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Great Lent: Rejoice in the Fast

by Dn. David Smith

Smith - Version 2This winter has given many of us “snow days”—days of grace and contemplation because of a winter storm, when life is “forced” providentially to slow down and our agendas com-pelled to yield to the greater work of God. It is an opportunity granted to us for refreshment if we but step into it and receive it with faith, hope, and love as God’s gift.

Such is Great Lent, the Great Fast. We have entered into this providential season of contemplation and of grace: of prayer and of fasting and of almsgiving. Like the other fasts, this one is afforded to us by the Church for our renewal through the personal and communal practice of intensified spiritual disciplines. It is the Great Fast, however, because of its more intense rigor, a rigor preceding and leading us into the Resurrection of Christ God, a rigor worthy of the Church’s participation and of the Great and Holy Pascha. It is a holy season and a divinely appointed opportunity for our spiritual renewal and reclamation (shades of Ebenezer Scrooge here).

But, the question is: Will we receive this holy season as a gift of utter grace for our salvation or will we bear it, begrudge it, put up with it, tolerate it, resent it, and not find joy in the salvation it offers us? May we not forget last month’s parable of the elder brother of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). It is the younger brother, the prodigal, who tends to get our attention and limelight. (Pesky younger siblings and troublemakers tend to!)

ProdigalSonA

Icon of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24), courtesy of oca.org.

However, this parable of our Lord is just as much about the older brother as it is about the younger. It is a sad commentary that the elder—and obviously, more responsible—sibling could not rejoice in the return of the family’s black sheep to the fold. Perhaps it takes the heart of a father to thoroughly bask in such a return or repentance.

But, at the same time, it certainly is not out of the question for such joy to be shared by all in the family, including the dutiful older brother. Sadly, despite never leaving the family estate and the preserve of his father, the dutiful elder son of the family could not tolerate such wasteful extravagance on someone who had obviously failed and proven his unworthiness!

Sadly, having served faithfully his father “these many years,” going about his father’s business each and every day without so much as a request, the elder son, loved dearly by his father, had lost the joy (I wonder, did he ever have it?) of being a part of the family, of celebrating the fact that he was the son of so loving and forgiving a father as his. It is so very easy to “neglect [the joy] of so great a salvation” (Heb. 2:3) when we get focused solely on our fulfill-ing of “obligations” and start comparing ourselves to others who may not be living up to our standards. Insidiously, the old devil turns our attention from whence we have come and saps our hearts of the joy of being made sons and daughters of our heavenly Father by Whose utter grace “we live, and move, and have our [very] being” (Acts 17:28)

In these holy days of “obligation,” the Church invites us to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:12) in the midst of the “duty” of our Lenten labors, basking in the sublime reality that we are profoundly loved by God our Father, though unworthy sinners that we are. Through the coming of our true elder Brother, Jesus Christ, in the flesh we have all been made children of the Most High to share in the joy of His Kingdom (Rom. 14:17-18).

Schedule Your Home Blessing Online

Every year, the month of January is set aside for home blessings for the entire parish. Several morning, afternoon, and evening shifts on varying days of the week have been reserved by location to allow Father John to bless homes expeditiously.

Related: Learn more about the Orthodox practice of blessing homes

In addition to using sign-up sheets located in the Narthex, this year you can request a house blessing online. Select a location below (ZIP Codes in parenthesis) to continue.

Eastern Centre County (16801, 16804, 16827, 16828, 16851) including Downtown State College, State College (S. Atherton), Boalsburg, Centre Hall, Houserville, Lemont, and Pine Grove Mills

Penn State Campus (16802)

Western Centre County (16803, 16868, 16870) including State College (N. Atherton), Park Forest, Pine Grove Mills, Port Matilda, and Stormstown

Northern Centre County (16823, 16853) including Bellefonte, Milesburg, and Zion

Snyder County (178xx)

All Other Locations

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Why Do Orthodox Christians Bless Homes?

by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

The Orthodox Church teaches that we do not have two separate lives—a secular one and a spiritual one–but one human life, and that all of it must be holy. We must not be Christians for just a few hours on Saturday and Sunday, spending the rest of our life godlessly that is to say, without God. The person who has united with Christ in the sacrament of baptism cannot be a part-time Christian, but must be faithful to Christ everywhere and at all times—in church, at work, at home, in relationships with other Christians, and in those with non-Christians. We must be faithful to Christ in the fullness of our life.

