom these services have been dedicated. They include, among others, St, Panteleimon, St. Nektarios, St. Nicholas and others.

Included in this list is our own St. Anna.

As I have mentioned to you in other writings and in past announcements, once our Shrine is in place, anchored by the relic of St. Anna, we will begin these services to be conducted monthly. Therefore:

The Inaugural Service of Paraklesis to the Righteous Ancestor of God, St. Anna will be conducted Next Friday Evening, September 28th at 7:00 pm.

At the time of this writing, the fundamental elements of our Shrine will arrive in time for Sunday Services. Although the iconography for our Shrine is an on-going process that will take several months to complete, our altar table is in place; the reliquary, vigil light and oil lamps are in transit. They arrived in the States just yesterday, and should be delivered to the church office today.

In anticipation of our “sacred and new normal,”I suggest that you begin to develop the following prayerful routine:

Upon entering the sanctuary, look to see if the oil lamps on the Shrine are illumined. If so, that is your indication that her holy relic is displayed for veneration.

Proceed up the right aisle of the church, bow a small prostration before her holy relic, venerate her most valuable presence among us, cross yourselves once again, and proceed to your desired place to worship in the church.

Please…never, ever take her presence for granted. The sacredness which accompanies her physical existence is a blessing that will never fade; so long as we keep our Matron Saint Anna in our hearts, and in the forefront of our minds, as we enter the church. If her relic is displayed for pious veneration, please proceed directly to the Shrine and offer your prayers, that they may be graciously presented, through her intercessions, to her Grandson, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Again, check to see if the lamps are burning, for the relic will not be brought out for every service.

St. Paul writes of comfort within the Church. We understand very well what he means by those words. But always remember, that we are typically most comfortable in the loving presence of our own mothers, godmothers and grandmothers.

St. Anna, the Mother…of the Mother of God…is a source of life and a source of the Church’s earthly existence. Indeed, she is a source of great comfort.

I’m confident that even St. Paul would not disagree.

With Much Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas