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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter May 15, 2016

“But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” – Mark 16:6-7 (From the Paschal Gospel Reading)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This Sunday will mark the Second Sunday of Pascha, which is celebrated as the Sunday of the Myrrh Bearing Women, commonly understood to be Mary Magdalene, Mary the Theotokos, Joanna, Salome, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Susanna, Mary of Bethany, and Martha of Bethany. Of course Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are also commemorated on this day.

Of all the figures in the New Testament, there are no other groups of people, or individuals who were more committed to the ministry and person of Jesus Christ. The realities of their bravery and commitment escapes us as we tend to romanticize their role and minimize the dangers involved in carrying out their sacred task.

At the point of our Lord’s Crucifixion, both political and religious tensions had reached an explosive climax. Pilate was one decision away from a riot, the leadership of the Temple had finally come to the place where their paranoia, anger, resentment and jealousy had become literally blood-thirsty, and any follower of Jesus was seen as an enemy to the State and especially to the Jewish community.

Yet, there stood these brave women of extreme love and faith. They had no idea how events would unfold before them; there is no way they could have anticipated the Father’s plan and the Resurrection of Christ. That said, they risked everything in order to care, most tenderly, for the dead body of their beloved Rabbi and Master.

They stumbled around in the dark, risking authorities, soldiers, robbers and wildlife. They could not carry lamps, for fear of detection. They did not have the protection of the disciples, since they were scattered in various places of hiding. Unaccompanied women wandering in the darkness of the wilderness was, to be sure, a recipe for disaster. Or was it an opportunity for unimaginable joy and anticipation? At least it would eventually prove to be.

For their commitment unto the end (even well past the end) the Holy Myrrh Bearers, most especially and notably Mary Magdalene, were afforded the due honor of being the first to proclaim the Resurrection. The reaction of the disciples was not instantly absorbed and accepted by the ranks of the disciples (moreover, some women of our company amazed us…(Luke 24:22)). Their message was too good to be true.

But it was true.

It is Truth incarnate.

So from the time the faithful women departed from Christ’s tomb with the angel’s message of Christ’s instructions, the communication of the Gospel has been at the forefront of our Christian responsibilities. As a parish, our means of effectively communicating our activities, services and ministries is critically important. Like the Myrrh Bearers, we must share, proclaim, inform and inspire.

This is precisely why we want to introduce to you our St. Anna Mobile App! Tomorrow evening, you will receive an email that will link you to the demonstration of our new app. As I announced on the morning of Pascha (hey, like a Myrrh Bearer) we are currently awaiting our licenses through Google and Apple so that our app may be made available through their App Stores.

Until then, play around with the App in its demo mode. You won’t be able to do everything we intend, but you will get the idea. The plan to develop a mobile app for the use and ease of our parishioners was my goal, together with our parish council for quite some time. We figured the best time to release such a project was after we received our parish name.

And with the help of a few individuals, we wasted no time. Leo Davis helped with some technical intricacies, while Michael Petrogeorge maintained a consistent hand on all of our parish communications. I wish to especially thank Georgiann Petrogeorge for heading up this effort with her expertise and enthusiasm. She has dedicated many, many hours to this project. We could not have produced such an amazing product without their efforts.

This useful tool will enable you, the parishioners of St. Anna, to have at a glance and at a touch every form of communication our church has to offer. But please, as you begin to get a feel for our app, let me know what you feel is missing and where we can improve.

A photo library is currently in development and at some point, we will have the opportunity to make donations and pay stewardship directly through the app. Please email me (and you’ll see how easy that can be) with your feedback and suggestions. This is going to be a wonderful tool and it will grow, as we grow. The Myrrh Bearers have a fantastic and life-giving story to tell. And we will continually strive to find creative ways to share it. I remain,

With Love in our Risen Lord,

Fr. Anthony

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter May 8, 2016

“O God-minded Anna, you bore the pure Mother of God, the one who within her conceived the Conceiver of life itself. You were therefore transported to a place now in heaven. Joyful ones all reside there in the home of all gladness, asking for forgiveness for those who honor you, O blessed one.” – Troparion of St. Anna, the Mother of the Theotokos

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is Risen!
Truly He is Risen!

