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One Day at a Time This Year

by Dn. Mark Oleynik

Dn. Mark teaches Vacation Bible School participants about the Hours (1st, 3rd, 6th, and 9th) that can be prayed to sanctify the day.

Do you make a checklist of all the things you want accomplish each day? Have you ever noticed that by the end of the day the list seems to be longer than when you started? You’re not alone—overdoing is a social epidemic from which people of all ages can suffer. It seems to me that “do not overdo” may be a healthy commandment which could be added to deal with our modern lifestyle.

Because we want to do so many things so quickly, much of our worry is due to our mistaken view of things. We look too far ahead. The magnitude of life daunts us. We add tomorrow’s task to today’s and then of course the burden becomes too heavy. If we think about it, we truly never have anything to do on any given day but just the bit of God’s will for that day. But what part of daily lives do we dedicate to do God’s will? 

Related: Register online for Sunday School.

Starting with the understanding that we must take care of our families, perform the work that our employer expects, eat, take care of our home, and so forth, we are reminded that the “heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:32). These take up the abundance of the day and fill it with activity. But we also must consider the sin of omission in our daily lives. In Matthew 25, we read that at the Judgement Seat of Christ we will need to account for those things which we did not do. It is not the big things we may have done (and for which we have sought forgiveness) but rather the little things we did not do that leads to our peril.

These could be the calls or visits of help we did not make, the words of cheer we did not speak, the letters we did not write, or the hungry we did not feed—all lost opportunities to do His will due to our inactivity.

Why do we leave so many things undone in our lives? Partly through sheer thoughtlessness, no doubt. Many omit the good deed not through want of heart but through want of thought. And yet it is just that very thoughtlessness which God calls for us to account. However, even more critical may be the emphasis we put on this life. We magnify the insignificants, pour out our energy on things which perish, and ignore the realities that alone count in the eternal scale. We spend our days “working our list” but not working God’s will—the things which call for our most constant care and deepest thought. 

As we begin this ecclesiastical New Year, let’s make our resolution to “seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Put the emphasis in your daily life on His service and glory and leave nothing undone which the Lord commanded.

Happy New Year!

EXTRA SCOOPS

  • New School Year. Sunday School begins on September 10. We look forward to sharing the teachings and Tradition of the Church to build a firm foundation for our students to lead a life in God’s image. Sunday School supplements and reinforces the work of our parents in the Christian formation of their children. Many thanks to our staff of dedicated teachers for their ministry each week throughout the year. (NOTE: Registration will be conducted online this year. You are asked to enroll your child early for planning purposes.)
  • Sunday School Picnic. Our annual picnic is planned for September 17,
    4:30 p.m., at Circleville Park. All families are encouraged to join in fellowship (and s’mores!). 
  • “Youth Equipped to Serve” Mission Trip. For the middle/high school students, there is a YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) mission trip planned in Pittsburgh this September 29-October 1. Please mark your calendars, as the number of participants may be limited. More details will be provided via the bulletin and website once registration opens.

From Pascha to Pentecost

by Mary Lanser

Hear my cry O God, listen to my prayer from the ends of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint. Lead me to a rock that is higher than I for you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” (Psalm 60:1-3)

“Lead me to a rock that is higher than I”—What an odd little petition. To paraphrase: Get me out of here, O Lord! Lead me to a cave in the mountains so that I may stand on the ledge and listen for Your voice. Set me on a rock in the middle of a rushing river swollen by floodwaters tumbling fast and dangerous, or on a startling desert-stone formation to take my feet up away from burning sands. What are we to make of this?

Sometimes the images that we conjure when we call upon God to rescue us in a hurry are amusing. We are like a child with its arms raised begging to be picked up so to see what’s going on in a moment of confusion, or to be rescued from some overwhelming contact with the world at ground level, or simply to seek a restful moment on a strong shoulder. Sometimes we only need a moment to catch our breath. Other times we long for and seek something more enduring.

Luke opens the Book of Acts telling us about the post-Resurrection Christ on earth: “To them (the Apostles) He presented himself living, after His passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking of the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) The language of the Christ presenting Himself “living” to the Apostles after his Resurrection indicates that after His Passion our Lord was exercising the agency of His divinity here on earth, making manifest the Incarnation in a way that the world had never experienced before. This was indeed the same Christ who was presented to us by his holy virgin mother at his Nativity, and the same Christ presented to us in his robe of royal purple and crown of thorns by Pontius Pilate as he said to the crowd: “Behold the man!”

