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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter February 12, 2017

“According to thy mercy, pour out upon me, who am miserable, at least one small drop of grace to make me understand and be converted, that I might make at least some small effort to correct myself. For if thy grace does not illumine my soul, I will not be able to see the carelessness and negligence that the passions have produced in me through
my apathy and recklessness.” – St. Ephraim the Syrian

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Once again, the fact that time passes quickly, when you are having fun, has been confirmed and experienced. Early in the Fall, our St. Anna’s Adult Religious Education classes began with great enthusiasm and ended this week, capping off months of vibrant conversations, engaged learners and faithful Christians willing and excited to grow in their faith.

Participants of the Weekly Bible Study and the Orthodox Spirituality Inquirers Class will come together, next Wednesday for a Paraklasis Services dedicated to the Theotokos in gratitude for our gatherings in the spirit of fellowship, scriptural knowledge and the desire to learn the tenets of our precious Orthodox Church.

While the Bible Study introduced the Book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian and Evangelist, the Spirituality Class immersed themselves in areas of Orthodox doctrine, theology, liturgics, practice, tradition, Tradition (there is a difference) and history.

The time truly did fly.

And I think it was because each and every one of the people who participated in our classes involved themselves to the degree which St. Ephraim wrote about in the above-referenced quote.

When we endeavor to receive a measure of God’s grace, it is not a passive exercise or dis-engaged practice. Growth in the Spirit comes from time spent in prayer, study, meditation upon the Scriptures, spiritually-edifying readings, and, of course, participation in the divine services of the Church.

Our study of the Book of Revelation was not always easy or even enjoyable. It’s hard stuff with hard information to convey.

The imagery, symbolism, cryptic messages, and unrecognizable presentations of Jesus Christ caused great levels of anxiety and trepidation in some of our students. Especially in the beginning. Working through this text took great levels of effort, trust and dedication that I greatly appreciated through the months of our study. Believe me, this was not an easy Book to teach, but with Patristic sources and through a proper, Orthodox perspective, the participants in the class continued to inspire me and for that, I am ever grateful.

The thing about Inquirers’ Classes that is so engaging is the fact that most people in the room are there for the same reason, but on entirely different journeys. We come together to learn the essentials of the faith, but some through their first, formal exposure to Orthodoxy, some are engaged couples, some are Orthodox Christians since the cradle who want to recapture what has been missing since Sunday School and others are just plain curious about ancient, exotic and historically-grounded traditions.

This class, by nature is much more interactive, with questions – fantastic questions – coming from the hearts of people who thirst for knowledge, hunger for guidance and are starved for authentic Christian teachings; unaltered through the ages and steadfastly resisting the temptation of adding to true doctrines and messing with fundamentals of theology.

St. Ephraim’s words inspire us, especially as we approach the inaugural steps of the Fast, to spend time in cultivating our relationship with God, seek corrective measures as we tend to the well-being of our souls, and move to rise from the preverbal “spiritual couch” and get the spiritual heart pumping!

When we neglect our relationships, they fail. When we neglect our bodies, they become ill. When we neglect our souls, ultimate death creeps around us and pulls us away from seeing God’s face with clarity and vibrancy.

Yes, our classes are over for the season. And the reason I use the opportunity of this message as a retroactive commercial of sorts, to pique your interest in learning about our Faith, or beliefs, our Church, and ultimately to be continually introduced to Christ in new ways.

Those ways now come in the form of multiple Lenten services which will begin soon enough. Please consider coming to services that perhaps you have never witnessed. This is how the apathy and recklessness of the soul, which St. Ephraim warns, is combatted and thwarted.

Be like the nervous Book of Revelation student – stretch your horizon, build our measure of faith through new experiences and be the beneficiary of newly-cultivated, spiritual fruits.

So, once again, to the participants of our now-concluded classes, thank you for your interest and your participation. I invite, actually beg your feedback and suggestions on how to improve our class content and what I can do to be a better teacher to, and for you.

I look forward to seeing you at Paraklesis next Wednesday (of course the entire parish is welcome to participate) and at the services of the Lenten Season (of course the entire parish is expected to participate) so that we can grow together, in Christ, for Christ and through Christ.