The Orthodox Church teaches us that a temple is not only a building in which we worship, but that we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16); that the Body of Christ is not only that of which we partake at the Divine Liturgy, but that we are the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27). And just as the Gifts of the Eucharist are treated with reverence and kept in sanctified vessels in the altar, so should every Christian’s life be full of reverence and sanctity not only during a church service, but likewise outside the walls of the temple. A Christian’s home must become a small temple, a small Church.

The Church blesses the very foundation of a home in the same way that it blesses the foundation of a church; it blesses a new Christian home in the same way that it blesses a new temple; and yearly, after the blessing of a parish temple with the water of Theophany, the Church brings this holy water into the homes of the faithful. The prayers for the blessing of a temple are different from those for the blessing of a home, because the function of a home is different from that of a temple, but the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit is one. And just as in the baptism of our Lord all of creation is washed clean and sanctified, every year after the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (January 6), Christians sanctify themselves and their homes with the water of Theophany.

The Church teaches us to sanctify everything: dwellings, places of work, all our pursuits, and the fruits of our labor. And just as a temple and sacred vessels, once sanctified and set aside for sacred use, can no longer be used for anything profane, in the same way a Christian washed in the baptismal waters, and his home, and all his works can no longer be the dwelling of sin and the works of Satan, but only and always the temple of the Holy Spirit and the fulfillment of the will of our Heavenly Father. This is why the Church blesses everything that can be found in a Christian home; and if something is not worthy of being blessed, then there should not be a place for it in the home of a Christian.

 

Traditional Holy Supper to be Served Christmas Eve

Holy Trinity Parishioners enjoy a final Lenten meal together before the Feast of Christmas.

On Christmas Eve beginning at 4:30 p.m., the parish will sponsor a traditional Holy Supper and everyone is invited.

(The custom of the “holy supper” comes from central Europe and parts of Russia and provided the family a time to gather and share the last meal of the Fast prior to attending the evening liturgical services.)

There are traditionally twelve Lenten foods served (representing the twelve Apostles) such as barley, honey, stewed prunes, pierogi, sauerkraut, potatoes, garlic, Lenten bread, and mushroom soup.

Please consider preserving (or starting) this family tradition by attending and sharing with your parish family a favorite Lenten food.

Sign up in the Parish Hall or online so that we may have an accurate count. Also, please email Mka. Kelly Oleynik if you have any questions and/or would like to assist with this event.

Christmas: Will it Be a Joy or a Letdown?

by Dn. Mark Oleynik

IMG_0378Many years ago, I had a conversation with a friend the day after Christmas and he said something which surprised me. He sadly said, “There is nothing more done than Christmas.” This was surprising because he was the most joyful and outgoing person you would ever want to meet—and a real ambassador of Christ. I learned much later that it was at that precise time he was going through a personal tragedy and that year Christmas was quite difficult for him. Fortunately, in time his pain eased and he was back to his old self. But I never forgot his words and what they meant to him that day.

In preparing for the Nativity of our Lord, most parents try to teach their children to be joyful givers. But we all know a child’s focus on Christmas is on “getting the gifts” and it’s probably likewise true for many adults. Most assuredly, parents do their best to provide at least some of items from their child’s wish list not to mention gifts for their spouse, parents, and friends. But when the presents are all unwrapped, the Christmas meal is over, and the house is probably turned upside down from the children and all the guests—do you feel kind of let-down? Do you feel Christmas is done?

In just the few short weeks preceding Christmas emotions are built up to a fever pitch: the shopping and baking, the plans to be made, and the endless commercials for the latest-and-greatest, all mixed in between the innumerable Christmas movies. To top it off, research shows that for many Christmas is one of the saddest times of the year. Not only sad memories of those who are no longer with them—but often the tragedies witnessed both in their families and in the world at large provide stark contrast to joy of the season. So, given the combination of too much emotion, too much excitement, too much to eat and to drink, and just the general chaos of the season…is it any wonder you might feel a slight letdown?

Certainly you and your family will receive wished-for presents, but will you receive the real gift at Christmas—the gift of Christ Himself? His peace, and joy, and presence in whom we find the only lasting source of Life. The true gift giver on this  and every day is Christ, but you must include Him on your Christmas list—invite Him to be the most important part of your life and your family’s life. Amidst all of the worship and singing of our grace and our customs, plan to take personal and family time and ask the Savior, “Lord, come and dwell with my family and me this day. Be by our side so that we may know and walk with you throughout all our days.”

If you have eyes to see it, the world is flooded with His joy. If you have the heart to receive it, your life will be touched by His. And if you have faith to live it, He will be with you all your days, and all your hours. For behold, truly we all have been given good news of great joy – for unto us, if we will receive Him, is born into our hearts Christ the Savior. And if we will receive this gift for Christmas, all our days will be blessed.