The Risen Christ was and remains the Son of the Living God, second person of the Holy Trinity, but there had been profound changes at the time of His Resurrection. Here in the time between the Resurrect-ion and Pentecost the Apostles met Jesus the Christ who had been raised in power and in glory and whose body was no longer subject in any way to the corrupt-ion, weakness, and mortality of fallen human nature. He was truly and fully the New Adam, and in this glorified and corporeal emblem of eternal life, He demonstrated to the Apostles, and to all of us, what we can also anticipate if we are, as the Son was, willing to accept gracefully the death that is granted to us by the Father, so that we may have life eternal.

Jesus not only speaks of the Kingdom, but He, “living,” presents it to us voluntarily and bodily. There is no separating the Kingdom from God, for they are one as the soul and body are one and we are made in the flesh to be seerers and partakers of the Kingdom which He presents to us in the flesh. During the time between the Resurrection and Pentecost, the time for His teaching us has passed, and has been replaced by the time for showing us how to be and become one with the Kingdom in body, mind and spirit. As the great apostle Paul says:

“Therefore my brethren you also have become dead to the law through the Body of Christ, that you may be married to another–to Him who was raised from the dead that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the code of the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what held us captive, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.”  (Romans 7:4-6)

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While we wait for the day of the Holy Spirit, we encounter a number of important liturgical moments.

Icon for Thomas Sunday (courtesy oca.org)

The first is the Sunday of Thomas where we are reminded again of Christ’s passion and death. Looking back now we realize that the Christ of our salvation is known to be true by the stripes and wounds of his passion and crucifixion. Christ Transfigured is truly Christ Crucified and Resurrected. The Risen Christ breathed the Holy Spirit into the Apostles on Thomas Sunday. This is a foretelling of what is to come and why it is necessary. Pentecost comes to present, to us individually and intimately, the living power and promise of the Cross.

The next is the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women. Though we read from the Gospel of Mark on that day, it is in the Gospel of John (chapter 20), where we read that “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Why are you weeping?”

Icon for the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women (courtesy oca.org)

This is a striking image and message for it harkens back to the Mosaic covenant of which the Risen Christ is the fulfillment. In Exodus 25, we read: “And you shall put the mercy seat atop the ark and in the ark you shall put the covenant that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the covenant, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.” And Christ presented himself, living, to the Apostles and spoke to them of the Kingdom of God.

The next three Sundays take us back to key moments in the life of Jesus, for us and for the season. The first Sunday in this grouping gives us the story of the miraculous healing of the paralytic, the next is the story of the Samaritan woman and the third is the Sunday of the story of the man born blind. The one element that draws all of these stories together into a resurrectional theme is water. The Sheep’s Pool for the Sunday of the Paralytic. Jacob’s Well for the Sunday of the Samaritan Women, and the Pool of Siloam for the Sunday of the Man Born Blind. As we wait for Pentecost these three Sundays remind us that through the Power of the Holy Spirit we all partake of the living water that comes down from heaven.

Icon for the Sunday of the Paralytic (courtesy oca.org)

The Sunday of the Paralytic signals Jesus’ resurrectional power over the body, over flesh. for the paralytic had been ill for decades and in all that time there was no one to help him in his disreputable state. Even such deep-seated and resolute weakness can be restored in faith. This story also draws our attention back to the mercy seat by making clear the relationship between sin and physical illness. Jesus says to the man, “See, you are well! Sin no more , that nothing worse befall you.” (John 5:14)

The story also demonstrates that some of us will be healed indirectly by the powers of heaven, and others will receive direct healing by the power of the risen Christ. Therefore we see that some are healed by the angel disturbing the water in the pool and others are healed by Christ directly so that when the power of the Holy Spirit comes into the world at Pentecost, we are strengthened in knowledge and in power to be one body in Christ. to love and heal one another in Christ, Jesus and know that his healing power is still active in this world.

Icon for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman (courtesy oca.org)

Now before we advance to the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman there is another crucial moment in our waiting for Pentecost. As there is a Sunday of mid-Lent, with its focus on the Cross, there is also a mid-Pentecost, falling on Wednesday, which has as its focus the pouring out of the Holy Spirit as we experience the pouring out of the Living Water that is Christ, Jesus. The reading for that day comes again from the Gospel of John (7:10-24) and tells of Jesus when he went into the Temple to teach in the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles.

