Wherever there are spiritual melodies, there does the grace of the Spirit come, sanctifying the mouth and soul.St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This Sunday is dedicated as National Church Music Sunday. This observance of our chanters and choir members falls on the Sunday following the Feast of St. Romanos the Melodist on October first.
Saint Romanos the Melodist was born in the fifth century in the Syrian city of Emesa of Jewish parents. After moving to Constantinople, he became a church sacristan in the temple of Hagia Sophia. The monk spent his nights alone at prayer in a field or in the Blachernae church beyond the city.
Saint Romanos was not a talented reader or singer. Once, on the eve of the Nativity of Christ, he read the Kathisma verses. He read so poorly that another reader had to take his place. The clergy ridiculed Romanos, which devastated him.
On the day of the Nativity, the Mother of God appeared to the grief-stricken youth in a vision while he was praying before her Kyriotissa icon. She gave him a scroll and commanded him to eat it. Thus was he given the gift of understanding, composition, and hymnography.
That evening at the all-night Vigil Saint Romanos sang, in a wondrous voice, his first Kontakion: “Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One…” All the hymns of Saint Romanus became known as kontakia, in reference to the Virgin’s scroll. Saint Romanus was also the first to write in the form of the Oikos, which he incorporated into the all-night Vigil at his places of residence (In Greek, “oikos”).
For his zealous service Saint Romanos was ordained as a deacon and became a teacher of song. Until his death, which occurred about the year 556, the Hierodeacon Romanos the Melodist composed nearly a thousand hymns, many of which are still used by Christians to glorify the Lord. About eighty survive.
This Sunday we will pray for and acknowledge the dedicated people who sing praises to God at our St. Anna Church. We honor those who chant the services today. And we support and pray for the members of our choir who patiently await the day we are permitted to utilize the choir in the church once again. To all of you, I offer my sincere thanks and the blessings of God.
With Much Love in Christ,
Fr. Anthony Savas
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Indeed, we can all relate to the words of our hobbit friend. The past several months have been burdensome and difficult. They have brought out the best in us, and regrettably, perhaps the worst in us as well, at least fleetingly. But no matter, the good Lord has directed our steps, inspired us to find solutions to problems and strengthened us to endure tribulation, illness, financial stress and uncertainty.
I’ve missed seeing you all at the level of which we are accustomed. And I look forward to the day things are normalized, and we can emerge victoriously and peacefully from the rubble of a down-trodden pandemic.
But actually I write this message with hope, anticipation and good will. For sure, our day to day lives are still governed in many ways by coronavirus. But you know what? At church, we have made many strides in pushing forward.
Our Young Adults came together just last week and enjoyed the first (and I mean very first) social gathering on the lovely grounds of our church, since we purchased the property and moved in.
Sunday School will begin soon. This Sunday, our parents will meet after the Divine Liturgy to have the program unveiled and learn about the new and exciting direction we have taken during our continuing restrictions and circumstances. But again, I repeat – Sunday School is starting! This is nothing but a positive move and I pray our children and their families participate with enthusiasm and support. It will be worth it.
Our children and Sunday School families are not the only parishioners who will enjoy a revived religious education program. In mid-October, our Orthodox Inquirer’s Class and Bible Studies will also resume.
Both the Bible Study and Orthodoxy classes will be taught in-person and using Zoom. So please, I invite you all to participate in one or both learning opportunities.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study will explore a part of the Bible that is new to our class – The Old Testament. I look forward to sharing with you the works of the greatest apocryphal writers of the OT in Daniel, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Primarily, we will be studying the Book of Daniel, but that would be nearly impossible without referencing the other two. Please join us! More detailed information will follow.
I will be sending Zoom links to my Summer Bible Study list, so need to contact me if you were participating. But if you wish to join us via Zoom, please email me and I’ll add you to the list. In order to protect the Zoom experience, I will only send invites to people I actually know.
As for the Inquirer’s Class, we will be moving weekly Paraklesis Services to 6:30 pm and conducting the class from 7:30 to 9:00 pm on Thursday evenings. Who among us has learned all there is to know about our precious Orthodox Faith. None of us. So since it will be easy to Zoom in, please consider this lovely refresher course.
And as I always mention, please share this class with any of your friends, family, co-workers or neighbors who can benefit from the salvific message of the Gospel, the Church and our Lord Jesus Christ. Please, take the time to pray about who in your life would be inspired to learn of our Faith.
St. Anna Men’s and Women’s Ministries have been actively serving our parish, parishioners and the greater community throughout the pandemic and will continue to make a positive impact on those within and outside our direct purview.
Our GOYA calendar is finally beginning to take shape, and more active youth ministries are also directly around the bend.
So I’m putting it out there once again – there is allot going on and we are beginning to look and feel like a Greek Orthodox parish once again. Thank God!!!
