Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter August 7, 2016

. . . and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as snow and behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish I will make three booths here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is My Beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead”
– Mt: 17.1–9, see also Mk 9:1–9; Lk 9:28–36; 2 Pet 1:16–18).

Dearly Beloved in the Lord,

As your vacations are beginning to conclude, preparations for school are well underway, and the end of summer is quickly upon us, we find ourselves to be in one of the most spiritually enriching periods of the year. We continue to chant the Paraklesis every other evening. The Dormition of the Theotokos is only days away. Our Vacation Bible School is about to begin: we’re ready to host children from throughout the greater Salt Lake Valley and learn about the life, ministry and influence of the Theotokos.

While her prayers for us, and our devotion towards her are paramount in our hearts during this time of year, we are also called to observe and mediate upon on of the twelve great Feasts, the Transfiguration of Christ, celebrated August 6th (Great Vespers are this evening, Friday August 5th, at 7:00 pm). As our Lord was Transfigured upon Mt. Tabor, before His disciples, He shown to them the fullness of His glory and radiant splendor.

Jesus knew that His crucifixion and death would be an unbearable series of events, all of which would be intolerable for His disciples to endure. His Transfiguration was granted to them, in order that they would maintain strength in the depth of weakness, clarity in the midst of confusion, faith in the face of despair, and light in the place if utter darkness. His light, His divine light was offered to them as a fulfillment and as an inspiration to bear their own fruit.

There is a lovely custom of bringing fruits, specifically grapes, to be blessed on the Feast of the Transfiguration. The practical background is this: within the Mediterranean climate, grapes reach their full ripeness and full potential during this time of year. Since now is the time when the first fruits of the vineyard are to be harvested, it is only fitting, that those same fruits are offered up for a blessing upon the entirety of the yield. The grapes, having achieved the peak of sweetness is a symbol of the Transfiguration: actualized potential and the fullness of existence.

Pick from the vine too early, and you have a sour taste in your mouth having partaken of fruit that was prematurely taken from its source of nutrition. Harvest a crop too late, and the mushy, overripe and past-its-prime texture are unpleasant, to say the least. Fruit in its prime is symbolic of Christ in His glory, bedecked in amazing splendor, and blinding radiance.

If you wish to bring fruit to be blessed following the Divine Liturgy this Saturday, I invite you to bring grapes (not any other fruit or vegetable) and add them to what will be provided by the Church.

In the coming weeks, I am so excited to resume the ministries and activities that have been on hold for the summer, as well as introduce new and exciting ways in which our parish can grow together in Christ.

With Love in XC,

Fr. Anthony

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter July 31, 2016

Dearly Beloved in the Lord,

Not long ago, the parishioners of St. Anna, together with the faithful and clergy of our pan-Orthodox community here in the Salt Lake area stood together, chanting the Paraklesis Service and offering our prayers on behalf of Fr. Matthew Gilbert, his Presbytera and their family. As an update, Fr. Matthew still requires your unwavering prayers and ceaseless entreaties unto the Lord for the ease of his pain and suffering. I pray every day that Fr. Matthew feels the warmth and peace of God’s love, as expressed through the people who hold him dear and feel gratitude and for his fruitful ministry.

That evening, I heard it from more than a few people, how beautiful they found the Paraklesis Service to be. And for many, it actually was their first experience hearing these hymns and prayers. Without question, the hymns are beautiful and the prayers are up-lifting. And while it is true that this remarkable and inspirational service can be prayed at any time, in any location, including hospitals and homes for the benefit of those in the need of physical, spiritual, emotional and inner healing; it is also true that this service has a specific place in the liturgical life of the Church.

Every year, as we prepare for the Dormition of the Theotokos (celebrated on August 15), we build up to this most solemn Festival with a nearly two-week fasting period, which begins on the first day of August. During the Fast, we lift our spirits while contemplating the unique ministry of the Panaghia, and approach her in the hope of salvation, through the mercy of her Son.

We deepen our relationship with her at this time, primarily through our participation in the Paraklesis. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the first two weeks of August, we chant this service. The only exception to this rule is when, such as this year, when the eve of the Transfiguration of Christ (August 6th) falls on one of those evenings. At that time, we celebrate Great Vespers for the Feast.

So come this August, we will gather together multiple times, to chant the same service which brought us together for one, particular family, in the Gilberts (Lord have mercy). We came together in their urgent need and personal struggle. Universally speaking however, we all struggle.

We all bear witness which contradicts God.

We operate with some sort of deficit.

We submit to some form of sin.

We suffer one illness or another.

We live with some degree of brokenness

We barely hover above some degree of sadness.

We fall short by some measure.

We wander from the Lord’s path by some distance.