The Feast of Tabernacles is significant because it celebrates the forty years that Moses and the Hebrew people spent in the desert. The Feast of Booths/Tabernacles is directly associated with the Passover and Hebrew Pentecost which is the Feast of the Law and is celebrated, traditionally, fifty days after Passover and marks the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. There is also a direct reference in the reading to the fact that the Temple priests seek to kill Jesus for healing the paralytic on the Sabbath. Jesus reminds them that circumcision is a part of Mosaic law, and circumcisions are performed on the Sabbath. He asks then why it is that the law would allow the act of circumcision on the Sabbath, and yet punish an act of healing for the whole body on that same day. And so we are once again reminded of the suffering and sacrifice of the Cross to heal and restore the consequences of the disobedience and ingratitude of mankind. In addition to the reference to the Law in this feast, there is yet another liturgical connection made between the Sunday of the Paralytic and the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman by associating the water from the rock struck by Moses that is celebrated during the Feast of Tabernacles, and the living water that comes down from heaven and it is reflected in the Tropar and Kontak of the feast:

Having come to the middle of the Feast, refresh my thirsty soul with streams of piety; for Thou, O Saviour, didst cry to all: Let him who thirsts come to Me and drink. O Christ our God, Source of Life, glory to Thee.  — Troparion, Tone 8

When the Feast of the law was half over, O Lord and Creator of all, Thou didst say to the bystanders, O Christ our God: Come and draw the water of immortality. Therefore we fall down before Thee and cry with faith: Grant us Thy bounties, for Thou art the Source of our Life.  — Kontakion, Tone 4

The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman is noteworthy for a number of reasons. For example, Jesus was passing through Samaria on his way to Galilee, actually to avoid a confrontation with the Pharisees in Judea who were noticing that Jesus seemed to have more followers than John the Baptist. When we arrive at Jacob’s Well—tying the new covenant back to the old—Jesus asks a Samaritan woman to give him something to drink. This is not the only place where Jesus indicates that He wants us to offer Him small, mundane kindnesses as a gesture of our regard for Him and our love. Sometimes He requests material things and sometimes he asks that we give something of our internal or spiritual selves, even if it is only refraining from some small habit of sin. He asks this of us so that we may increase the room in our hearts for Him.

Then we have a most obvious reminder that Moses brought forth water from a rock, and it quenched a temporary thirst, but Jesus comes to offer us the Water of Life because so we will never thirst again. The water that He offers becomes a wellspring within us, which we can share with others, as long as we give to Him those bits of ourselves that make room in our hearts for Him. Pentecost brings with it the Power of the Holy Spirit that gives us the strength, the means, and the place—the Church—to be filled with the water coming down from heaven.

Icon for the Sunday of the Blind Man (courtesy oca.org)

The following Sunday is the Sunday of the Man Born Blind, and here we add Light to the thematic theological symbol of Water. We are brought face to face, once more, with the Risen Light of the World, fully alive, still teaching, and illuminating the Apostles concerning the Kingdom of Heaven. A kontakion from the canon, enforces this fact:  “With eyes that are spiritually blind I come to you, O Christ and like the man who was blind since birth, I cry out to you with repentance: You are a shining Light to those who are in darkness.” This vivid association between water and light cannot help but to remind us of the power of our Baptism in water and the Spirit.

Again during Matins of that Sunday we hear: “You gave sight to the blind man who met you O Christ and you ordered him to wash in the pool of Siloam that he might see and announce your divinity which has appeared in the flesh for the salvation of all.”

And this brings us to reflect on yet another common element found in each of the three Sundays: the Paralytic, the Samaritan Woman, and the Man Born Blind. These three stories each bear the element of witness to the divinity of Jesus:

“Behold the anointed Messiah has appeared on earth. The Samaritan woman proclaimed to the town: It was written in the Law of old that a great prophet would come both God and man. He knew all my deeds. He uncovered everything hidden in the depths of my heart. The whole town ran and saw the truth of her words. They marvelled confirmed in faith by the sight.”  — Wednesday Vespers of the Week of the Samaritan Woman

“Jesus went up to Jerusalem to the Sheep Pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda…The Lord saw there a man with a chronic illness and He asked Him: Do you want to be healed?…I have spent my money on physicians and received no help from any one. The Physician of soul and body said to him: Take up your pallet and walk; proclaim to the whole world the greatness of my mercy and my might deeds.” — Monday Matins of the Week of the Paralytic

On these three Sundays of great miracles, we are to witness the divinity of Jesus to the world and the promise of Christ to send the Holy Spirit is to give to us, through the Church, the power to be and become disciples who will not hesitate to speak out in the assembly and give testimony to the glory of the Lord of Hosts.