As we continue to delight in the pure and inexhaustible joy of our Lord’s Resurrection, we have just cause to even more exuberant than usual in that we as a parish have finally received our name, spiritual identity, Matron Saint and intercessor before God. Christ’s own grandmother and the Mother of the Theotokos, the righteous Saint Anna is our champion before throne of God and we are so pleased, enthusiastic and grateful that she has accepted the responsibility of praying for us and guiding our community.

I wish to share with you now, detailed information about both Ss. Joachim and Anna. Their ministry, as the parents of the Panaghia is interconnected for obvious reasons. If we are to understand her life, desires, challenges and blessings, we must also study the path of her faithful husband. Their immediate connection to Christ our Savior is the reason Ss. Joachim and Anna are mentioned at the end of nearly every Orthodox service. Much of what we know about St. Anna comes from the Gospel of St. James. Did you know that St. James wrote a Gospel?

From the earliest years of Christianity, his book was of great value to the faithful of the Church. However, by the time the Gospels were canonized, fanciful additions and overly-pietistic exaggerations were inserted into the original text. These additions serve as the primary reason that The Protoevangelium of James was not included in the New Testament.

Please take the time to read this lovely message about our new Matron Saint Anna. This treatise comes to us from the writings of a dear friend, Rev. Dr. Christopher Flesoras of the St. Anna Church and Shrine in Roseville, CA.

“By their righteous lives Joachim and Anna pleased God so much that He considered them worthy enough to be the parents of the Most Holy Virgin, the most-blessed Mother of the Lord. From only this it is clear that their life was holy, God-pleasing, and pure, for from them was born the Daughter, Holiest of all the saints, pleasing to God more than all the others, and more honorable than the Cherubim. There were on the earth at that time no people more pleasing to God by their pure lives, than Joachim and Anna. Although at the time it was possible to find many living righteously and pleasing to God, these two surpassed all others by their virtues and appeared before God as the most worthy to bear the Mother of God.

Such mercy would not have been granted to them by God, if they did not indeed surpass all others in righteousness and holiness. But since the Lord Himself had to be incarnated of a Most Holy and Most Pure Mother, it was likewise fitting that the Mother of God descend from holy and pure parents. Just as earthly kings have their purples made, not from plain material, but gold-brocaded, so also did the Heavenly King wish to have His Most Pure Mother, in the body of which, as in a royal purple, He was to clothe Himself, born not of ordinary incontinent parents, as of plain material, but of chaste and holy ones, as of gold-brocaded material, the type of which was the Old Testament tabernacle, which God ordered Moses to construct of crimson and scarlet material and of fine linen. (Exodus 27:16) “And for the gate of the court shall be an hanging of twenty cubits, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, wrought with needlework: and their pillars shall be four, and their sockets four.”

This tabernacle prefigured the Virgin Mary, taking up His abode in Whom, God came to “live with men”, as it is written: “behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them (Rev. 21:3).” The crimson and scarlet material and the linen from which the tabernacle was made, prefigured the parents of the Mother of God, Who was descended from and born of chastity and continence, as of crimson and scarlet raiment, and of their perfection in the fulfillment of every commandment of God, as of fine linen.