With Much Love in our Savior,

Fr. Anthony

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter February 5, 2017

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This morning, February 2nd, we celebrated the Feast of our Lord’s Presentation in the Temple, according to our Holy Archdiocese, when the most pure Mother and Ever-Virgin Mary’s forty days of purification had been fulfilled, she took her first-born Son to Jerusalem on this, the fortieth day after His birth, that she might present Him in the temple according to the Law of Moses, which teaches that every first-born male child be dedicated to God, and also that she might offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons, as required by the Law (Luke 2:22-24; Exod. 13:2; Lev. 12:6-8).
On this same day, a just and devout man, the greatly aged Symeon, was also present in the temple, being guided by the Holy Spirit. For a long time, this man had been awaiting the salvation of God, and he had been informed by divine revelation that he would not die until he beheld the Lord’s Christ.
Thus, when he beheld Him at that time and took Him up into his aged arms, he gave glory to God, singing: “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Master. . .” And he confessed that he would close his eyes joyfully, since he had seen the Light of revelation for the nations and the Glory of Israel (Luke 2:25-32). From ancient times, the Holy Church has retained this tradition of the churching of the mother and new-born child on the fortieth day and of the reading of prayers of purification.
Tomorrow, we honor the righteous Elder Symeon and Prophetess Anna, who prophesied concerning Him by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and were the first in Jerusalem to receive Him as the Messiah.
This event; our Lord’s Entrance into the Temple, for His “40-Day Blessing” (not unlike the similar blessing for our own children), goes largely unnoticed in the greater scheme of the things Christ experienced. However, for the Orthodox, this event in His infant life is regarded as one of His greatest revelations of humility, tenderness and obedience to the Law. Though He created the Law, Christ still feels compelled, for our sake, to abide by the Law.
On a deeply, personal note, there is a very tiny chapel dedicated to our Lord’s Presentation in Thessaloniki. Many years ago, I spent an entire day of prayer and meditation in that little church. The Lord answered my prayers on that day and the Feast of the Presentation will always be very special in my heart and soul. I pray that the Lord enters our hearts and nourishes our souls as he penetrated the steps of the Temple in order to fulfill the divine plan of His Father. These days are special indeed. Let us honor Him through His holy Feasts.
With Love in Christ,
Fr. Anthony

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter January 29, 2017

Good Evening, Dearly Beloved in the Lord,

I thank you for your prayers and well wishes this past, almost two weeks. Your positive energy and love have helped me more than you will ever know. I look forward to resuming my pastoral duties very soon. God willing, I will be with you this Sunday for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the swearing in of our 2017 Parish Council. Please be aware that our JOY Ministry will meet after Sunday School and the participants of the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival will meet with their coaches, exchange ideas and begin their creative process, also this Sunday. For those of you who have submitted your House Blessing Forms, please know that I will be contacting you within the next few weeks to continue this sacred Tradition.

As we continue into a very busy time of the year, with our many ministries in full swing, I pray that the good Lord blesses all of your homes with abundant joy, continued health and fervor in faith.

I so look forward to seeing you at Liturgy! And again, thank you! Your cards, texts, emails, calls and posts were much appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed.

With Love in Christ,
Fr. Anthony

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter January 15, 2017

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As we continue to celebrate the blessings of a New Year and remain, steadfastly in the days of Holy Theophany, I come to you, my dearly beloved in the Lord, asking for your prayers.

As you may have noticed for the past few month, I have seemingly suffered with cold symptoms, congestion and headaches. Pretty much non-stop since October. Many of you have been kind enough to offer your remedies, solutions, special tricks and formulas for improved health. Believe me, I tried them all. And I was always grateful for your prayers and concern.

As it turns out, a CT scan revealed what has been bothering me for all this time, and that is severely blocked and infected sinus’, especially in the left side of my head which is 100% affected. In order to gain some much-needed relief and to begin breathing again, surgery is required. That said, I need to offer some changes to the very Bulletin which is attached to this message. Therefore, please be advised that:

I will be having surgery on Tuesday, January 17th and will be out of the office until January 25th.

There will be no Divine Liturgies celebrated on Tuesday, January 17th (St. Anthony) and Wednesday, January 18th (St. Athanasios). I am sorry about this.

We will celebrate the Divine Liturgy in honor of both Saints Anthony and Athanasios on Monday Evening, January 16th at 6:00 pm.

There will be no Bible Study or Spirituality Classes next week. Again, I am sorry for this.

All other meetings/ministries will continue for the week, or so that I am recovering.

On Sunday, January 22nd, we will be blessed with Fr. Seraphim Johns from Pocatello, ID as our visiting priest.

