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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter September 18, 2016

“I have not seen a beast or a living being ever since I came into the desert. I never learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and read from them. But the word of God which is alive and active, by itself teaches a man knowledge.” – St. Mary of Egypt

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Please pay special attention to the above quote from St. Mary of Egypt. I believe that we know her story well, for the fifth and final Sunday of Lent is dedicated to her unique and glorious story. But in case anyone has not had the opportunity to learn from her life, I offer this admittedly-brief synopsis of her story.

St. Mary was a woman of surpassing beauty and charm. Rather than glorifying for her renowned physical gifts, she turned her back on her Creator by living a life of excessive vulgarity and debauchery. She fell into every carnal sin imaginable in her “professional life” as a prostitute and in her personal time as someone who lived only to please herself.

One evening, a festal procession was entering a church, and as she attempted to follow the crowd, she found herself physically barred from passing through the door. The Mother of God was prohibiting her from defiling this holy place with her mere presence. Recognizing this mystical scorn, St. Mary repented and immediately thrust herself into the desert where she remained for over 40 years, living in complete isolation while constantly begging God for forgiveness of her countless sins.

The only way we even know she existed is because a sojourning priest by the name of Fr. Zosimos fell upon her in the wilderness, quite by accident. He gave her the holy Eucharist (the one and only time she ever received in her life), recorded her story, learned from her experiences and returned to visit her the following year, only to have found her lifeless remains where he had last seen her alive. She demonstrates one of the most dynamic and transformative conversions of the known Christian world. We give thanks to God for the lessons learned from St. Mary of Egypt’s life of excesses turned to virtues and perversion turned to absolute holiness.

So, why the Lenten lesson in September? As I stated previously, pay special attention to St. Mary’s words. She lived an entire, young life without ever knowing God, or even attempting to draw near to him. She matured into an adult, a fully-rational being, living as far from God as possible. But through her own efforts, and the Lord’s long-suffering patience, and her personal encounters, she drew more closely to His feet than few ever have.

During the month of September, most of our St. Anna Youth Ministry activities begin in earnest. Last Sunday, we blessed the beginning of our Sunday School year with over 75 students registered (not bad for our “little” parish). This Saturday, our Fall Altar Boy Retreat will take place, engaging our 18 boys and young men in team-building exercises, fellowship and processional rehearsals. You might not think it takes practice to serve in the Altar, but it does if we are to serve with dignity and grace.

And to inaugurate our JOY and GOYA ministries, we will have our Kick-Off BBQ next Sunday. If your kids are planning on participating, please be forewarned that they are coming home very, very, very messy.

I mention these things because unlike St. Mary of Egypt, our children have every opportunity to know God. As a youth, she had no relationship with Him, and that manifested in a life full of departures, declines and decay.

As the adults in our households, if we can prayerfully commit to engaging our children in matters of faith, we will give them a fighting chance to emerge victoriously over a world that will continually strive to break them down. If there is a service, bring your kids whenever possible. If there is an activity, allow them to participate. Their lives are filled with distractions and other responsibilities, but by making their spiritual lives a priority, they will have advantages that no other entity can offer.

They will be strong and vibrant Christians. They will have access to the Kingdom. They will be disciples and apostles. They will be inspired leaders. They will be the Body of Christ.

St. Mary of Egypt did not have GOYA or Sunday School. She did not have the Divine Liturgy or Lenten Retreats. She had to figure it out on her own after the Theotokos literally and physically kicked her out of the church. I am grateful that our children have a church that was literally created, by God’s grace, through the efforts, sacrifice and faith of their parents.

St. Mary had no companions, no books, no hymns, no teachers, no programs.

She is a most-revered saint and an example of complete transformation.

Imagine what our young people can and will accomplish!

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter September 11, 2016

“For You are the resurrection, the life and the repose of your departed, servant Matthew the Presbyter, our Erstwhile Brother and Co-Celebrant, O Christ our God, and to You we give glory, as to Your Father Who is Everlasting, and Your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Today, my message to you is a message of hope in a world filled with questions. Questions without answers, mysteries without discoveries and puzzles without solutions. It’s a message of joy in the face of sorrow. It’s a message of love because “love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (I Corinthians 13:4-7). Love never ends.

Love does not end when we breath our last breath. It does not cease when our heart pumps its final beat. It does not fade with time. It cannot just disappear.