Icon for Ascension (courtesy oca.org)

And finally we reach the penultimate feast, that of the Ascension and now we can return to Psalm 60 and the rock that is higher than I, as we take leave, liturgically, of the Paschal feast, and Jesus returns to the Father to be seated at the right hand. The Feast is full of references to mountain-tops.

“God who appeared on Mount Sinai and gave the Law to Moses the prophet is now raised up bodily from the Mount of Olives. Let us praise Him all together, for he is clothed in glory.” and then “O Christ, You raised up human nature which had been subjected to the corruption of the grave, and you exalted it by your Ascension into heaven where you glorify us with You.” — Matins of Ascension

So that the Rock that is higher than I is, in fact, Jesus, Lord, Redeemer, King.

It is also on the Feast of the Ascension during Matins that our attention is turned fully to what is to come: “O graciousness which surpasses understanding! O mystery which invokes wonder! The Master of the universe goes from earth to heaven and sends the Holy Spirit to his disciples to illumine their hearts and enkindle them with his grace. The Lord said to his disciples: Remain in Jerusalem and I will send you a Paraclete who is seated with the Father and with Me…”

Icon for the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council (oca.org)

Finally, the Sunday after the Ascension is called the Sunday of the Holy Fathers and commemorates the bishops who sat at the Council of Nicea. It is not the sanctity of individual bishops that is the focus of this feast but rather the fact that these bishops gave testament to the divinity of Christ. In this way the Sunday of The Holy Fathers carries forward the message of witnessing from the Sundays of the miracles and draws attention to the intimate relationships between and among Christ, ourselves, the Holy Spirit and the Church.

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The focus of the Feast’s readings from Acts is on Paul’s pastoral care of the flock and of the importance of teaching right doctrine and the importance of the Holy Spirit in securing the testimony of the Life of Christ and our lives in Christ: “…now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there…For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God, therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to shepherd the church of God which He purchased by His own blood.” (Acts 20:22-28)

In this way, we are prepared to address the various themes presented to us at Pentecost. We begin to see the need for the illumination of the Holy Spirit so that we have the power to be and become what Christ has asked of us here, to be witnesses to the Truth, and to go and make disciples. We begin to see that for us to do these things the Holy Orthodox Faith and Orthodox Church has been bequeathed to us as the sure path to salvation for ourselves and for all whose lives we manage to reach out and touch. We come to realize that as the Body of Christ, the Church here on earth is indeed the Rock that is higher than I.

Blessed journey into the Feast!

Editor’s Note: Mary Lanser is the leader of Holy Trinity’s Women’s Ministry. You can reach her at women@holytrinity-oca.org.

Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen! From the Paschal Message of St. John Chrysostom:

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in no wise be deprived there of. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a Body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

About the Author: St. John Chrysostom (347-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, was a notable Christian bishop and preacher from the fourth and fifth centuries in Syria and Constantinople. He is famous for eloquence in public speaking and his denunciation of abuse of authority in the Church and in the Roman Empire of the time. He had notable ascetic sensibilities. After his death he was named Chrysostom, which comes from the Greek Χρυσόστομος, “golden-mouthed.” The Orthodox Church honors him as a saint (feast day, November 13) and counts him among the Three Holy Hierarchs (feast day, January 30), together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. (from orthodoxwiki.org)

Women’s Day Retreat to be Held this Saturday

The abbess of the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Mother Christophora (Matychak) will lead women in a day retreat devoted to prayer, worship, fellowship, and mutual support from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 11, 2017. Worship will bookend the retreat with the Memorial Divine Liturgy for the second Saturday of Lent in the morning (9 a.m.) and Great Vespers in the evening (6 p.m.). Services will take place at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, 119 S. Sparks Street, State College, with sessions and meals taking place next door at the Trinity House Ministry Center, 123 S. Sparks Street.