Fr. Seraphim is a dynamic, young priest who has been assigned to the historic and lovely Greek Orthodox Community of Price, Utah, beginning February 1st. This will be St. Anna’s first opportunity to welcome him to Utah and to pray for his success and his ministry to the Orthodox faithful in Carbon County.

I thank you for your prayers and for your patience, these past many weeks, with me sounding much less than inspiring during the celebration of our divine services. God willing, I look forward to being healthy for the continuation of our House Blessings and into the precious time of Great Lent. I remain,

With Love in XC,
Fr. Anthony

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter January 8, 2017

“Israel treaded on the sea’s swelling billow, which had been rendered once again into dry land. Then the dark waters concealed all the Egyptian riders together, as a tomb laid in water, by the mighty strength of the right (hand) of the Master.” – Matins Hymn of Theophany

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This morning, as I trotted ever so slowly and cautiously in to the church office, I received a phone call from my Koumbaro and one of my best friends, Fr. Andrew Scordalakis, the pastor of St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in San Diego, California. He called to say “Happy Birthday to Alexia,” who unbelievably turned 18 today! Indeed, this is my gratuitous shout-out for our daughter’s significant mile stone. Please forgive.
He was telling me about his plans for their annual Epiphany Cross Dive, where the warm waters of San Diego’s Mission Bay are blessed, followed by a beautiful cross tossed into the water, to be retrieved by a fortunate youth who will have an abundance of blessings and bragging rights for a solid year. So think about that lovely scenario, as you just shoveled yourselves out of your driveways this morning.
Kids in swimsuits will dive into the ocean and compete to retrieve a cross that has been thrown into the warm water.
In January.
That’s the San Diego version of Blessing the Waters.
I just bought a new pair of snow boots for Blessing the Waters, Sugar-House-Style.
Now, before you think I am jealous of my friend’s sunny circumstance (because I actually did miss Utah winters while away), we must not covet Fr. Andrew’s January weather because he deserves it. He is from near Buffalo, New York. Where he grew up and spent most of his adult life, there are no outdoor Blessing of the Waters services, only “Blessing of the Ice” ceremonies. Brrrrr.
It’s all relative. It’s all beautiful. It’s all cathartic and holy. No matter the temperature, its Theophany!
The Holy Trinity, in the wisdom of the Father, is revealed to us over the Waters of the Jordan River. The Lord could have chosen a high mountain to witness His Triune glory. He could have exposed His great mystery in the desert or the wilderness. Perhaps in a lush garden. But no, the light of God, the Persons of God, the definition of God and the reality of God were given to us over the flowing rush of living water.
Water is the source of life. At least in a balance it is. In over-abundance, it is dangerous and even deadly, like what happened to the Egyptian riders as referenced in the above hymn. Equally so, in scarcity, we parish without safe, clean and adequate water supplies.
In water, we are cleansed. In water, we are Baptized. In Water, our Lord Jesus Christ illustrated, through His divine humility, that to be “born of water and the Spirit” is the way to salvation and ever-lasting life.
We celebrate, through the Baptism of Christ, the redemption of the world, the sanctification of created matter and the ever-powerful bond between the Creator and the created.
I look forward to the opportunity to take the blessed Waters from our fount, and bring them into your homes and businesses. Please do not hesitate in sending in your House Blessing Form. What this does is transform Theology and Tradition into relevance and practice in our practical and daily lives. The abundant grace which flows within the banks of the Jordan is not found in a distant place, but rather in our living rooms and kitchens!
Look outside. Appreciate the unsoiled, pristine nature of newly-fallen snow. It is pure, elegant and lovely. Others may look outside their windows to see the calm and inviting waves of the Pacific Ocean.
Either way, cross yourselves and jump in. For the Lord has hallowed the Waters…gas, liquid or solid. Blue or grey. Fresh or salty. Wash yourselves and become clean. It is Holy Theophany. God is revealed and we are immortalized.
With Love in Christ Who Condescended to be Baptized,
Fr. Anthony

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter January 1, 2017

“We glorify the Holy Spirit together with the Father and the Son, from the conviction that He is not separated from the Divine Nature; for that which is foreign by nature does not share in the same honors.”
– St. Basil the Great