We disappoint in some capacity

We transgress against brother or sister.

We doubt a truth.

We affirm a lie.

We miss the mark.

The Mark is Christ.

For these reasons, and for countless others, we require the intersessions and influence of the Theotokos. The Paraklesis gives us this very opportunity; to set our requests before her feet, so that in turn, she can carry our prayers, with a mother’s influence, to the long-suffering care of her merciful Son.

I invite you to participate in this Service in the following ways…

Come to the Paraklesis each evening of its celebration to receive the full benefit of blessed repetition.

Write down and submit the names of those whom you wish to be prayed for. Bring them with you to the service and the names will be read aloud through pious tradition. Remember, submit only the names for the living; for this is a service of sanctification, comfort and healing.

Come to the church on the Thursday evenings of the Fast at 7:00 pm to learn how to chant the Parklesis. With greater participation in the beautiful hymns, Panaghia will be most-pleased with our offering of love, and moved by our faith in Christ, Jesus.

The Paraklesis Service expresses her devotion to us, it affirms His mercy, and bands us together as a community of sinners in need of forgiveness and mercy.

As your pastor, I invite you to take this spiritual journey. Discover a new and dynamic form of prayer, or find comfort in the familiar melodies and poetry of the Paraklesis. It is truly my favorite set of services throughout the entire year. Sharing in the love she has for her Son, I remain,

In Christ,

Fr. Anthony

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter July 17, 2016

“O marvellous wonder! The noble Anna who wondrously conceived the wellspring of life who alone is blessed and pure among women, is translated from perishable life to life everlasting, being taken up from the earth to the heavenly places. She rejoices today with the companies of angels, and we now celebrate her holy festival.” – Vespers Hymn on the Dormition of St. Anna

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

A week from this coming Sunday, our parish will celebrate our first opportunity to hymn and praise our matron saint, and protectress, St. Anna, as we commemorate her Dormition. Though there are several opportunities in the calendar of the Church to commemorate St. Anna, the 25th of July is the day we recognize her falling asleep in the Lord.

I am sure that many of our St. Anna families have created long-lasting traditions as God-fearing and patriotic Utahans, reaching back into our “history” and appropriately celebrating Pioneer Day every July 24th. Only in this state, do the sellers and providers of fireworks get to hang around for another 20 days, capitalizing on a unique market and extending their season.

But now this day is most sacred in our calendar, together with our local neighbors and friends who acknowledge their past and the eventual formation of our state. Each year, we will gather on the evening of July 24th to celebrate Grate Vespers for the Feast of St. Anna. We chose the time of 6:00 pm, earlier than our typical evening services so to not conflict with the evening activities you may have been conducting for years. Now is the time for new traditions and commemorations. Now when your co-workers ask you, with excitement what your plans are for the 24th, you can answer with equal interest and authentic enthusiasm.

I pray that all of us who may have the 25th of July off of work can join us for the Divine Liturgy in celebration of the Dormition of St. Anna. We have the unique and most-sacred responsibility to come together as a Christian family and lift up the Name of St. Anna in the partaking of the Eucharist. This year will obviously be the first time we come together as a parish and celebrate the Divine Liturgy in honor of our matron saint. Let’s please, not miss out on this precious opportunity.

Of course, what should be attached to any Orthodox Feast is a proper celebration or party. Perhaps anywhere in the world, it would be easy to find a park, recreation facility, blank space on the map, or even an abandoned softball park to picnic for the Feast of St. Anna. Not so easy, to find such a place on the 24th and 25th of July here in Utah. This is why our picnic plans are on hold until the end of August.

Now that our name has been given to us as a parish, and we know when our commemoration is to be held, we can plan much further in advance. This year was just too late to book a place on or around our desired weekend.

Let us look to the Mother of the Theotokos with wonderment and awe, for her unrepeated place in the history of our salvation. Her fruit bore the fruit that was to grant everlasting life to a fallen world. I look forward to sharing these events with you, our St. Anna family!

With Love in Christ,
Fr. Anthony

P.S.

I also want to thank all of the faithful who participated in this week’s Paraklesis Service for the health of Fr. Matthew and for the peace of his family. As I am sure many of you know by now, it has been determined that the cancer has not spread to his brain, giving him the opportunity to enjoy the love and company of his family.

We will continue to pray that this victory will be the first of many healing miracles that the good Lord sees fit to bestow upon His faithful presbyter, Fr. Matthew.

Many of you have offered your financial assistance to the Gilbert Family through the St. Anna Altar and Benevolence Fund. That is much appreciated. Please feel compelled to offer your participation if you are able. This was a swift and violent force that came upon the Gilberts suddenly in a manner, in which no family could possibly be prepared to absorb. Please be generous.