The retreat, entitled “Preparing for Christ,” will examine the life of Princess Ileana of Romania, who became Mother Alexandria and the founder of Transfiguration Monastery. Using the theme of prayer and watchfulness with the biblical book of Nehemiah and Holy Tuesday’s Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids as backdrops, Mother Christophora will offer two sessions of instruction with a group discussion after each one. A third session allowing participants an additional time for questions will conclude the day spent together. 

Mother Christophora will be joined by Mother Seraphima, née Sister Helene (Krenitsky), a Penn State graduate and former president of the Penn State Orthodox Christian Fellowship (Mechanical Engineering, ’05) who joined Transfiguration Monastery in 2009 and was recently tonsured to Little Schema by Archbishop Nathaniel, the monastery’s overseer, on December 31, 2016.

The schedule is as follows:

9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.  — Memorial Divine Liturgy
10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. — Continental Breakfast/Fellowship
11:30 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. — Session I
12:45 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. — Lunch
2:00 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. — Session II
3:15pm – 4:00 p.m. — Time for Q&A

The retreat is offered to all area women free of charge and is sponsored by Holy Trinity’s Women’s Ministry. Attendance at the ministry’s Tuesday night bible studies on Nehemiah this Spring will be a benefit to participants, but is not required; and all women are welcome to attend one or all of the sessions and meals. (Registration is required, however, so an appropriate amount of food can be prepared.) Please email women@holytrinity-oca.org or call 814-231-2855 to learn more or to RSVP.

 

Some Advice from our Parents Sessions

by Dn. Mark Oleynik

Advice: You can hardly go anywhere without getting it from someone or something, whether it be from the magazine rack at the checkout line, the millions of self-help books, the television shows that are on 24/7, or your co-workers, neighbors, and family. Just open the browser on your computer or phone and you could miss several meals getting immersed in trying to find the best way to get a fast start in the morning to how to get a good night’s rest—and everything in between. Even more, we are mostly being given advice without asking. (Good thing most of the time, it’s free.)

The right place to start looking for good advice is in your Bible since Paul tells Timothy that all scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). You can also look to your elders, clergy, and to people whom you respect and have something in common.

During one of our Parents Sessions, parents were asked to provide what advice they would give to other Orthodox Christian parents for raising a child. Here are some of their pearls of wisdom:

  • Pray more for them and with them every day.
  • Support your spouse.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know what you are doing.
  • Look for comfort and answers in the Bible.
  • Pause: you don’t need to answer every question immediately.
  • Stay in touch with the Church, your faith, and trust God.
  • Teach by example.
  • There will be many bumps in the road.  Think ahead.
  • Make the Church relevant and alive to them every day.  
  • Don’t worry about small things worry about eternal things.
  • Listen carefully to everything kids say and teach them to listen to others.
  • Go to church as much as possible and as often as possible.
  • When bad things do happen, assess if it will be important in ten minutes and/or in ten years.
  • Use the saints as examples of real heroes. 
  • Love regardless.
  • Trust your kids.
  • Make every opportunity an opportunity for kids to realize others needs before their own.
  • Simplify your life and enjoy your children.
  • Read Scripture at mealtime.
  • You create normal for your children. Icons, prayers, church aren’t weird or counter-cultural when your child is immersed in the life of the Church.
  • Let your children be themselves. 
  • God’s love is unending—make sure you child understands no matter what God will still love him or her—and so will you. 
Editor’s Note: Parents Sessions are held monthly after the Liturgy. Topics discussed focus on the challenges and joys of raising Orthodox Christian children in a secular world. All parents are invited (your child need not be enrolled in Sunday School.)

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.

Angels Appearing this Month
Plan to stay after the liturgy on Sunday, December 18 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!

 

Dn. David Smith to be Ordained a Priest on June 18

Deacon David and Matushka Brenda Smith.

Deacon David and Matushka Brenda Smith.

By the Grace of God, Dn. David Smith will be ordained to the Holy Priesthood by His Eminence Archbishop Melchisedek the weekend of Pentecost—the patronal feast of both Holy Trinity and its mission outreach, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

Providentially and fittingly, the event will take place at the Chapel (145 North Kern Street, in Beavertown) where Dn. David has faithfully served as co-founder and administrator for several years. It will occur during the Saturday, June 18 Memorial Lit-urgy at 9 a.m., with a celebratory reception to follow at the Beavertown Firehall on 222 South Sassafras Street.