But these holy spouses were, by the will of God, childless for a long time – in order that in the conception and birth of such a daughter would be manifested the power of the grace of God, as well as the honor of the One Born, and the worthiness of the parents: for it is impossible for a barren and aged woman to bear in any other way but by the power of the grace of God; here nature is no longer active, but God Who overcomes the laws of nature and destroys the bonds of barrenness. To be born of barren and aged parents is a great honor to the One Born as well, because She is born not of incontinent parents but of continent and aged ones, such as were Joachim and Anna, who lived fifty years in marriage and had no children. Finally, through such a birth the worthiness of the parents themselves is also revealed, since they, after a long barrenness, gave birth to the joy of all the world, in such a way likened to the patriarch Abraham and his devout wife Sarah, who by the promise of God bore Isaac in old age (Genesis 21:2) “For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.” However, it can be said without doubt that the nativity of the Mother of God was superior to the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah. As much as the Virgin Mary is Herself born above and more worthy of honor than Isaac, so likewise are Joachim and Anna greater and higher in worthiness than Abraham and Sarah.

They did not achieve that virtue all at once but only after they had prayed to God for this with diligent fasting and prayer, in mental sorrow and with grieving hearts: and their grief was turned into joy, while their disgrace appeared as the herald of a great honor, their assiduous petition appeared as a guidance for the receiving of blessings, and their prayer as the best intercession.

Joachim and Anna were sorrowful and wept long over their childlessness. Once, on a great feastday, Joachim was bringing gifts to the Lord God in the temple of Jerusalem; together with Joachim all of the Israelites were also bringing their gifts in offering to God. Issachar, who was the high priest at that time, did not want to accept the offerings of Joachim because he was without children.

“Your gifts,” he said, “must not be accepted because you do not have children, and hence, do not have the blessing of God: most likely you have some secret sins.”

Likewise, a Hebrew from the tribe of Reuben, bringing his gifts together with the others, reproached Joachim, saying:

Why do you want to bring sacrifices to God before Me? Do you not know that you are not worthy to bring gifts together with us, since you know no descent in Israel?”

Yet to the patriarchs of the Israelite nation had repeatedly been given by God the promise of the multiplying of their descendants; therefore, the Israelites regarded a multitudinous posterity as the highest fortune and blessing of God. On the other hand, by the ancient promise of God, the Israelites hoped to find among their descendants the “seed of the woman” promised by God, the Messiah. This is why among the Hebrews childlessness was considered as a terrible misfortune and punishment for sins, and the people who did not have children the Hebrews regarded as great sinners.

These reproaches grieved Joachim very much, and he with great sorrow left the temple of God disgraced and humiliated, and the feastday turned into grief for him, while the festal joy changed into sorrow. Deeply sorrowing, he did not return home, but departed into the desert to the shepherds, tending their flocks, and wept there over his infertility and over the abuses and reproaches made against him. Having remembered Abraham, his forefather, to whom in extreme old age God granted a son, Joachim began diligently praying to the Lord that he also be honored with such benevolence, that He hear his prayer, have mercy on him, and take away from him the abuses of the people, that He grant him in old age the fruit of his marriage, as was done at one time to Abraham.

“May I have,” he prayed, “the possibility of being called the father of a child, and not childless and rejected by God to suffer the reproaches of the people.”

Joachim added a fast to this prayer and for forty days did not partake of bread.

“I will not eat,” he said, “and will not return to my home; let my tears be my nourishment, and the desert my home, until the Lord God of Israel hearkens and takes this defamation away from me”

In the very same way his wife also, being at home and hearing that the high priest, reproaching them for barrenness, did not want to accept their gifts, and that her husband from great sorrow had withdrawn into the desert, wept with inconsolable tears.

“Now,” she said, “I am the most unfortunate of all: rejected by God, reviled among the people, and forsaken by my husband! Over what shall I weep now: over my widowhood, or my childlessness, or my orphanhood, of over the fact that I was not found worthy to be called a mother!”

In this way she wept bitterly all those days.

A servant of Anna, by the name of Judith, tried to comfort her but could not: for who can console one whose grief is as deep as the sea?