Holy One heal him! God comfort his family! Lord have mercy!

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter July 10, 2016

“Refuse to listen to the devil when he whispers to you: give me now, and you will give tomorrow to God. No, no! Spend all the hours of your life in a way pleasing to God; keep in your mind the thought that after the present hour you will not be given another and that you will have to render a strict account for every minute of this present hour.”
– Unseen Warfare: The Spiritual Combat and Path to Paradise
(Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain)

Dearly Beloved in the Lord,

For the past 17 years, Fr. Matthew has taught the area Greek Orthodox faithful, primarily through a ministry of love and commitment. This humble man of God shown most brilliantly (though his gifts are deep and varied) as he sat at the bedside of those who were anguished, sick or dying. Fr. Matthew’s visits to the sick were never fleeting, obligatory or casual. He encountered Christ in the person of those who profoundly suffer. And today, at this hour, Fr. Matthew’s family finds him not in support of the seriously ill, but lying in that bed itself.

For only the past few days, the news of Fr. Matthew’s challenges with cancer are really penetrating the core of those who love him and who have been served admirably through his priesthood. As I said after the Divine Liturgy last Sunday, there are few members of our parish who have not received blessings, prayers, support, guidance or the Sacraments from Fr. Matthew. Earlier this week, many people received the following email from Kristen Bruskas, Presbytera Denise’s sister, and a close, personal friend. Please read her words, and learn directly from Fr. Matthew’s family how they are asking for our participation in praying for Fr. Matthew:

Dear Family and Friends,

Thank you all for your love, concern and prayers for my brother-in-law, Father Matthew Gilbert. He and my sister Denise are with me in Phoenix where I am helping them navigate the world of oncology.

We have started a Caring Bridge site to keep you updated on Father Matthew’s progress, and also to provide a way for you to send messages to the family. They are so appreciative of everyone’s phone calls, texts and emails, and it is hard to find time for them to respond. This Caring Bridge site is a quick and efficient way for the family to be uplifted by your thoughts and prayers. Please fee free to pass this information along to others….the more that know and join us in prayer, the better!

https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/fathermatthewgilbert

For those of you in the Phoenix area, we will have a Paraklesis Service on Monday, July 11 at 6:00 p.m. at Holy Trinity Cathedral to pray for Father Matthew’s health. We would love to see as many of you as possible.

To access the Caring Bridge site, you will need to create a free log-in with your email address, but I can tell you from personal experience, they do not add you to any other lists or fill up your in-box with advertisements.

Many thanks again for your prayers, love and support!

Love,
Kristen

With Kristen’s message (and beyond) taken to heart, I implore the kind, generous and faithful parishioners of St. Anna’s to help Fr. Matthew and his family in the following ways:

  1. Please establish your connection to Fr. Matthew’s Caring Bridge Site and leave your messages of prayer, support, friendship and gratitude. He has been there for you. We will be there for him.
  2. Just as the faithful surrounding Fr. Matthew in Phoenix will gather this coming Monday evening to chant the Paraklesis Service in supplication for his health, comfort and well-being, we will also have a Paraklesis service on Monday, July 11th at 7:00 pm here at St. Anna’s. And just as Kristen suggested concerning the service in Phoenix, we would love to see as many of you as possible. With Arizona currently on Pacific Time, our parishes will be praying together in support of Fr. Matthew, and asking the Theotokos to encourage her Son for a miracle of healing.
  3. Though it was not requested in her email, or through any other message, I am also asking that you consider financial assistance for this family as they face sudden and mounting challenges. Fr. Matthew and Presbytera Denise will be made aware of anyone who contributes to the St. Anna Benevolence Fund in their honor. Think of the countless hours he spent in the rooms and corridors of our area hospitals and nursing facilities, serving with love and humility. And the Sacraments, Liturgies and homilies he prepared with care and dedication. Praising God for the comfort He rains down upon us through His priests, let us give thanks to Him now, acting with love and generosity, to our suffering brother and father in Christ.

These words are not easy to write. This topic is hard to comprehend, as a young family faces challenges of this incredible magnitude. But Fr. Matthew told me last week that he will not fall apart, as he faces what others have experienced throughout his years as a priest. He said “If I do, then my ministry was a lie.” He is faithful. He is prepared. He is obedient. Fr. Matthew continues to teach and inspire. Let us show him and his family, that we are still willing to learn. I remain,

With Love in our Merciful Lord,

Fr. Anthony

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter July 3, 2016

“If he was not God and man, our salvation is a lie, and the words of the Prophets are lies. But the Prophets spoke the truth, and their testimonies were not lies.
The Holy Spirit spoke through them what they had been commanded.” – St. Ephrem the Syrian

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As we are blessed to come ever closer to our Nation’s celebration of Independence, I call to mind that which our American forefathers fought so bravely to establish, and declared so eloquently to protect – freedom. And as Orthodox Christians, we cannot possibly contemplate the notion of freedom outside of its purest expression, that is the freedom which God graciously bestows upon His creation.