And through Christ and the glory of His resurrection, and through the power of His redemption and by the gift of His forgiveness, we, like love, do not disappear. At the conclusion of this earthly life, we proceed, transfigure, await and glorify. Those of us left behind feel a void or absence when our loved ones depart this world. But please remember that the souls of those who return to the hands of their Maker, are active, vibrant, and, well…alive. They are alive!

The above, italicized caption from the Orthodox Funeral Service is in reference to Fr. Matthew Gilbert. But I also call your prayerful attention to Fr. Vasilios Thanos, a priest, friend, mentor and affectionate father-figure I enjoyed working with for nearly a decade, while ministering to the flock of St. Nicholas in Northridge, CA. Fr. Thanos passed away only days before Fr. Matthew. Their funerals will be celebrated simultaneously though one service is in California while the other in Arizona.

One priest lived a long, rich life. The other was taken from this world, far too soon. Fr. Thanos was born in Greece while Fr. Matthew was an American-born convert to Orthodoxy. Fr. Thanos was a priest for nearly as many years as Fr. Matthew lived, though Fr. Matthew was able to know the joy of grandchildren. Neither of Fr. Thanos’ lovely daughters are married. Fr. Thanos spent his entire, 50-year, priestly ministry in one parish while Fr. Matthew and his family were able to explore and meet amazing, new people through the course of his ministry.

Different lives. Different circumstances. Different departures. Both, however departed this world having preached the same Gospel, partaken from the same chalice and ministering to the one, same, Body of Christ. His Bride. His Church.

Please pray for the comfort of their families. Please pray for the salvation of their souls. Please recognize in their sudden deaths (yes, even at age 85, death can befall us suddenly) that life, though cliché, is short. Forgiveness is imperative; that is to say, giving and receiving it. Being thoughtful, gracious, generous and kind is the pattern of a joyful tenure. Minister to others. It’s not only the privilege of the priest to serve, for we are all ministers. We are all Christ-like servants.

The reason the Weekly Bulletin and this message is coming to you a day early, is because tomorrow evening, I will be at the viewing and Trisagion Service for Fr. Thanos, then participating in his funeral on Friday morning. How I wish I could be in two places at one time.

I suppose, in the end, I’m asking for your prayers, not only for the priest you know, but also for the one that you don’t.

May Their Memories be Eternal.

With Blessings of Love and Life,

Fr. Anthony

And always remember…that is, to never forget…the victims and families of the tragedy of September 11th, 2001.

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter September 4, 2016

“The Priest asked, ‘Teddy, do you say prayers before eating?’
‘No Father,’ little Teddy replied, ‘I don’t have to. My mom is a good cook.’”

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I know, I know. But I couldn’t resist.

I am dedicating this message, completely to last week’s celebration of our Parish Name Day Picnic, so why not begin with a prayerful tribute to good cooks? It is no small or insignificant feat to bring together, provide for, and entertain a couple hundred people on a Sunday afternoon.

But that is exactly what happened when we departed from a beautiful Divine Liturgy and drove to Canyon Rim Park to honor our Matron St. Anna, give thanks to God for the goodness He has showered upon our parish, and to spend some more time together. The afternoon was a true testament to the love we have for each other and the presence of the Holy Spirit Who binds us together. Really, is there a more beautiful community of which to belong?

Of course the hundreds of people who attended the Picnic would just be standing in a park were it not for the many people who assisted and provided in several ways to the success of our gathering. I would love to gratefully identify the following people for their acts of generosity in time, talents and donations.

Our Picnic Leaders are as follows:

Elaina Simos was the Picnic Chair and she did a remarkable job.

Our Food Co-chairs were – Mary Feotis & Sophie Wondolowski. Thanks, ladies!

Kids Games Chair – Pres. Andrea Savas. Fun was had by all!

Pilafi – Chuck Karpakis. Have Dutch ovens, will travel!

Salads and baked beans Chair – Pat Daskalas. Thanks, Pat!

Cookies – Donated by Phil & Liberty Mudrock. As if the dinner wasn’t good enough!

Melons – Donated by Gerard & Klea Gallegos. Nothing better on a warm summer afternoon.

Rolls – Donated by Barb & Harry Hillas. Good carbs, not bad carbs!

Music – Donated by Mike Varanakis. Also provided the microphone for a pre-meal prayer!

Drinks Chair- Carolyn Leitko. Thank you, Carolyn!

Soft Drinks – Donated by Beverly Bartell. “Bev,” short for beverage and you provided tons!

“Other” Drinks– Donated by and provided from his home barrels, Chuck Karpakis. Cheers!