Reservations are required for the meal only by calling (814) 231-2855 or emailing ordination@holyspirit-oca.org.

There is no charge to attend the formal reception, but a freewill offering is being collected in honor of Deacon David and Mka. Brenda for the Chapel of the Holy Spirit Fund. Your generous gifts memoed “Smith Ordination” will help the Chapel and their newly ordained priest continue their ministry to the people of the central Susquehanna Valley. Thank you.

Before being received into Orthodoxy, Dn. David served as a Lutheran pastor for 20 years. He helped to establish the Chapel in 2008, and hosted services in his home while the community prepared to build its new temple. To further the Chapel’s apostolic work, he was ordained to the diaconate on the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul (June 29) in 2013. Father’s first full liturgy as priest will be Pentecost at Holy Trinity (June 19, 10 a.m.). He will also serve the Holy Spirit Day (June 20, 9 a.m.) and Nativity of St. John liturgies (June 24, 8 a.m.) here at Holy Trinity before commencing weekly Sunday services at the Chapel.

Your prayers and presence are requested.

A Reflection on the Bridegroom Icon

BridegroomOur faith teaches that Christ became man so that we might by grace become God.  It is in this icon that we clearly see the import of this exchange. Here we do not see as we might expect, a groom full of joy and dressed up in handsome clothing, with a king’s crown on, and ribbons binding the hands of the couple as a symbol of how love binds them together. Rather,  in this icon we see a sorrowful Christ, a captive whose hands are bound, who is without a wedding garment, and who is wearing a crown of thorns.  It is here in this icon that we see Christ as having fully entered into the mess, the brokenness, the sorrow, of the Fall. He comes to his bride in humble clothing to match hers.

We know however, that the story does not end here. Although here He “weeps over Jerusalem” yet, “for the joy set before Him he endured the cross”—The joy over one sinner who repents, the joy of seeing His bride without spot or wrinkle, dressed in the glorious garment of His purity and light.  It is at Pascha that we will see the groom and bride as we expect in the fullness of joy and the beauty of holiness.

The Paschal Icon focuses our gaze on the Kingdom to come in hope and expectation, but it is in this icon that we are reminded of Christ’s example for us of how to live in a fallen world—that in the face of sin, love must be humble in order to act as a healing balm to the proud, love must be sacrificial and self-denying as a healing balm in the face of the selfishness surrounding us.  It is in this icon that we see what it means that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It is in this icon that we hear Christ saying, “As I have loved you, so you also must love one another.”

— Anna Stickles

Great Lent: Rejoice in the Fast

by Dn. David Smith

Smith - Version 2Winter has the potential to give 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).

Chapel of the Holy Spirit Opens in Beavertown

by Dn. David Smith

After nearly seven years of praying, worshipping, catechizing, planning, envisioning, and dreaming, a new Temple has been raised to the glory of God! And above it, a golden Cross has taken its place amidst the skyline of Beavertown.

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit was packed full of worshippers and well-wishers on the weekend of October 31-November 1. Sixty souls crammed into the 24-foot by 24-foot nave on Saturday evening to experience that which can only be experienced once in the life of a parish community—a service for the Opening of the Doors (Thyranoixia). Presiding were Fr. Mark Meholick, Dean of the Eastern Deanery, along with Fr. John and the Deacons of Holy Trinity.

Related: Coverage of the Chapel’s grand opening on oca.org.

The service of Great Vespers followed immediately thereafter with the evening being capped off by a fellowship hour. On Sunday morning, the first Divine Liturgy was served in the new Temple by Fr. John, along with Fr. James Chuta, a member o our extended parish family who has served and continues to serve both the Chapel and Holy Trinity from time to time.

Great support was once more abundantly evident by the attendance of parishioners from Holy Trinity! We here at the Chapel have been and are certainly blessed by all the love and support we have received over these years and know we will continue to receive from our mother church.

See More: View pictures of the event on the Chapel’s Facebook page.

We thank all who supported this great undertaking and all who have continually bolstered this missionary endeavor in a multitude of ways.

The work before us has just begun, to be sure, and at times seems daunting, but with your continued prayers and love and by the great mercies of God Who has called us to these efforts the seed of the Kingdom of Heaven will be planted and the sheaves of the harvest will be reaped.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord henceforth and forevermore!