Our freedom expelled us from the Garden, but through Christ, it is our very freedom which invites us back in. Christ is the Author of our freedom. As the perfect man, he exercised His free will to remain obedient to the will of the Father. As perfect God, He grants us the ability, also through the voluntary act of obedience, to find the Kingdom, having been restored to us through His death and resurrection.

Pure freedom is a gift from Jesus Christ as God and Man. Permit me to share the thoughts of St. Isaac the Syrian on this very concept:

The facts themselves bear witness and his divine acts of power teach those who doubt that he is true God, and his sufferings show that he is true man.

If he was not flesh, why was Mary introduced at all? And if he was not God, whom was Gabriel calling Lord?

If he was not flesh, who was lying in the manger? And if he was not God, whom did the Angels come down and glorify?

If he was not flesh, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes? And if he was not God, whom did the shepherds worship?

If he was not flesh, whom did Joseph circumcise? And if he was not God, in whose honour did the star speed through the heavens?

If he was not flesh, whom did Mary suckle? And if he was not God, to whom did the Magi offer gifts?

If he was not flesh, whom did Symeon carry in his arms? And if he was not God, to whom did he say, “Let me depart in peace”?

If he was not flesh, whom did Joseph take and flee into Egypt? And if he was not God, in whom were words “Out of Egypt I have called my Son” fulfilled?

If he was not flesh, whom did John baptize? And if he was not God, to whom did the Father from heaven say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”?

If he was not flesh, who fasted and hungered in the desert? And if he was not God, whom did the Angels come down and serve?

If he was not flesh, who was invited to the wedding in Cana of Galilee? And if he was not God, who turned the water into wine?

If he was not flesh, in whose hands were the loaves? And if he was not God, who satisfied crowds and thousands in the desert, not counting women and children, from five loaves and two fishes?

If he was not flesh, who fell asleep in the boat? And if he was not God, who rebuked the winds and the sea?

If he was not flesh, with whom did Simon the Pharisee eat? And if he was not God, who pardoned the offences of the sinful woman?

If he was not flesh, who sat by the well, worn out by the journey? And if he was not God, who gave living water to the woman of Samaria and reprehended her because she had had five husbands?

If he was not flesh, who wore human garments? And if he was not God, who did acts of power and wonders?

If he was not flesh, who spat on the ground and made clay? And if he was not God, who through the clay compelled the eyes to see?

If he was not flesh, who wept at Lazarus’ grave? And if he was not God, who by his command brought out one four days dead?

If he was not flesh, who sat on the foal? And if he was not God, whom did the crowds go out to meet with glory?

If he was not flesh, whom did the Jews arrest? And if he was not God, who gave an order to the earth and threw them onto their faces.

If he was not flesh, who was struck with a blow? And if he was not God, who cured the ear that had been cut off by Peter and restored it to its place?

If he was not flesh, who received spittings on his face? And if he was not God, who breathed the Holy Spirit into the faces of his Apostles?

If he was not flesh, who stood before Pilate at the judgement seat? And if he was not God, who made Pilate’s wife afraid by a dream?

If he was not flesh, whose garments did the soldiers strip off and divide? And if he was not God, how was the sun darkened at the cross?

If he was not flesh, who was hung on the cross? And if he was not God, who shook the earth from its foundations?

If he was not flesh, whose hands and feet were transfixed by nails? And if he was not God, how was the veil of the temple rent, the rocks broken and the graves opened?

If he was not flesh, who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me”? And if he was not God, who said “Father, forgive them”?

If he was not flesh, who was hung on a cross with the thieves? And if he was not God, how did he say to the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”?

If he was not flesh, to whom did they offer vinegar and gall? And if he was not God, on hearing whose voice did Hades tremble?

If he was not flesh, whose side did the lance pierce, and blood and water came out?And if he was not God, who smashed to gates of Hades and tear apart it bonds? And at whose command did the imprisoned dead come out?

If he was not flesh, whom did the Apostles see in the upper room? And if he was not God, how did he enter when the doors were shut?

If he was not flesh, the marks of the nails and the lance in whose hands and side did Thomas handle? And if he was not God, to whom did he cry out, “My Lord and my God”?

If he was not flesh, who ate by the sea of Tiberias? And if he was not God, at whose command was the net filled?

If he was not flesh, whom did the Apostles and Angels see being taken up into heaven? And if he was not God, to whom was heaven opened, whom did the Powers worship in fear and whom did the Father invite to “Sit at my right hand”. As David said, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, etc.”