Set up/clean up – Men’s Ministry team. No easy task, but it’s gotta get done. Thanks, guys!

Who brought salads? I’ll tell you, who brought salads: Connie Floor, Mae Georgelas, Denise Hoyle, Colette Khoury, Penny Mills, Elaine Petrogeorge, Tanya Smirnov, Elaine Zambos and Sandra Zoolakis. Thank you!

And who brought beans? Saunee Cairo, AnnaSophia Clark, Pauline Jensen, Liberty Mudrock, Bunnie Varanakis and Heidi Varechok brought beans! Tons and tons of beans!

Joanne Dokos picked up the chicken. Can’t have a fried chicken picnic without fried chicken, so much appreciated!

Sports equipment provided by Gerard Gallegos. Actually, Gerard provides smiles and laughter above everything else.

If there is anyone else who contributed in any way, I humbly ask your forgiveness for not mentioning you. Thank you for all you’ve done in secret.

The picnic was a tremendous opportunity to celebrate the end of the summer and bring us back into the fold of our church community. You may recall, a few months ago I gave you my “Top Ten Reasons not to come to Church during the Summer.” I think my flippant point was made in that last week, and for the past three months, our church has been nearly full almost every Sunday. You are a faithful people who don’t just come together for picnics and parties.

I am humbled by your desire to draw near to the Lord, feast at His heavenly Banquet and partake of His Mysteries. Though the timing may not have been intentional, our Name Day Picnic yielded the perfect opportunity to close out our vacation season and time of rest so that we can return, full-force, back to church and resume our normal schedule of ministries and activities.

Please pay attention to the accompanying flyers that will be distributed in the coming days which concern our calendar and schedule of events.

If you are out of town during this long Labor Day Weekend, please return safely to your homes, places of work and place of worship – St. Anna’s! If you are home this weekend, I trust we’ll see each other on Sunday. Where else would you possibly be?

And once again, thank you Picnic People! You truly gave us a day to remember.

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony
(I was the chairman of just showing up, eating too much, walking around and talking to people)

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter August 28, 2016

“On Sundays and feast days come to church, and falling down with reverence before God, be mindful of all the mercies you may ever have received from Him. Thank Him for them with all your heart, and as a sign of your thankfulness, promise to live as He has commanded you. This is a sacrifice most pleasing to God.” – St. Theophan the Recluse

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I love the above quote by St. Theophan in that he calls the faithful to action in our walk with Christ. Be mindful of God’s blessings, be thankful for His mercies, be attentive to His actions and fulfil your promises towards Him. And how do we accomplish this? Come to church!

“On Sundays and on feast days, come to church…”

Our divine services, most especially the Liturgy, are our blessed opportunities to encounter the living God who continually pours out His indescribable mercies upon us. Our very salvation was earned on the Cross of Christ, and sacredly perpetuates in the bloodless sacrifice of each Eucharistic celebration. And it is a celebration.

As Orthodox Christians, we mark time and construct the actions of our faith around a sacred calendar. Time is divided into hours, days, festal periods, seasons and annual commemorations. In God’s time (Kairos) there is no confined understanding of time. There is no past, present, or future, just…God. In our time (Chronos) we look back on the past, realize the present and contemplate the future. Our understanding of time is circular, yet linear. It operates in cycles, yet races past us, as a speeding train on an infinitely long, straight track. A mystery to be sure.

Although that speeding train never slows, it does have stops along the way. In the Orthodox Calendar, all expressions of the human condition are exercised and piqued along the way. The sorrows and the joys; the fasting and the feasting; sunrise and sunset; death and life. We live these realities simply by observing our Sacred Calendar, and actualizing what the calendar says on any particular day. How?

“On Sundays and on feast days, come to church…”

Consider the events of this week’s end and the beginning of the next. This Sunday afternoon, we will come together as a Christian family in celebration of our parish Name Day and Matron Saint Anna, the mother of the most holy Theotokos. As you’ve heard me mention several times before, it is a unique set of circumstances (all involving the calendar) that requires us to celebrate our parish Feast a month after the actual day. Between Pioneer Day (the secular calendar) and the fast/feast of the Theotokos in August (the sacred calendar) the scheduling of our events, and the living of our lives are affected.

And when we do come together for our parish picnic, the calendar says it’s a day of celebration. Fried chicken, carnival games, laughter, social interaction and multiple family gatherings will define the day. I am so looking forward to an afternoon in honor of St. Anna and the Greek Orthodox parish which God established in her name. Joy. Happiness. Fun.