Are you ready to get involved once again? Are you ready to return to worship. Remember, we safely have room for 100 people now. Are you ready to participate regularly in the active life of your St. Anna parish? At this time, the table is set for worship and ministry, as much as we can anyway. There is more and more going on, and my every intention is to serve your spiritual needs while glorifying and giving thanks to our Creator.
Yes it’s true. Things still look and feel differently. But honestly, not quite as much as before. Come for Liturgy. Grow with Sunday School. Become enriched with a class.
This is your parish. It’s here for you. As long as we continue to congregate with proper social distancing and other safety measures, we are confident that we will continue to build upon our vibrant parish life.
We wish these things had not happened in our time. We did not ask for these things. All we can do is make the best of our situation. God forbid I paraphrase Tolkien, but that’s pretty much the gist.
With Much Love in XC,
Fr. Anthony Savas
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I trust and pray you are all well.
Last week, I publicly unveiled our plan for Sunday School, set to begin next month. I must say, that our Sunday School teachers and administration have worked very hard to create (from scratch) our best offering during a time of great challenge. Some families want to return to live Sunday School. Some are not ready. Some teachers feel comfortable teaching live classes. Some do not. Governments, school boards, universities, professional sports leagues, corporations, movie studios, small business, households and yes, even churches, have done their level best these past seven months to negotiate through the realities of a new normal.
St. Anna’s is no different. Nobody gave us a road map or a manual on how best to operate, minister or provide services for our people. In February, our community was full of excitement and the anticipation of being in our own church building. Five short weeks later, we were locked out of our own space and forced to worship via the internet. Months later, our church re-opened again. We did our best to accommodate our new realities, circumstances and limitations.
In re-opening, we followed the directives of our State, Metropolis, Archdiocese, and the best advice from our own Medical Advisory Ministry Team (MAMT)- a group of St. Anna medical professionals with differing experiences, political affiliations and scientific backgrounds – but ALL united in the Body of Christ and wanting to create the safest environment possible. Why would I mention politics? Because there are some, perhaps more than a few, who believe that our policies were politically motivated, not governed by data, obedience to religious authority, respect for civil authority, and good, common sense.
This brings me to our decision to begin on-line registration for Sunday church attendance. Although this has been a common practice throughout the nation once our churches reopened, this is admittedly something unique to our area. To my knowledge, here are no other Orthodox parishes in Utah that are resorting to this.
I owe you, the parishioners of St. Anna’s an apology for rolling out such a practice without a proper explanation. This lack of communication on my part has left a slight vacuum filled with assumptions, misinformation and yes, even people’s unwarranted political suspicions. So please let me make something perfectly clear:
While it is true that due to coronavirus, participation in live worship has been reduced, it is equally true that Sunday participation is still active. On more than one occasion, we exceeded more than 70% of our total capacity to accommodate live, social distanced participation. In other words, people have thankfully continued to come to church. And with space nearly filling up, even before Sunday School begins, we felt it necessary to follow the lead of multiple Orthodox communities and offer on-line registration. This way, we would know if and when we reached capacity, BEFORE turning people away because the church filled up. Would you like to be the person who got up, dressed up, and came to church, only to be turned away? I thought not. Again, I am sorry for not properly explaining the necessity for such action.
I am also grateful for our church leaders who continue to seek solutions, find the best ways to serve our parishioners and bring glory to our loving and merciful Lord. Your parish council and I are still searching for the proper balance of safety, ministry, and active participation.
When you come to church this Sunday, and I pray you do, you will notice that an additional 43 chairs have been added to the seating capacity of our sanctuary. I won’t explain how, you can see that for yourself. Our parish council, together with the best advice of the MAMT will determine if these additional seats will allow us to forego, at least for now, the necessity of preregistration for church attendance. Maybe we found our answer to our immediate challenge. Maybe we did not. But at least, as always, we will continue to think and pray ourselves out of a challenge. We will make our decisions based on love and the best way to serve the people of God. There are no other influences which determine our courses of action. If it’s determined that the best way to accommodate an increase in Sunday participation is to have you sign-up on line, I will trust that you know it is done out of blessed necessity.
This community was formed, not too long ago, based on faith, vision, authentic unity and the desire to break influences of negativity. Please join me in prayer, that the beginning of our Sunday School will be successful, that our families, and all families remain safe, and that our Lord Jesus Christ will be the center of every motivation in each of our hearts. I remain,
With Love in Christ,
Fr. Anthony Savas
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Please pay prayerful attention to the following description of Monday’s Great Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Holy Cross by the Orthodox Church in America. We WILL offer live services on this Feast. Orthros will begin at 8:00 am followed by the Divine Liturgy and Procession of the Cross at 9:00 am.
The Elevation of the Venerable and Life-Creating Cross of the Lord: The pagan Roman emperors tried to completely eradicate from human memory the holy places where our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and was resurrected for mankind. The Emperor Hadrian (117-138) gave orders to cover over the ground of Golgotha and the Sepulchre of the Lord, and to build a temple of the pagan goddess Venus and a statue of Jupiter.