If he was not God and man, our salvation is a lie, and the words of the Prophets are lies. But the Prophets spoke the truth, and their testimonies were not lies. The Holy Spirit spoke through them what they had been commanded.

Christ; Perfect Man and Perfect God is our declaration of independence from sin and death.

God bless your families, our Church and this great Nation as we celebrate freedom.

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter June 26, 2016

“It is true that one may know man’s ultimate goal, that is to have communion with God. And one may describe the path towards this goal: faith and walking in the commandments
with the aid of Divine Grace. One need only to say in addition: ‘Here is the path – start walking!’” – St. Theophan the Recluse

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As many of you know, I was absent from the church office last week, as I participated in our Metropolis Camp Emmanuel. Our summer camp is one of the most dynamic and reputable summer camping programs in the Archdiocese. The last time I helped out at Camp Emmanuel was in 2004, the year before we moved to the Metropolis of San Francisco. So much had changed in that span of 12 years. But so much was comfortably familiar.

The spiritual and social benefits of our young people participating in such programs are obvious: our children are grounded in the faith, they are exposed to the Scriptures, their fellowship and relationships revolve around like-minded kids, the teachings of the Church and the Bible come alive in practical ways, they are positively influenced by clergy from throughout the entire Metropolis and they come back with an eager commitment to living their lives for Christ.

But I must tell you, that as one of 15 clergymen (yes, twelve priests & three deacons!) who spent a week at Camp Emmanuel, I believe that I came back with the same renewed enthusiasm and fortified commitment as our children! It is equally true that we learn much more from them as they do from us. Their struggles become our struggles and their joys are ours as well. As the kids let their every-day lives and distractions concede to matters of spiritual health and Orthodox Christian principles, I found myself reaping the same benefits.

As a priest serving on staff at Camp Emmanuel, it’s not like we maintain a vague spiritual presence; wandering around looking “holy.” Each day, we lead two Orthodox Life sessions, conduct a Daily Word Bible Study, lead evening Cabin Devotionals, and are available for Confessions twice a day. One of the hallmarks of Camp Emmanuel is, in fact, clergy presence. Ours is the only Metropolis Camp which attracts so many priests to participate.

Being able to spend a week interacting with my brother priests and deacons from the Denver Metropolis was so incredibly refreshing. I had almost forgotten how valuable that time can be. Clergy Laity Meetings are filled with meetings and Clergy Retreats are filled with lectures and seminars. Camp is unique.

Camp is filled with ministry.

Camp is filled with growth and excitement.

Camp is filled with Christ.

I pray that as our Spirit-filled community of St. Anna Greek Orthodox grows and prospers for the sake of the Kingdom, we will continue an atmosphere that is positive for our young people; a place where they can always discover Christ in the ministries, Sacraments, programs and fellowship. But parish interaction, that is the local church, is only one aspect of our children’s exposure to the entirety of the Orthodox world.

As our kids meet other young, Greek Orthodox Christians from places like Kansas City, Houston, Cheyanne and Denver, they see the faith through a broader spectrum, beyond the identity of their home parish. They interact against the backdrop of common belief, sacred prayer and within the Communion of faithful. I hope that every parent will begin to appreciate the unduplicated experience that our Summer Camp has to offer.

There are countless stories about kids who went but didn’t want to go. All of these stories end the same way; the kids who didn’t want to come – didn’t want to leave either. Transformation takes place before our very eyes through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the laughter of the children and the joy of expressing and living one’s Orthodox Faith.

I experienced all of this first hand, plus the benefit of bouncing ideas off of fellow priests, reuniting with old friends, and meeting new ones. I saw young teenagers whom I baptized as infants, and counselors who were my JOY kids and GOYANs. Time passes, but Faith progresses. People grow and change, but Christ remains consistent.

Of course, as I mentioned in my homily last Sunday, the Sunday of Pentecost, we can’t remain at Summer Camp perpetually. At some point, we return to the distractions, the temptations, the complications and the practice of daily living. Just as the disciples were thrust from their familiar confines, then spread throughout the world, we depart from Camp; enlightened, strengthened, fortified and enthused.

I was grateful for the opportunity to be with our St. Anna children, and all of the youth assembled from throughout the Mountain West for the Junior Week of Camp Emmanuel. While there, I spent hours upon hours teaching. But to be sure, I spent days upon days learning.
I remain,

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter June 12, 2016

Dearly Beloved in the Lord,

It’s that time of year, when schools are out, vacations are taking place, and our weekend hours become all the more precious. There are many reasons not to come to church on Sundays.