So what do you really want to receive this Christmas? What will you allow God to give you this Christmas? Will it really be the gift of Himself—or in all the busyness of the season will you not take the time and really ask Him.

It’s up to you. At the end of it all, Christmas can just be “done” … or it can be done rightly.

Extra Scoop

ANGELS APPEARING THIS MONTH!
Plan to stay after the liturgy on Sunday, December 21 for the annual retelling of the story of Christ’s birth by our Church School. Our students will once again present a living icon based on the Nativity scriptures, complete with angels, shepherds, wise men, and assorted animals. You will not want to miss it!

Holy Trinity Closes on Adjacent Property

Trinity House Blessing

Following a molieben (prayer service) of Thanksgiving to God following the Divine Liturgy on November 23, Fr. John led the parish in procession to bless and tour the newly bought facility. For more pictures, visit http://facebook.com/holytrinitysc.

by Fr. John Reeves

It’s official now: we closed on the former American Cancer Society building on the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos in the Temple (November 21) and our newly named Trinity House became ours.

The generosity of many parishioners and non-parishioners alike has enabled us to take this leap: Forward, Together, in Faith.

Over the next three months, we will review bids, hire a contractor, and oversee work on the project, hoping that we can move in sometime in February. But, as with any building or remodeling program, end-dates end up being flexible. If we can’t get in by then, we’ll simply take time this Lent working on being patient.

If you still would like to contribute to Phase II—a gift to be paid out over the next three years—and/or to donate all or a portion of the ADA restroom on the main floor (Phase III), your benefactions would be joyfully received.

Chapel Opens New Doors to the Community

In other news, beginning with Vespers this Saturday, December 6, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit will begin worshipping in the MACC on 67 Elm Street in Beaver Springs—the same location of the Family Fun Nights. The Chapel’s temporary relocation opens doors for new-comers, inquirers, and those that have expressed a need for a more central and accessible location. For a full schedule and directions, visit holyspirit-oca.org.

Holy Trinity to Provide Full Scholarships for Retreat

St Herman Retreat Flyer 2014As we have done in the past, middle school (grades 5-8) students are invited to participate in the St. Herman Middle School Retreat at the Antiochian Village in Ligonier.  The retreat will be conducted December 12-14 (this will be the Jr. OYA activity for December) and we would like have all registrations by this Sunday, November 16.

As a reminder, the Sunday School will cover tuition costs for registrations received by that time along with the transportation to and from the retreat.

There is approximately 20% discount if we register by this Sunday so your cooperation in being timely is appreciated.  The registration form can be downloaded here and may be submitted to Dn. Mark Oleynik, Director of Christian Education, either in person or through the “Contact Us” section of this website. (There is no need to complete the payment section of the form.
Download Registration Form

Parishioners Adopt Growth Budget for 2015

Logo (hi-res, color, with text)At the Annual Meeting today, parishioners unanimously voted to adopt a growth budget (10% year over year) for 2015 that funds expanded ministries and outreach operating out of three locations—Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in State College, a new parish and campus ministry center (Trinity House), and a new church building for the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Beavertown.

For more information on the 2015 Budget and to view the 2014 Rector and Ministry Leader Reports, please download the 2014 Annual Report.

Donate Online to Trinity House

Trinity House Logo (portrait)

Yes, I want to give to Trinity House!

Holy Trinity Orthodox Church is currently accepting secure online donations for Phase I until we reach our goal of $50,000 by the closing date (November 15, 2014). Your tax-deductible donation will be added to the church’s down payment, making Trinity House Parish and Campus Ministry Center a reality.

 

 

We also have immediate opportunities for donors to sponsor a specific room:

ADA Restroom   ($10,000)
Campus Center   ($7,500)   Donated!
Conference Room  ($7,500)   Donated!
Guest Suite  ($3,500)   Donated!
Kitchen  ($5,000)   Donated!

Donations can be given in honor or in memory of a loved one. If you would like to make a gift for Phase III, please email trinityhouse@holytrinity-oca.org or call the Parish Office at (814) 231-2855.

Knowledge Equals Knowing God

by Dn. Mark Oleynik

My daughter mentioned to me that she was hoping to take a test (the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, or psat for short) in a few weeks in preparation for taking the “real” college admissions test (the sat) in a couple of years. My wife and I agreed it was perhaps a good idea for her to take a test to get a feel for the testing procedures, types of questions, etc.

Remembering that I had taken this test many years ago when I was in high school, I have wondered what kind of score would I earn if I had to take the test now (I don’t remember what score I got so need to ask). But our discussion also got me to thinking: is there a “real” measure of what a person knows—not how much a person knows but rather what does a person know. These are two different questions.