Then, my Beloved in the Lord, the calendar flips – the page is torn off; the new day is tapped. It’s no longer August 28th. It’s August 29th. The church picnic is wrapped up, and we move onto one of the most sorrowful days in the course of the year. The calendar informs us of this day, the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.

“On Sundays and on feast days, come to church…”

Phyllis Meshel Onest thusly describes this solemn day: “In Matthew 14:1-12 we read about the cruel death of John the Baptist. John had publicly reprimanded Herod for taking his brother’s wife as his own, so Herod had him imprisoned. Although Herod really wanted John dead, he feared the many people who believed John to be a prophet. [Indeed, we in the Orthodox Church consider him to be the last of the Old Testament prophets.]

During his riotous birthday party, Herod was so pleased with the dancing of his wife’s daughter Salome that he promised her anything she wanted. Her mother prompted her to say, “the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” Even though Herod regretted his promise, he had to abide by it because his guests had heard him. So he commanded that John be beheaded and that the head be given to Salome, who in turn, gave it to her mother.”

On Sunday morning, the Day of the Lord, we will celebrate the Divine Liturgy commemoration of the Resurrection. A heavenly Banquet.

On Sunday afternoon, still the Day of the Lord, we will joyfully gather at Canyon Rim Park at 3:00 pm for our Name Day Picnic. Please don’t miss out on this opportunity to participate in our family day.

The calendar, the Sacred Calendar turns.

On Monday, August 29th, Orthros is at 9:30 am and the Divine Liturgy is at 10:30 am. We remember the unjust and violent death of the Baptizer. One of the three, strictest fast days of the Orthodox Church. How do we know this?

Check your calendar.

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter August 21, 2016

“For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” 2 Corinthians 4:5

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

By God’s grace and generosity, it has already been one year since I, together with our family, arrived in Salt Lake City to be with you, not as a visiting, home-town priest, but assigned to pastor the most dynamic and Spirit-filled community under His creation.

Two years ago, the Lord planted a Vineyard that would become St. Anna’s. We have been on a steady process of growth, ministry and service ever since. The Lord, through your diligent and prayerful efforts, has accomplished wondrous things through the establishment of this faithful parish – a parish which I feel will always be defined by…

The love of Christ and the love to others;

The service of Christ and the service to others;

The witness of Christ, and the witness to others;

The ministry of Christ and the ministry to others.

With these precepts as the backdrop of our collective purpose, I would like to highlight, as I’ve also presented within our Weekly Bulletin, the ministerial activities of our parish, as we begin the New Ecclesiastical Year in September.

As mentioned elsewhere, this list is not meant to be representative of all activities, ministries and organizations, here at St. Anna’s. It’s really a reminder of the ministries that we began a year ago, and went mostly dormant during the summer, has begun again in earnest. Take a look at what’s coming up on the St. Anna Calendar:

Altar Server Retreat (Boys in 3rd Grade through 12th Grade): An altar server retreat will be held on Saturday, September 17, 2016, beginning at 2:00 p.m. Join us for service training, altar server Olympics, dinner and an evening at the Rocky Mountain Raceway. Further details to come. Please contact Fr. Anthony if your son, who is of proper age, is interested in altar service.

St. Anna Youth Ministry Kick-Off Celebration: The St. Anna Youth Ministry Kick-Off Celebration will be held on Sunday, September 25, 2016, at 3:00 p.m., at the home of the Zoumadakis/Savas family, 2009 Waldo Drive, Holladay. Join us for a BBQ dinner, fun and planning for the 2016-17 activities!

JOY Ministry (1st Grade – 5th Grade): Our first JOY meeting will be held on Tuesday, October 25, 2016, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., in the fellowship hall. Remember that JOY generally meets the last Tuesday of the month, with additional service projects, parties, and outings.

GOYA Ministry (Jr. GOYA, 6th Grade – 9th Grade, Sr. GOYA, 10th Grade – 12th Grade): Please watch for announcements concerning the GOYA calendar and activities. GOYA will consist of home Bible Studies, service projects, outings, retreats and parties.

Sunday School: As previously noted, Sunday School classes begin Sunday, September 11, 2016. Please note, however, that students will remain in the church following Communion for the Appreciation Acknowledgement of our Teachers and the Blessing of the New School Year and the Sunday School Classrooms. Contact Fr. Anthony at franthony@stannagocutah.org or Kim Mallas at kmallas22@gmail.com with questions.