To be helpful, and to alleviate any pangs of guilt you may be feeling, I thought I should give you some more reasons. Though this list is not necessarily exhaustive, and I’m borrowing much of the concept from other sources, let’s make it easier for you to enjoy your Sunday mornings:

MY TOP TEN REASONS NOT TO COME TO CHURCH THIS SUMMER:

  1. The Church is not Air Conditioned
  2. False! While some churches may be sweltering during the summer months, that is not the case for us! In fact, we can make the sanctuary so cold, that you’ll need to wear a sweater and bring a jacket. Remember, I am wearing several layers of vestments while serving in the altar, so I actually prefer the church to feel like a wintery wonderland. Will that help us fill the church during the summer? Making it feel like December? Brrrr.

  3. We Have a Boat
  4. Of course you do! Every other person who lives along the Wasatch Front does. Boats are great – Jesus spent a lot of time on boats since His Disciples were mostly fishermen. He preached from them, calmed storms in them, and walked on water towards them. Attend the Divine Liturgy this summer before launching your boat and I guarantee you’ll hear at least one reference to boats and/or water.

  5. The Lawn Needs Mowing
  6. And the flower beds need planting and the vegetable gardens need weeding and the fence needs painting and…and…and! There will always be chores to do around the house – both inside and out. But don’t neglect being in the Lord’s house as you attend to your own. Christ, Himself did allot of planting, harvesting, cultivating and pruning. But He did it for our spiritual benefit, not to our detriment. Put down the edger and come to Liturgy!

  7. The Kids Have Games
  8. Since moving back to Utah, we have experienced much less of this annoying occurrence in sports, but it still happens. I remember attending a club (comp) soccer game on a Sunday morning, at 7:00 am; two hours before the Orthros. Of course I was wearing my collar and a black suit since I was leaving directly to celebrate services. A woman wearing a Notre Dame hat asked me, “Father, don’t you have somewhere to be?” So of course I answered. “Sure. Don’t you also have somewhere else to be?” Yes, kids play sports. But we really need to limit their participation on Sundays. We can’t use our children’s athletic schedules as excuses to stay away from church. Who signed them up anyway?!?

  9. There’s Church in the Summer, Even though Pascha was so Late?
  10. Indeed. Every Sunday morning just like the rest of the year. With Fellowship Hour, too!

  11. We’re Away for the Weekend
  12. That’s great – I hope you have a relaxing time. Be sure to take your Sunday Best with you and look up the Orthodox Church, nearest to your destination. It’s always fun to visit other churches and attend the Divine Liturgy in different cities. The similarities are obvious, but spotting the differences can be lots of fun, especially for the kids. If you are planning on visiting another parish this summer, let me know in advance, and I will call that priest and make your introduction. Doing so makes receiving Communion so much easier.

  13. There’s No Sunday School
  14. Perfect! Your kids can remain in church with you for the entire Liturgy. You can spend more time together as a family. Isn’t that better than being all separated on a dirt bike trail or on individual jet skis? Where’s the quality time in that? Besides, this is a wonderful time to have your boys who are entering into 3rd Grade start trying on Altar Boy robes and beginning to learn what to do “back there.” Summer is a non-threatening, easy time to begin Altar Service. Don’t wait for school to begin before allowing your boys to participate. Give them a head start!

  15. I Gave up Summer Church for Lent
  16. Lent is over! And the Apostles Fast is only, like, two days this year (that’s what happens when Pascha is so late.) So…since you won’t be spending the entire month of June watching your friends eat hotdogs and hamburgers at neighborhood barbeques, while you a keep a strict abstinence through the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, you can thank the Lord for this fast-free summer – at church. See you there!

  17. I’d Rather Be Outside
  18. I have an answer for that as well. Everyone can take turns sitting on the left side of the church so you can share opportunities in gazing out of the window. We are uniquely blessed in that most Orthodox Churches do not have windows that offer such views of nature. While attending the Divine Liturgy, at St. Anna’s, you’ll feel as though we are worshiping up Millcreek Canyon; the view is that lovely from our one, east-facing window. Enjoy!

  19. I Have a 9:00 am Tee Time
  20. How perfect for you! This Sunday, June 12th, the Divine Liturgy begins at 7:00 am and is perfectly suited for almost any golf course – public or private. Get your early golfing done this weekend. Consider it our GOYANs gift to you, as we depart for Camp Emmanuel! Please keep our children in your prayers for safe travels and a wonderful camp experience.

I hope you’ve found a good reason in this list to stay away from the Divine Liturgy until after Labor Day. But if not, I look forward to seeing you each Sunday. Summer is for relaxing the body and soul. The Divine Liturgy is for engaging the body and soul. You see, they’re perfectly made for each other!

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter June 5, 2016

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is Risen!
Truly He is Risen!