There have been some great men and women in this world—people of great distinction, people of vision, people with great intellect—who do not find true happiness in this world, no real satisfaction. Some of the world’s greatest philosophers have lived an unhappy life. There are also a great many people who, outside of their professions, concern themselves about very little else. They read the daily newspaper headlines, check Twitter, watch some tv for news and sports but that is as far as their reading goes. But that is as far as their reading goes. But as to something higher or spiritual they remain unconcerned. They are merely concerned about the things of this world. So we see life consists not in how much we know, but in what we know.

Life does not consist in what we possess. Jesus said, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Life in many ways consists in knowing Jesus as our Savior and in knowing ourselves and our true mission in life. We cannot and will never know God in the fullest sense, but He has revealed Himself to us in such a way that everyone can have some grasp of Him and of His Son, Jesus Christ. And God has given to every individual the ability to look into His own soul and see how God works in him. To know Jesus and to know what He has done for us and what He means to us: these are vital items in one’s life. Do you want to know God and what kind of a God He is? Do you want to know what is His attitude is toward you; whether He is your friend and desires your happiness? If you are anxious about these things, then you want to know Jesus. Paul said, “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil. 3:8)

Dn. Mark at VBS 2014How may we know Christ better? A good start is the daily reading of Scripture and increased alertness in the House where He is proclaimed. Knowledge precedes faith. No man can hardly believe in anything that he does not know. Think about it, if you never heard of a thing in all your life, how could you believe it? People who do not read their Bibles and never come to a church where Christ is preached cannot truly know Him. Again, it is Paul who asks, “How can they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard?”

If we would know more about Jesus there would be a higher standard of living because we would live on a higher spiritual plane. If we knew more about Jesus and His principles of living we would fight more bravely against sin. If the world knew more about Jesus there would not be so many destructive forces which tend to undermine Christianity, degrade morality and destroy human lives. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Not only an intellectual knowledge, but to know Him in our hearts, to know Him in such a way as to experience Him, gives us a new life, new encouragements, refuge for disappointments and afflictions, and a burning desire to know more of Him and to be more like Him.

We should know ourselves and our purpose in life. It is the duty of every Christian to know himself, his sinful condition, his needs and his purpose of living. The sin of which we all are more or less guilty of is that we know others better than ourselves.

Often we are more concerned about other people’s business and faults than our own. However, our duty is to know ourselves and our relation to Christ. Ask yourself the questions, “What am I living for? Is my life to be spent for myself, or is there a higher purpose for my being here?” If we go to God in prayer and ask Him for wisdom from on high, we can rest assured that He will reveal Himself to us more fully, and we will be able to know more about our mission in life. The more we know and experience Him, the more eager we are to know.

Life and happiness do not consist in what we have, what we possess, but in what we are, what we do. It is not enough to have knowledge of God but to, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” This teaches us to practice what we believe and know. Our knowledge is vain and fruitless if it is not reduced to practice. Know in order to do.

No matter how much we know about our faith, if we are not doers of God’s will at the same time we are not living in harmony with the principles of Christ. It is not enough for a citizen merely to know the laws of his country, he must also live up to them; he must conduct himself according to those laws. The same holds true with every Christian in relation to God’s will. The mere fact that Paul became a Christian, with great faith in Christ, did not make him an outstanding personality in Scripture and in the work of God’s Kingdom. But it was the unceasing efforts that he put forth to do the will of God that was the keynote of his life. Paul was a learned man, he was capable of holding high position in secular work, but he was willing to renounce self and to give to that which God had in store for him.

To do the will of God means to renounce self, to renounce submit oneself to Christ. So many of us would like to be like Christ but we find it too difficult to renounce our own will and to be obedient to the will of God. It is quite easy for us to be Christ-like on Sunday but during the rest of the week we follow our own inclinations. Does that mean we forego everything that has been given to us? Not necessarily, but it does mean we must be like Christ in all of our daily walks of life. It means that what we do, determines our Christianity. The little word “do” is key to our life. Doing—not for oneself, but—for the glorification of God.

The fundamental principle of all this “doing” is love. Christ has given us the greatest possible pledge of love in the Cross. He has died for us, and thus, He asks us to live for Him and to love sacrificially. Our love of God will afford us joy and will bring us new experiences of His love. Life will mean more to us.

A person’s life is not defined by what he possesses or in how much he knows—it is about what and Whom he knows. Know God and experience His grace and love, and, in turn, you will know yourself.