Once the sorrowful Anna went into the garden, sat under a laurel tree, sighed from the depth of her heart, and lifting her tear-filled eyes toward heaven, noticed a bird’s nest on the tree with tiny birds in it. This sight imbued her heart with even greater sorrow, and she with weeping began to call out:

“Woe to me who am childless! It is probably because I am the most sinful among all the daughters of Israel, that I am the only one among all the women to be so humbled. All of them carry the fruit of their wombs in their arms; all of them are comforted by their children; I am the only one alien to this joy. Woe is me! The gifts of all are accepted in the temple of God, and for their child-bearing respect is shown to them; I am the only one rejected from the temple of my Lord. Woe is me! With whom can I compare myself? Not with the birds of the sky, not with the animals of the earth; for they too bring their fruit to Thee, Lord God; only I am barren. I cannot compare myself even with the earth; for it vegetates and raises the seeds, and bringing forth fruits, blesses Thee, the Heavenly Father; only I am without fruit on the earth. Alas, for me, Lord, Lord! Only I, a sinner, am deprived of posterity. Thou who once granted a son Isaac to Sarah in deep old age (Genesis 21:1-8):

And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him. And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age. And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.

Thou Who opened the womb of Hannah, the mother of Thy prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11, 20; 1 Kings 1:11, 20 in Septuagint),

And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head… Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD.

Look upon me today and hear my prayers. Lord Sabaoth! Thou knowest the disgrace of childlessness; put an end to the sorrow of my heart and open my womb and make me who am barren fruit-bearing, so that we may bring the one born of me as a gift to Thee, blessing, lauding, and in accordance glorifying Thy mercy.”

While Anna was exclaiming in this way with weeping and wailing, an angel of the Lord appeared to her and said:

“Anna, Anna! Your prayer has been heard; your sighings have penetrated through to the clouds; your tears have appeared before God; and you shall conceive and bear a most blessed Daughter; through Her all the tribes of the earth shall receive a blessing and to all the world shall be granted salvation; her name shall be Mary.”

Hearing the words of the angel, Anna bowed down to God and said:

“As the Lord God lives, if a child is born to me, I shall offer it for service to God. Let it serve Him and glorify the holy name of God day and night all the time if its life.”

Following this, having been filled with unspeakable joy, the holy Anna quickly went to Jerusalem in order there to give prayerful thanksgiving to God for His merciful visitation.

At the same time the Angel also appeared to Joachim in the desert and said:

“Joachim, Joachim! God has herd your prayer and it well-pleases Him to grant you His grace; your wife Anna shall conceive and bear you a Daughter, the birth of Whom shall be the joy of the entire world. And here is a sign for you that I am announcing the truth to you: go to Jerusalem to the temple of God and there, at the golden gates, you shall find your wife Anna to whom I have announced the same.”

Joachim, surprised by such good news of the angel, doxologizing God and thanking Him with heart and lips for the great mercy, hastily departed with joy and gladness for the temple of Jerusalem. There, just as the Angel had announced to him, he found Anna at the golden gates, praying to God, and he told her of the glad tidings of the angel. She likewise revealed how she had seen and heard an angel, announcing the birth of a daughter to her. Then Joachim and Anna Glorified God Who had done such a great kindness for them, and having worshipped Him in the holy temple, they returned to their home.

And holy Anna conceived on the ninth day of the month of December, while on the eighth of September she gave birth to a Daughter, the Most Pure and Most Blessed Virgin Mary, the Beginning and Intercessor of our salvation, over Whose birth both heaven and earth rejoiced. Joachim, on the occasion of Her birth, brought valuable gifts, sacrifices, and burnt offerings to God, and received the blessing of the high priest, the priests, the Levites, and all the people, for having been vouchsafed the blessing of God. He later gave a banquet in his home, and all glorified God with gladness.