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Christ is Born!
Glorify Him!
I pray that everyone enjoyed a blessed Christmas and is looking forward to a Happy New Year! This coming Sunday is not only the First Day of 2017, it is also the Feast of St. Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great. St. Basil was the Greek bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia and was a contemporary of St. Nicholas of Myra, though St. Nicholas was only a deacon by the time St. Basil was already a bishop.
Of course, anyone from Greece can tell you that it is not St. Nicholas who brings gifts and toys to good boys and girls on Christmas Day, but rather St. Basil on January 1st. This tradition developed as he would place coins and valuables inside of breads and then distribute them to the poor. Like St. Nicholas, he is well-regarded for his generosity and creativity in philanthropic work. Of course, St. Basil, as one of the “Doctors of the Church,” is regarded more for his theology than his kind endeavors.
I look forward to seeing you all this Sunday as we commemorate this well-loved and prolific hierarch of the Church.
The following Sunday, directly following our Teaching Divine Liturgy (please refer to last week’s Pastoral Message for details), we will gather in the Fellowship Hall for our annual Vasilopita Celebration where pieces of “St. Basil’s Bread” will be given in honor of all the ministries and organizations of our parish, and where an auction for individual breads will take place. This is one of the most enjoyable traditions in our Greek Orthodox Church.
In remembrance of St. Basil’s placing of coins in his breads, a single coin is baked into each Vasilopita, with the recipient of the coin enjoying special blessings throughout the New Year.
Remember, we don’t say “good luck” in the church – we say “blessings!”
Please enjoy a blessed remainder of 2016. Our New Year’s Eve-Eve Party is shaping up to be a wonderful gathering (thank you Barbara Hillas), and next week I look forward to sharing some thoughts about the coming celebration of Theophany and our practice of House and Business Blessings.
Happy New Year and God Bless,
Fr. Anthony

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter December 25, 2016

“For a man’s complete sanctification, the body of the servant of the Lord must be united with the Body of Christ, and this is accomplished in the Mystery of Holy Communion. The true Body and the true Blood of Christ which we receive become part of the great Body of Christ.” – St. John the Wonderworker

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Christ is Born!
Glorify Him!
Very recently, I attended our youngest son’s Christmas Program at school: the ritual where children are rapidly paraded on and off the stage while familiar songs about toys, reindeer and snow are enthusiastically presented in between the shuffle of one grade to another.
Like every other parent in attendance, I was there, primarily to see my own child sing; not the other 629 kids who were performing the same songs I sang as an elementary student. This was evident, witnessing the auditorium thin out as the program progressed, and the only spots in the house that continued to be popular were the front rows and side aisles where parents recorded their children’s two songs.
I also had iPhone in hand, ready to capture these brief moments of holiday cheer. The only problem was that, once again, Dimitri was in the back row on the far-right side, nearly blocked completely from my view. And further still, the little girl in front of him, wore a Santa hat that bounced up and down, making it even harder to get a proper visual.
I share this experience because I realize that a visual connection and proper perspective is imperative to connection and complete understanding. In a way, the same can be said in understanding worship.
In the wisdom of the Church, the bishop or priest celebrating the Divine Liturgy does so with his back facing the congregation of the faithful. This practice was not established to set the celebrant apart from the assembly of worshippers; quite the opposite. The bishop or priest has his back to the parish because he is facing the same direction as the parish. He leads in worship. He celebrates the Divine Liturgy with you, not at you.
But admittedly, there are great numbers of the faithful whose understanding of the Divine Liturgy might eventually stall since there is a lack of…visual and perspective.
So…with every church service, I’m like the kid in the Santa hat blocking your view of what you “came to see.” That is, the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
So to offer an opportunity to grant that perspective and unveil the mystery of what takes place in the altar, before and during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, we have designated Sunday, January 8th as our first Teaching Divine Liturgy.
There are many things that will be different about the divine services on that day. These (extremely temporary) alterations to our traditional practices include:

  • The Orthros will begin at 8:15 am and will be celebrated in a normal fashion.
  • At 9:15 am, when Orthros usually begins, I will pray, out loud, the Kairos (preparatory) Prayers and the Vesting Prayers. While Vesting, I will explain the different parts of the priest’s vestments regarding their symbolism and purpose.
  • We will then do the preparation of the Gifts or Proskomede Service. This will be conducted outside of the altar and in full view of all who are in attendance. This is the service where we take the bread and wine offering and place them, in a detailed and beautiful manner, in the chalice and on the paten. This is one of the most beautiful and meaningful services of the church.
  • Before the Divine Liturgy begins at 10:15, I will offer a brief commentary on the service itself. This will be a day of education and worship.
  • Sunday School classes, beginning with 4th Grade will remain in church for this unique learning experience.
  • The Divine Liturgy will be celebrated outside of the altar, and I will be facing you the entire time so that you can see everything that is done, and how it is done.
  • Every inaudible prayer will be recited out loud so that you can experience the flow of the Divine Liturgy in a comprehensive way.
  • Following the Teaching Divine Liturgy, I will offer some closing statements and in lieu of a sermon, I will take questions about anything that was seen or experienced during the service.

