Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we begin preparations for the Thanksgiving Holiday, I want to express my gratitude to the Lord and to you, for the blessing and humbling honor to serve as your priest. Our community was founded expressly so people could worship in peace, in a language understood by all, in an atmosphere of joy, with a burning love for the Savior and the Traditions of our holy Orthodox Christian Faith. We started out humble in every way: small numbers, retrofitted space, creating and doing as we went along. In many ways, thankfully, our present reality is not that much different.
No doubt, we have grown and we continue to reach out in an effort to share our Faith and parish. We are entering into our own space. Some might say that our building is not an “authentic” Orthodox church because it will be a remolded, existing building. Please, never allow yourselves to be brought down by such comments, or fall into them yourselves. When we move in, it will be every bit an authentic Orthodox church because Orthodox Christians worship there. We have worked very hard and sacrificed much to accomplish what’s been done in five, short years. The blessings that have been bestowed upon us are nothing short of miraculous.
So, by God’s grace, how did we get here? How do we find ourselves in the position of entering into our own worship space, fellowship space and outdoor space in the heart of a beautiful city?
Perhaps there is no blue print, formula, or road map that will tell us the exact reasons, but I believe it all begins as people walk up the long stairway to the church. Though we are in rented space, the kind folks at St. Thomas More allow us to put signs on the doors that lead up to the church. We have an identity and once entering that door, we climb. We ascend. We trek up those stairs with a goal in mind: to encounter God. We find Him in the smiling faces of fellow parishioners. We find Him through the bloodless sacrifice that is the Eucharist. We find Him in the prayers, hymns, and postures of worship.
Once we climb those stairs and enter into the sanctuary, our experience is collective in every way.
As stated before, on Sundays, we worship completely in English. There are people from a myriad of cultural backgrounds within the walls of our church, but a common language unifies us. No particular group is exalted and none are put down. We are all children in the eyes of God and I am thankful for all of us who enter our doors.
As we worship, we stand. It sort of just worked out that way, even though those, comfortable, padded chairs are always readily available to sit and relax. But worshipping is not relaxing. We stand because we sing. We sing because our parish was established by kind people who wanted to make sure we are all engaged and participating. No doubt, the choir, week, by week, is adding layers and depth to their glorious gift of liturgical song.
But I encourage you all to continue the practice of opening your hymnal and joining their chorus of prayerful voices. However, remember the chairs are there and can be used at appropriate times as we are accustomed. If you are singing with the choir, its hard to chant in a chair.
I’m sure you have also noticed (especially while standing) that I’ve been adding in the inaudible prayers of the Divine Liturgy during Sunday worship. If we are to be an educated, complete and mature community of faith, we need to participate at the deepest levels the entirety of the Liturgy. Gone are the days when those prayers are read silently and mystically. Most parts of the Liturgy that we hear are actually the final expressions of those silent prayers. When we hear the service in full, we become more actively engaged and one with the sacred experience.
Please also be reminded that our practice is to never pass trays during or after worship. We prayerfully count on an active life of Stewardship to sustain our needs. This Sunday, we will bless our collective Stewardship offering. We won’t be blessing dollars or checks, but rather the sacrificial dedication of the People of God. In as much, please bring your pledge card this Sunday, or fill one out on our website so that your offering can be included in our prayer of offering.
So you see, I believe the efforts, blessings, direction and vision of our parish begins and ends with our God who acknowledges faithful people who climb a bunch of stairs and put forth an effort to glorify Him. Soon enough, those stairs will disappear from our pattern of worship.
But don’t worry. There is plenty of work waiting for us around the corner.
With Much Love in Christ,