The parents took care of the growing Virgin Mary as the apple of their eye, knowing, by the special revelation of God, that She would be a light to all the world and the renewal of human nature. For this reason they brought Her up with such careful circumspection, as was proper for the One Who was to be the Mother of our Savior. They loved Her not only as their daughter as long awaited, but revered Her as their lady, remembering the angelic words concerning Her and foreseeing through the spirit what was to be accomplished through Her. Being filled with divine grace, She mystically enriched Her parents with that grace as well. As the sun illuminates with its rays the heavenly bodies so also the divinely-chosen Mary, like the sun, illuminated Joachim and Anna with the rays of the grace given to Her, so that they too were filled with the Spirit of God, and firmly believed in the fulfillment of the angel’s words.

When the child Mary reached the age of three, Her parents led Her with glory into the temple of the Lord, accompanying Her with lighted lamps, and consecrated Her to the service of God, as they had promised. After the passing of several years following the presentation of May into the temple, holy Joachim died, eighty years from his birth. Holy Anna, having become a widow, left Nazareth and came to Jerusalem, where she stayed with her Most Holy Daughter, praying unceasingly in the temple of God. Having lived in Jerusalem for two years, she reposed in the Lord, 79 years following her birth.

The Church commemorates the passing of the righteous Anna on the 25th of July.”

Mother of the Most Holy Theotokos, Intercede for us!

With Love in our Risen Lord,

Fr. Anthony

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter May 1, 2016

“I gave My back to the scourgings, and turned not away My face from the spittings; I stood before the judgement-seat of Pilate and endured the Cross, for the salvation of the world.”
– Praise Hymn of Holy Friday Matins

My Dearly Beloved in the Lord,

No doubt, by the time this message is sent out to our lovely community, our precious and long-suffering Lord will have been placed upon His Cross. He was dragged through the darkened streets of Jerusalem, placed on trial in the courts of the unjust, beaten, slashed, mocked and spat upon. He was nailed to the wood of the Cross, hoisted high above the earth, for all to gaze upon with horror and disgust, and left suffocating in the heat of the sun, to die the most painful of deaths devised by the cunning spirit of fallen mankind.

He did this for you. He did this for me. He did this for His Father in Heaven. He did this for His All Holy Mother on earth. He did this for the children. He did this for the seniors. He did this for the just and righteous. He did this for the wicked and the evil. He did this so that we may believe. He did this so that we may have hope. He did this for the times we feel isolated and alone. He did this so that we may feel the company of the saints. He did this out of sadness for our falling away from grace. He did this for the joy of salvation. He did this because He loves. He did this because He is love. He did this because we hate. He did this because we sometimes are hate.

He ascended the wood of the Cross because He is obedient to the wishes of the Father. He had to do it, because our willful disobedience forced the hand of God. And instead of a justifiably wrathful response, He turned His cheek, accepted the strikes and the blows from impious men, withstood bloodletting violence, and yielded up His righteous, unblemished and life-giving spirit.

He died on the Cross so that we could enjoy our church. He perished on the barren rock of Golgotha in order to lead His saints with an enduring example of faithfulness and fidelity.

Our church will soon have a name; an identity, a connection, a legacy and a witness. Our soon-to-be-announced Patron Saint chose us. We did not choose him or her. Our Patron Saint has watched over us, guiding our steps, purifying our intentions, sharpening our purpose, fortifying our fellowship, and solidifying our faith – all in an effort to lead us to Christ. The Christ on the Cross. The Christ covered in His own pure blood. The Christ who bore our evils and set us free from the throws of death. The Christ who broke the chains, shattered the locks, and crashed down the bars. Our Patron Saint shares in this victory and urges us to accept and electrify our zeal for the Lord, just as he or she has done.

Though we are more than halfway through Great and Holy Week, the greatest and the holiest is yet to come. I thank you and bless you for your participation thus far. You have turned out to worship and to offer your praises with prayerful enthusiasm and pious love. As the divine services continue to intensify, I pray that our willingness to participate continues its exponential growth. I pray God’s strength to be within you, and I pray His love to shower down upon you.

With Love in the Christ Who Endured All Things,

Fr. Anthony