Pagans gathered at this place and offered sacrifice to idols there. Eventually after 300 years, by Divine Providence, the great Christian sacred remains, the Sepulchre of the Lord and the Life-Creating Cross were again discovered and opened for veneration. This took place under the Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) after his victory in the year 312 over Maxentius, ruler of the Western part of the Roman empire, and over Licinius, ruler of its Eastern part. In the year 323 Constantine became the sole ruler of the vast Roman Empire.
In 313 he had issued the Edict of Milan, by which the Christian religion was legalized and the persecutions against Christians in the Western half of the empire were stopped. The ruler Licinius, although he had signed the Edict of Milan to oblige Constantine, still fanatically continued the persecutions against Christians. Only after his conclusive defeat did the 313 Edict of Milan extend also to the Eastern part of the empire. The Holy Equal of the Apostles Emperor Constantine, having gained victory over his enemies in three wars with God’s assistance, had seen in the heavens the Sign of the Cross, and written beneath: “By this you shall conquer.”
Ardently desiring to find the Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, Saint Constantine sent his mother, the pious Empress Helen (May 21), to Jerusalem, providing her with a letter to Saint Macarius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Although the holy empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set about completing the task with enthusiasm. The empress gave orders to destroy the pagan temple and the statues in Jerusalem. Searching for the Life-Creating Cross, she made inquiry of Christians and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful.
Finally, they directed her to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated that the Cross was buried where the temple of Venus stood. They demolished the pagan temple and, after praying, they began to excavate the ground. Soon the Tomb of the Lord was uncovered. Not far from it were three crosses, a board with the inscription ordered by Pilate, and four nails which had pierced the Lord’s Body (March 6).
In order to discern on which of the three crosses the Savior was crucified, Patriarch Macarius alternately touched the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord touched the dead one, he came to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Cross was found.
Christians came in a huge throng to venerate the Holy Cross, beseeching Saint Macarius to elevate the Cross, so that even those far off might reverently contemplate it. Then the Patriarch and other spiritual leaders raised up the Holy Cross, and the people, saying “Lord have mercy,” reverently prostrated before the Venerable Wood. This solemn event occurred in the year 326.
During the discovery of the Life-Creating Cross another miracle took place: a grievously sick woman, beneath the shadow of the Holy Cross, was healed instantly. The elder Jude and other Jews there believed in Christ and accepted Holy Baptism. Jude received the name Cyriacus and afterwards was consecrated Bishop of Jerusalem. During the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363) he accepted a martyr’s death for Christ (see October 28).
The holy empress Helen journeyed to the holy places connected with the earthly life of the Savior, building more than 80 churches, at Bethlehem the birthplace of Christ, and on the Mount of Olives where the Lord ascended to Heaven, and at Gethsemane where the Savior prayed before His sufferings and where the Mother of God was buried after her death.
Saint Helen took part of the Life-Creating Wood and nails with her to Constantinople. The holy emperor Constantine gave orders to build at Jerusalem a majestic and spacious church in honor of the
Resurrection of Christ, also including under its roof the Life-Giving Tomb of the Lord and Golgotha. The temple was constructed in about ten years. Saint Helen did not survive until the dedication of the temple, she died in the year 327. The church was consecrated on September 13, 335. On the following day, September 14, the festal celebration of the Exaltation of the Venerable and Life-Creating Cross was established.
Another event connected to the Cross of the Lord is remembered also on this day: its return to Jerusalem from Persia after a fourteen year captivity. During the reign of the Byzantine emperor Phocas (602-610) the Persian emperor Khozroes II in a war against the Greeks defeated the Greek army, plundered Jerusalem and captured both the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord and the Holy Patriarch Zachariah (609-633).
The Cross remained in Persia for fourteen years and only under the emperor Heraclius (610-641), who with the help of God defeated Khozroes and concluded peace with his successor and son Syroes, was the Cross of the Lord returned to the Christians.
With great solemnity the Life-creating Cross was transferred to Jerusalem. Emperor Heraclius in imperial crown and royal purple carried the Cross of Christ into the temple of the Resurrection. With the emperor went Patriarch Zacharios. At the gates by which they ascended Golgotha, the emperor suddenly stopped and was not able to proceed farther. The holy Patriarch explained to the emperor that an angel of the Lord was blocking his way. The emperor was told to remove his royal trappings and to walk barefoot, since He Who bore the Cross for the salvation of the world from sin had made His way to Golgotha in all humility. Then Heraclius donned plain garb, and without further hindrance, carried the Cross of Christ into the church.
In a sermon on the Exaltation of the Cross, Saint Andrew of Crete (July 4) says: “The Cross is exalted, and everything true gathers together, the Cross is exalted, and the city makes solemn, and the people celebrate the feast”.
Much Love in XC,
Fr. Anthony Savas