Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message January 22, 2023

No one is going to tell you that you will be condemned to everlasting punishment for missing divine services on a Great Feast or on a (Weekday Service). However, as Orthodox Christians attending these services is something we should want to do, something we should want to share with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ, something we should feel a desire and a pleasure in taking part in. And taking part in these services, being mystically present at the events commemorated as we stand in the parish church, is something that elevates us spiritually.

Fr. Michael Shanbour

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I pray that your week has been uplifting and all is well in your homes and in your lives. Last weekend, some of our parish youth traveled to Tulsa, OK to participate in our Metropolis Basketball Tournament. Even though the tournament, like many aspects of our lives, is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic, it is still the largest, single gathering of the entire Metropolis of Denver, with over 650 registrants. Our kids represented our parish well, not only winning their division of play, but especially as mature and exemplary young people, on and off the court.

We returned to Salt Lake City on Monday afternoon. And after a long and exhausting weekend filled with late-night activities and early-morning starts, I looked forward to the two Weekday Divine Liturgies that were to take place the following two days: The Feast of St. Anthony the Great on Tuesday, January 17th and the Feast of St. Athanasios the Great on Wednesday, January 18th. Though both divine services were lovely and filled with God’s grace, I could not help but notice a trend that has been settling in at our St. Anna parish. 

The gradual, but apparent decline of participants at weekday services has been on my mind and heart for quite some time. We can’t blame COVID for this emerging, bad habit. In fact, when we celebrated a fixed, Seniors Liturgy during the pandemic, it was not uncommon to share the Eucharist with 30 to 50 people. There were not even 30 people at Theophany, one of the Primary Feasts of the Church. 

I am positive that there are many reasons why church may not seem important during the week. And to be sure, the world today will tell you, that if, IF, you go to church at all, it should be relegated to Sunday mornings. Our schedules are busy. Our lives are packed. Our calendars are full. Of course, many of us work during the weekday mornings and it may not be possible to attend. But I am praying diligently that a malaise or spiritual laziness is not creeping in, upon us. 

There are many measures of a thriving Christian Community. And there is no doubt that, thankfully, St. Anna’s is able to check most of those boxes. But let’s be very real in understanding that the worship life of an Orthodox Church is THE LIFE of an Orthodox Church. Our souls must pine for the receiving of the Holy Mysteries and run towards any opportunity to partake of Them. Participating as the Body of Christ within the experience of worship is the defining characteristic of our Faith. I would ask each of us to take a proper account, and prayerfully assess our spiritual priorities. Allowing every opportunity for God’s grace to shower over us and equip us with the necessary strength to combat the challenges of the day can only be helpful and edifying.  

Be mindful that, as we are about to celebrate the Presanctified Liturgy during the Lenten Season, that this very service was created specifically for a people who yearned for a greater liturgical connection to God during the week and were prohibited from receiving Communion during the weekdays of Lent. Would such a service even be devised or seen as necessary in today’s secularly infiltrated world?

I am super grateful for Sunday participation. Visiting priests always comment, and I mean always, on the number of people who come to church on the Lord’s Day. Let’s keep that up, and even strive to do better. But c’mon, folks, the rest of the Saints are praying for your participation in their celebrations, too. 

Equal to the anemic participation in morning services, and this really makes me sad, is the lack of participation in the monthly Paraklesis Services to St. Anna. As a reminder, our parish is blessed to have a Relic of our Matron Saint Anna. And to show our continual love, dedication, affinity, and connection to the Mother of the Mother of God, we gather before her precious Relic each month and chant the Paraklesis Service with her physical presence in our very midst. I fear it is getting lost on us, what a tremendous honor and blessing it is, for a parish to have a Relic of its Patron or Matron Saint for the faithful to continually pray before and venerate. I can’t think of a better time to kickstart a renewal of active worship, than Friday, January 27th at 7:00 pm. Our Matron Saint Anna calls us to a vibrant, active and deliberate relationship with her Grandson and our Lord, Jesus Christ. And Christ compels us to properly acknowledge His Yiayia!

Wow. Even as I type this message, I can see that the tone and tenor is different than anything I’ve ever written to this community. I’ve gone back and asked myself, “Is that to direct?” “Is this to harsh?” I keep answering myself by leaving every word that is pouring out of my heart. As a spiritual father, I desire that our parish be filled with those who love the Lord and who desire to be in His presence at every given opportunity. Is that realistic? Of course not. We are busy. We work. We go to school. But 30 or so people at Theophany, and five or six people consistently (sometimes less) at morning Liturgies and other services is a call to attention that cannot be ignored.

Normally, I suppose I’d ask forgiveness for this kind of rant, and subjecting you to this loving, little nastygram. But rather, I ask forgiveness from God that I have not properly led you in the priorities of an active Orthodox life of worship; not just on Sundays, but on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and Fridays, and Saturdays. 

Thank you for your acceptance of this note in the spirit in which it was written. If and whenever possible, come to church!

With Much Love in XC,

Fr. Anthony Savas