This coming Thursday, the Feast of our Lord’s Ascension into the Heavens, marks the end of the Paschal Season. This Sunday will be the final opportunity for us to chant together, the clarion hymn which proclaims Jesus Christ risen from the Dead. It will be an honor and a blessing to chant “Christ is Risen” for the final time this season.

The Synaxarion, or Daily Book of Commemorations explains the Feast of the Ascension is such a beautiful and poignant way:

After His Resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for forty days, appearing to His Disciples in various places. He ate, drank and conversed with them, verifying and assuring His Resurrection. On the fortieth day after Pascha, Jesus appeared to His Disciples in Jerusalem. He gave them His last commandment, to go forth and preach in His Name to all the nations. At the same time, He told them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait until they were clothed with the power from on high by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them. Having said this, Jesus led His Disciples to the Mount of Olives. Then He lifted up His hands and blessed them.

And as He was speaking to them with words of fatherly blessing, Jesus departed from them and ascended into Heaven, being received by a shining cloud, indicating His divine majesty. He gradually disappeared from the sight of the Disciples as they gazed at Him. And as they stood thus, two angels in brilliant white robes appeared to them in the form of men and said to them: Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus, Who is taken from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven.

In these words is fulfilled and defined the doctrine concerning the Son of God and His Word, in the Confession of Faith. After our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled all His great dispensation for us, He ascended in glory into Heaven, and sat on the right hand of God the Father. His Disciples returned from Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, rejoicing in the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit. O Christ our God, Who did ascend in glory, have mercy on us.

We are moving ever closer to Pentecost, and ultimately, later this summer, to the first celebration of our parish Feast, the Dormition, or Falling Asleep of St. Anna on July 25th. May our gracious Lord keep you safely in His tender care as you engage in all of your summer activities. God bless, and for nearly the last time, Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

With Love in our Lord Who is to Rise on the 40th Day,

Fr. Anthony

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter May 29, 2016

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.” – I Corinthians 13: 4-8

 

Dearly Beloved in the Lord,

Christ is Risen!
Truly He is Risen!

As many of you know, almost a year ago, my family and I moved back to Salt Lake City from Northridge, California, after serving the parish of St. Nicholas. While living in that community for a solid decade, our children learned to equate two things, which most people would never associate or connect: Memorial Day and Greek Dancing.

You see, their annual Greek Festival takes place every year on Memorial Day Weekend. I always marveled at the fact that hundreds of faithful volunteers would give up their long (and well-earned) weekend to opperate their Festival. Tireless, energetic, enthusiastic and loving people come together to support their church, celebrate their heritage and share their culture.

This weekend, I pray for the stamina, well-being and health of many, old friends whose eyes will be filled with the smoke of BBQ grills, or whose hands will be cramped from the wrapping of a million gyros, or whose backs will be strained from three months of baking and three days of serving.

But now that we have returned home, we have the opportunity to reabsorb the meaning and purpose of Memorial Day in an entirely different context. I have to say that the idea of placing flowers on my father’s grave, on that specific day while praying for his blessed and departed soul, is a source of comfort that has been sorely missing in my for many years.

It feels like this is where I should be, where we all should be, on Memorial Day.

This Holiday began in the mid-1860’s as an opportunity to commemorate those who were lost while serving in the American Civil War. Though this was very much a northern-states tradition, our entire Nation began to embrace the custom after World War I, when it had evolved to include all Americans lost in any war. It was an opportunity to thank those who offered up the ultimate sacrifice for the ideals of a free world, and for the protection of our great Nation. Then, of course, it continued in the minds and hearts of each of us to include any member of our families who have passed from this life to the next.

Memorial Day is a day of solemnity, appreciation, longing, hope, loss, but mostly, love.

Yes…love.
Of course, love!

In our Orthodox Tradition, we memorialize the dead simply for the fact that we love them. We have hope in our memorial prayers because of God’s love towards us. “The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have drawn you with loving kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). We stand at the graves of our loved ones, knowing that our physical presence; that is, being close to them, affords us great comfort.

And even though we may always continue to mourn their departure, our hope in the Resurrection, in time, eclipses our sadness and allows us the hope of reunification in the Kingdom. In the span of time, we literally pass from a spiritual darkness to a prayerful light.

God loves the departed, so he preserves them, while bestowing upon them, and us, an eternity of life and glory. We love them so we continue to express our devotion through our visits to the cemetery. The deceased love us, so they continue to pray for our deliverance as they reside ever closer to God, united with Him in spirit while awaiting the General Resurrection and the fulfillment of God’s plan for salvation.

Death is an ugly distortion of our reality. We were created to be perfect, eternal, glorious and joyful. Death robs us of our human dignity and forcibly, albeit temporarily, separates the body from the soul.