Please do not be confused by the intentions of this service. I am not advocating for liturgical reform, and that the celebrant should always face the congregation, and that every Divine Liturgy must be transformed into a teaching lab. My didactic purpose is to grant an experience of learning through, as I’ve stated, a different perspective and an opportunity to be visually involved throughout the entirety of the service.
I would highly recommend that you attend the services beginning with the Kairos and Vesting. Once you have seen the spiritual process from beginning to end, your experience of the Divine Liturgy will never be the same.
This is a completely transformative experience!
As the above quote from St. John the Wonderworker states, the purpose of the Eucharist is for the sanctification of humankind. And in the Orthodox Church, The Divine Liturgy is the setting in which the Eucharist is celebrated, prepared and offered. Please take this opportunity to see, perhaps for the first time in your life, the fullness of sanctity through the gift of the Eucharistic Banquet!
With Much Love in Christ Who is to be Born in a Cave and Lain in a Manger,
Fr. Anthony

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter December 18, 2016

“Prepare, O Bethlehem. Let the manger make ready and the grotto anticipate. The truth has come and the shadow has passed away. Born of a Virgin, God has appeared to men, taking our form and deifying that which He assumed. Therefore Adam and Eve are renewed, and they cry out, “The good pleasure of God has appeared on earth for the salvation of the human race.” – Hymn of the First Royal Hour”

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is Born!
Glorify Him!

I pray that as we come ever so close to the divine mystery of Christ’s holy Nativity – His birth, we are beginning to feel the spirit of the holiday. Not the spirit of the Holidays, that is parties, shopping, decorations, lights, and such. Not that these festive elements are negative in any way, but we are on the precipice of the greatest gift ever to have been received from the hand of God.

This gift is greater than life itself. His precious birth sets in motion all that is fantastic and wondrous, as God dwells among us. He who created us, is now “Us.” We are now Him. The heavenly and the earthly are indiscernible and connected from this day. Glory be to God!

Integral to our full connection in the wonder of Christmas is our participation in the divine services of the Church. Most often, especially in our American culture, that means we come to church on Christmas Eve, participate in the Divine Liturgy, receive Holy Communion, and enjoy the next morning under the tree, ripping through wrapping paper.

But every so often…every few years, these plans change. Or, at least they should.

This year, the Feast of the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ According to the Flesh (fancy theological term for Christmas) falls on a Sunday. What does this mean to us from a practical and liturgical perspective?

A great deal.

With Christmas falling on a Sunday, that means that the doctrinal precedence of the day is still reserved for the Day of the Lord – His Resurrection. Please remember that every Sunday Liturgy is a commemoration of Pascha! Every Sunday is Easter Sunday, according to the Church.

This is why we will not celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Christmas Eve, but rather chant Great Vespers for Saturday Evening, which will include hymns, prayers and readings for Christmas. So we are clear:

There is no Communion offered on Christmas Eve this year.

This brings me to the explanation of the other service that we will celebrate this year, differently than most years. On Friday, December 23rd at 9:30 am, we will read and chant the Royal Hours for the Nativity. Services of the Hours are part of the daily cycle of worship in the Orthodox Church. They can precede most any service. The Services of Royal Hours are specifically reserved for only three times each year; Before the Nativity (December 25th), Before Theophany (January 6th) and on Great and Holy Friday.

The designation of these being “Royal Hours” stems from the tradition that in the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor was present each year at the service beginning the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. Therefore, the Hours before Christmas Eve are given the name “Royal Hours.”

I paternally advise you to attend this service. It is so beautiful.

The Royal Hours before Christmas give us an intimate perspective concerning the birth of Our Lord: the venality of Herod who fears being supplanted; Joseph’s fear of disgrace; Mary’s faith, which leads her to inspire Joseph—and us—with words like “mystery” and “wonder” to describe the event she does not fully understand but has fully accepted.