Orthodox Married Life (OML): The first meeting of OML of the 2016-17 season will be held on Friday, September 9, 2016, from 7:00-8:30 p.m. in the fellowship hall. OML generally meets the second Friday of each month.

Parish Family Nights: The first Parish Family Night of the 2016-17 season will be held on Friday, September 23, 2016, at 7:00 p.m. Details to come. Parish Family Nights are generally held the fourth Friday of the month.

Adult Bible Study: The first Adult Bible Study class of the 2016-2017 season will be held on Wednesday, September 21, 2016, at 7:00 p.m., in classrooms 8 and 9. Watch for further announcements.

Orthodox Christian Men’s Morning Prayer Breakfasts (OCM): The inaugural meeting of OCM will be held on Thursday, September 8, 2016, from 7:00-8:00 a.m. This group will generally meet the second Thursday morning of each month for prayer, inspiration, fellowship, spiritual growth and heightened awareness of leading the families of Orthodox Christian homes. We will soon announce the location, as we are identifying a facility located in the central Salt Lake Valley. This group will be the gathering point and communications hub for our St. Anna Men’s Ministry.

In the coming days, I will be meeting with the leadership of our Young Adult Ministry in order to further-develop our purpose, goals and objectives. Please know that we will be working conscientiously to:

Create a Seniors Ministry at St. Anna’s
Create a Byzantine Youth Choir
Redesign our Parish Website
Redefine, Repurpose and Energize our Men’s Ministry Group

There is something for everyone at St. Anna’s Greek Orthodox Church.

Get involved!

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter August 14, 2016

“Most Holy Theotokos Save Us.”

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As we find ourselves towards the end of the fasting period which precedes the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, our minds and hearts often turn to what troubles the mind and what pains the heart. Though suffering is not the entirety of the Christian experience, it certainly plays a key role in how our souls are sharpened, how our resolve is exercised and how our character is built.

Jesus Christ suffered on the Cross. Mary, His mother suffered as she endured the Cross. The Disciples suffered and were martyred for the sake of the Cross. Though our lives follow the same pattern, it is the Cross and glory which defines us; not the suffering or the anguish.

As we participate in the Paraklesis, this evening being the last of the season, we are called to identify the origin and purpose of our suffering. Where do we hurt? Why do we hurt? What hurt have we caused in others? Panagia removes these points of suffering from us through her tender prayers and intersessions before Christ.

I experienced pain, mostly physical, following what turned out to be a pretty serious cycling accident a couple of years ago. I didn’t think my fall was too bad at first, but reality soon set in. I spent numerous hours in prayer and contemplation searching for a reason for my fall. What lessons must I take from it? What message is being sent? Why this suffering and why now?

The answers to my questions were found in this season. During these days.

“Most Holy Theotokos Save Us.”

We repeat it over and over again.

The Theotokos does not save us from damnation. She does not, and cannot offer salvation. But her prayers, above all others’ are heard and answered. When we invite her into our most intimate and vulnerable spaces – where we hurt and where we suffer – our pains become her pains. Our anxieties, weaknesses, deficits, holes and wounds become her own, just as any good mother suffers the ills of her children. After three months, I eventually began walking again and getting back to a routine. I was grateful to have fallen during a time when I could attend the Paraklesis as part of my spiritual healing and inspiration.

And when we finally approach the occasion of commemorating her falling asleep on the 15th of August, we as Christians, receive the blessed assurance that a life lived in faith, patience, perseverance and steadfastness is rewarded in the end. Can we ever imagine how much hurt and pain she endured in this life?

She was a young maiden, given the most perplexing news from an angel sent by God. She was doubted and nearly rejected by the man who was betrothed to be her husband. On the occasion of dedicating her holy Child to the Temple as was accustomed in the Law, her pain and future agony was prophesized. She saw her Son’s life in danger from the moment He was born; being forced to flee into Egypt. She saw her Son grow and mature, only to be despised by the very children He created. She saw Him mocked, stripped, beaten, scourged, spat upon and hung on the Cross.

She buried her only Son.

And after a lifetime of pious obedience, she departed this world in peace. We honor this blessed repose on Monday as we celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos. We come together as her faithful children, and give thanks to our Father above who rewarded her faith with her body’s assumption into the heavens.

I’ve written this before. And I’ll write it again. We all suffer. We all feel pain. We all experience loss.

And so did she, the Mother of our God. She teaches us that suffering is strength, pain is an opportunity to bless, and losses in this world can lift up gains in the world to come.

Most Holy Theotokos Save Us.

In His Love,

Fr. Anthony

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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