On Memorial Day, we draw near to the graves of our erstwhile beloved, but communicate tenderly and intimately with their gentle souls. They hear us. They feel us. They return the favor and offer their supplications unto God in Heaven. We mourn our losses, but, nevertheless, share in the prize.

St. Paul counsels us “not to mourn as those who do not have hope.” He advises us to never despair over the dead, because “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

This coming Monday, Memorial Day, I will be at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, from 9:30 am to 1:00 pm, with the intention of praying for the repose of your dearly departed loved ones who await their full glory in Christ. This is my new, and tenderly-embraced Memorial Day Tradition. This is my new practice for the Day. This is how the Greek Orthodox people of Salt Lake City celebrate the weekend – in committed prayer.

I will cherish this opportunity to stand beside each of you, and offer our Orthodox Trisagion Prayers of hope, mercy, triumph, life, light and…love.

Christ’s love.
Christ’s love Crucified.
Christ’s love Resurrected.

Remaining in that Very Love,

Fr. Anthony

 

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter May 22, 2016

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. – I John 3:17-18

Dearly Beloved in the Lord,

Christ is Risen!
Truly He is Risen!

Perhaps you saw the pictures of our Women’s Ministry Service Project on Tuesday evening. Each month the ladies of our St. Anna community gather to deliberate the business of their organization, engage in fellowship and plan what good thing that can next be accomplished. This week’s “good thing” was to prepare 500 sandwiches for the homeless and hungry here in the Salt Lake Valley. Yes, 500 sandwiches. Pounds and pounds of ham, cheese, mayonnaise packets, baggies and, if you are counting, 1,000 pieces of bread.

I am so thankful for the willing spirit of the women in our parish. As predicted, more people came to help than typically come for the other meetings. Service projects bring out the best in us, and they bring out the most of us. As we will always strive to be a parish of service, works, action, compassion and caring, Tuesday night was beautiful and special. And the reality is, the actual sandwich-making part of the entire night only took about 20 minutes.

Of course, hours of preparation and the dedication of funds were all executed well before we showed up to nicely-organized work stations with detailed production instructions. For sure, the work of our project chairs, Ann Sasich and Pat Daskalas, went tremendously more deep than our own efforts…but hey, 500 sandwiches were made that night.

And the discussions around the tables were filled with laughter, as well as the prayerful contemplation for the dear souls who would hopefully appreciate the work of our hands. Empathy, Christian love and the camaraderie between Sisters in Christ marked an extremely lovely evening.

But that was then. Though it was a fantastic experience, now it’s time to move on to our NEXT opportunity to help!

I pray that you have been seeing the little flyers in the narthex for the Race2Erase Hunger. This Saturday at 3:00 pm, on the Feast of Ss. Constantine and Helen, we will gather next door to our church at the Brighton Stake Center to celebrate, with our friends of St. Thomas More Parish, the conclusion of our Virtual 5K Race.

For the past several weeks, we have had the opportunity to register for this race, complete it at our own leisure, and allow the proceeds to benefit the Utah Food Bank. If you have yet to register for the Virtual 5K, please go to www.race2erasehunger.com or visit our Facebook Page. As I said, all proceeds from registration go directly to the Food Bank. Please check the website and Facebook Page to see all of the different ways you can get involved in our efforts to combat continual hunger in the midst of our everyday lives.

Our “After Party” this Saturday will give us the opportunity to do as the ladies of our Women’s Ministry Team do so well; they get together, make new friends, celebrate their lives in Christ and assist people along the way. As we rent space on the campus of St. Thomas More, we are continually in contact with the lovely parishioners of their community.

I feel that it would also be a great expression of unifying behind a common cause, to get to know the folks of the Stake Center, who asked our parish to participate in this worthy effort. We were invited to help them, help the hungry. For that, I am extremely grateful. Being with us on Saturday is a perfect chance to introduce living icons and breathing expressions of Orthodoxy to our neighbors.

You may laugh, we certainly did…when Andrea and I visited our former parish just before moving there almost eleven years ago. It amused us to see that St. Nicholas is literally right next door to the Northridge Mormon Ward. “Welcome home,” we chuckled. Well, the chances of our parish being located next to a Mormon church here in Cottonwood Heights are, let’s say, slightly greater than the odds in Los Angeles.

But I am grateful for our neighbors and the love they display – both here and in California. Let’s get together for our common cause of easing the pangs of hunger in the bellies of local children and families. That’s what is pleasing to God.

As St. John the Apostle reminds us in the forementioned Epistle passage, let us “love in deed and in truth.” Once again, it’s time to help. Let us thank the Lord for the opportunity to serve and exhibit, in very real ways, His compassion and love towards humanity.

With Love in our Risen Lord,

Fr. Anthony