This is a service primarily comprised of Scriptural readings from both the Old and New Testament.
There is no Communion offered during the Royal Hours before Christmas.
That said (and I’ve said a lot), if you desire to receive the Eucharist on the Feast of the Nativity, and I earnestly pray that you do, then the time to come is on the morning of Sunday, December 25th. You know, just like every other Sunday!
Please refer to the attached Holiday Schedule and attend whenever possible.
As the old lapel pin says, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”
I hope to see you in church on Christmas Morning. With great anticipation in the coming of our Lord, and with love in Christ, I remain,

In His Service,
Fr. Anthony

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter December 11, 2016

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Tonight, the faithful community of St. Anna’s enjoyed a most blessed evening. We came together, under the prayerful guidance of His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver to celebrate Great Vespers for the Conception of the Theotokos by her Mother, St. Anna. Beyond His Eminence, Fr. Elias Koucos and Fr. John Mahfouz for celebrating with us, I would like to thank the following for making the night so special. All of these people worked so hard to offer kind hospitality to our guests and to ourselves. For this evening’s reception, God bless:

Myra Shenk
Paulette Stagg
Beth Johnson
Penny Mills
Mary Feotis
Connie Cayias
Georgette Lowe
Ann Sasich
Tina Sergakis
Julie Steele
Liberty Mudrock (not just tonight, but every time we enjoy a cup of coffee).

Also…
Mary Yannias for Baking the Breads for the Artoclasia.

Yet, Also…
Sandra Zoolakis for decorating the hallways and the church.

And Finally…
Mary Simos and Connie Pantke worked hard to offer some hospitality tomorrow, following the Divine Liturgy, but both came down with illnesses this past week. They are in our prayers for comfort and improved health.

Our Parish Council had everything lovingly-organized in the Narthex and Leo, with his readers, chanted and a lovely service.

I have included everyone in this note from correspondence concerning the events of the evening. I ask your forgiveness if anyone was not recognized who may have helped. Please contact me if you know of anyone left off, I would like to acknowledge them.

Tomorrow, we will come together for the Divine Liturgy at the normal time to continue this commemoration. If you missed out this evening, please don’t deny yourself this spiritual blessing, to be touched by the Theotokos and her Mother, if you are able to participate.

With great joy and thanksgiving, I remain,

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter December 4, 2016

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Very soon, we will be celebrating the Nativity of Christ – the special time when God’s plan of salvation takes on flesh, enters our existence, walks amongst us, and pulls us from the jaws of certain death. We must always remember, of course, that without the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, there would not be a Nativity of Christ to celebrate. And by obvious extension, without St. Anna, there is no Theotokos. Therefore, let us most enthusiastically share in a joyous celebration; that of the conception of the Theotokos, commemorated December 9th. The blessing that was given to Ss. Joachim and Anna is a sacred gift to the world. It is written of this most solemn feast:

“Saint Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary, was the youngest daughter of the priest Nathan from Bethlehem, descended from the tribe of Levi. She married Saint Joachim (September 9), who was a native of Galilee.

For a long time Saint Anna was childless, but after twenty years, through the fervent prayer of both spouses, an angel of the Lord announced to them that they would be the parents of a daughter, Who would bring blessings to the whole human race.

The Orthodox Church does not accept the teaching that the Mother of God was exempted from the consequences of ancestral sin (death, corruption, sin, etc.) at the moment of her conception by virtue of the future merits of Her Son. Only Christ was born perfectly holy and sinless, as Saint Ambrose of Milan teaches in Chapter Two of his Commentary on Luke. The Holy Virgin was like everyone else in Her mortality, and in being subject to temptation, although She committed no personal sins. She was not a deified creature removed from the rest of humanity. If this were the case, she would not have been truly human, and the nature that Christ took from Her would not have been truly human either. If Christ does not truly share our human nature, then the possibility of our salvation is in doubt.”

In the icon, Saints Joachim and Anna are depicted with their eyes directed downwardly in humility, as they contemplate the Mother of God. Young Mary stands in the air with outstretched hands; under Her feet is the tree of the Garden of Eden from which Adam and Eve partook, and a man who personifies the devil which strives to conquer all the universe by his power. Through the conception of the Mother of God, the curse of the tree, and the power of Satan are crushed under the dainty step of a young maiden girl.

As I have often stated, this commemoration is one of the Feasts of our parish, as St. Anna is (most intimately) involved. Therefore, His Eminence will be with us for this occasion and remain to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, December 11th.

May the Conception of the Mother of God continue to bless and inspire all of us to holiness, patience, trust, faith and humility.

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony