2nd Sunday after Pentecost. Sunday of All the Saints of the Land of Rus’

 

On June 18, on the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, as well as Sunday of All Saints of the Land of Rus’, we had a nice celebration at St. George Church. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our parish temple. Following the Gospel reading he preached a homily in Russian.

In his homily the Rector pointed out that according to the Gospel story of Christ calling His first Apostles (Mt. 4, 18-23) that we heard today, the first Apostles very easy responded to the calling of Christ. This happened because they were very faithful and devout people who sincerely awaited the coming of the Messiah. But the same calling to follow Christ is also made for all of us. Not everyone is called to become an Apostle; this call is for those who wish to serve the Lord and the Church.  But everyone is called to follow Christ, to join Him in His Kingdom.
The Saints of Rus’ whom we honor on this Sunday also discerned that calling of Christ. From the beginning of our Christianity, the people of Rus’ embraced the true faith with sincerity and great zeal. The spirit of Christ made our Baptizer, St. Vladimir so meek that he refused to execute the criminals. The words of Christ calling to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5, 48) inspired many to become monks and nuns in the lands of Rus’, like Venerable Fathers Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves. And later many holy men and women – martyrs, hierarchs, venerable ascetics and righteous people were appearing in the lands of Rus’ and shining by their holy lives. And in the recent times of the turbulence and godless power our Church produced many new Saints, martyrs and confessors who refused to go with the flow of refusal of faith, but they chose the way to follow Christ. And all of them heard the same voice which called the first Disciples: “Follow Me”.
We should be happy that we have such a many Saints from our home country. For the most of us, they are related to us by flesh, they are our ancestors. They know our needs, they know our difficulties and shortcomings. And they pray the Lord for us. And we should ask them for their intercession and imitate them in their readiness to follow Christ in this life and in the life eternal.

The choir beautifully performed the hymns dedicated to the Saints of Rus’ during preparation for Holy Communion.

Following the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector preached a short sermon in English to explain main ideas of his Russian homily. He also congratulated our men on the occasion of Father’s Day. The traditional Polychronion (“Mnogaia leta”) was proclaimed.

Sunday of All Saints

 

On June 11, on the 1st Sunday after Pentecost the Church honored All the Saints who ever pleased the Lord by their holy lives. On this day Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our temple. Following the Gospel lesson he preached the following homily in English:

“Today’s 1st Sunday after Pentecost is dedicated to all the Saints. It is almost the end of our continuous celebration of the history of salvation. Thus, today’s feast is the result of all that has gone before it. The purpose of all the events in Christ’s life is to make Saints. That is the purpose of the Church, to make people holy. Today’s holy day is the feast of the identity of the Church, of Her sacred personality. For a Church that does not make Saints is not a Church, it is merely an institution which abuses the word “Church”.”
”What is a Saint? We should understand that Saints are not born, they are made. They don’t come from heaven but they grow here on earth to be in heaven. We are all born potentially to become Saints. The only difference between ourselves who are not Saints and the Saints, is that they are people who are continually picking themselves up after sinning, continually repenting until they attain holiness, while we give up.”
”We should also say that there are different kinds of Saints. For instance, there are Martyrs, the Saints who sacrificed their lives for Christ. Today we commemorate Venerable Martyr Theodosia who was an ascetic person, a nun but who had to become a Martyr for Christ. Speaking of Martyrs, we may say that some of them, unlike today’s celebrated Theodosia,  led very bad lives but then, when it came to the ultimate sacrifice, they found Faith in themselves, sufficient for them to prefer to confess Christ rather than live, and so sacrificed everything for Christ. We recognize their sacrifice and honor it.”

“However, in our time, in our land, it would seem that we are not called to be Martyrs, but Confessors. This is another kind of Saints. These are the people who suppose to live a Christian life, to be righteous, and to be an example for others. And at the time of persecutions they should be ready to become Martyrs. They should openly confess the Lord Jesus Christ. Another Saint whom the Church commemorates today is St. Luke of Simferopol whose icon is placed in the middle of the church today. He was a Confessor. He was ready to die for Christ but Divine Providence preserved him alive in persecutions. To that kind of holiness we are called in our times when the society becomes more and more remote from the Christian faith and Christian ideals. Our present day rulers are very often like pagan rulers of Rome. They don’t care about faith but wish to chase the faith out of the society. Thus we should become ready to confess Christ before them.”
“Today we should also say that characteristics of the Saints are also those of the Church. At every Liturgy and at morning prayers we sing and read the Creed, in which we confess that we believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. These words are also words that define the Saints.”
”The Saints are One because they are all together. In today’s Gospel, our Lord speaks of those who have followed Him who will judge the twelve tribes of Israel seated on the twelve thrones around Him. The Saints are One, they are united. The Saints are also obviously holy because the word “Saint” means holy.”
“The Saints are also Catholic. This word does not mean Roman Catholic. We mean “Catholic” in the original sense of the word. It means the same in all places and at all times. As I recently visited Mt. Athos, I learned that the main church of each monastery there is called the “katholikon” which is the gathering church. In Russian or Slavonic we say “sobor”. Thus in the Slavonic text of the Creed we call the Church “sobornaia”. In Greek it’s “katholiki”, Catholic. Today we commemorate all the Saints of all countries and of all centuries and of all backgrounds. We recall Saints of all ages, of all nationalities, men, women and children, the poor and the rich, the old and the young, the healthy and the sick. They all confessed the same Orthodox faith. The Saints are universal in time and space; they are “Catholic”, gathered together from everywhere. Finally, the Saints are Apostolic, for they share in the same faith and tradition as the Apostles.”’
”We may conclude our reflection upon the Saints by listening and fulfilling the command of the Holy Apostle Paul who is uttering to us the following words of today’s Epistle reading, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” (Heb. 12, 2).

After the Liturgy Rector and parishioners enjoyed delicious meals and a nice company at the coffee hour.

My Pilgrimage to Mt. Athos

by Archpriest Igor Tarasov


Continuing my story of the pilgrimage to Greece I will now come to describe my journey to the Holy Mountain Athos.

On Monday, May 29, in the afternoon I met my group of pilgrims that had to go to Mt. Athos at Thessaloniki airport. The group was headed by His Grace, Philaret, Bishop of Lviv and Halych, and included four other persons. After our meeting at the airport we went to the town of Ouranoupolis where we were supposed to receive our passes to Mt. Athos. We were given those documents and took a motor boat to sail for Mt. Athos.

It takes about a half hour to get to Mt. Athos from Ouranoupolis on a motor boat. Soon we moored to a pier of the oldest monastery on the Holy Mountain, Vatopedi. Hermits and monks began to live here from the 4th century, but the monastery itself was founded in the 10th century by three monks, Athanasius, Nicholas and Anthony, the disciples of Ven. Athanasius of Athos. Now it has a lot of monks and nice architectural objects.

Since it was late, we went to sleep and had to wake up very early for the church services.

Daily services at Mt. Athos usually begin at 5 am. We were given a leeway and asked to join the brotherhood at 6. Bishop Philaret was given the high throne in the church while all of us took the seats along the walls of the temple. In this way we prayed during the Matins and Hours and later participated in the Divine Liturgy which was headed by Bishop Philaret. It was an interesting experience to listen to the Byzantine chants and prayers of the Athonite monks.

Following the services we proceeded to the monastery refectory, the trapeza. It is an old building having the Byzantine marble tables made in the 8th century and later donated for the monastery. Very simple food was very delicious and healthy. It included lentil soup, fruits, vegetables, feta cheese and olives. All fruits and vegetables were locally grown, mostly at the monastery fields.

After finishing our trapeza we were invited to venerate the holy relics kept in Vatopedi monastery. These relics include the Precious Cincture (Belt) of the Most Holy Mother of God, a part of the head of St. John Chrysostom along with his ear, the Cross of Emperor Constantine and part of the relics of Ven. Joseph the Hysichast. In addition, the monastery temples keep several miraculous icons of the Most Holy Mother of God. These are the Icon of the Mother of God of the Altar (Vimatarissa), the Icon of the Mother of God Streaming of Oil, the Icon of the Mother of God the Queen of All (Pantanassa), and the Icon of the Mother of Consolation (Paramythea). We were very happy and spiritually uplifted to have an opportunity to venerate all these relics and the miraculous icons.

Vatopedi Monastery

It would love to stay at Vatopedi longer but our group had to visit other holy places. Thus, we drove to the kellia Maruda attached to the Serbian monastery Hilandar where elder Macarius leads an ascetic life. Elder Macarius was one of the Greek Athonite monks who preached and lived in the United States, along with elder Ephrem of Arizona. Now he prefers to stay on Mt. Athos. We were warmly welcomed by the elder, had a nice conversation with him. Then each person from our group had an individual meeting with the elder. Our plan was to go further but elder Macarius nicely invited us to have a trapeza with him, and we accepted that invitation. Again, the food was very simple but delicious and healthy.

Leaving very hospitable and deeply spiritual Fr. Macarius we drove to the other side of Mt. Athos, to Simon on the Rock Monastery, in Greek Simonopetra. The roads on the Holy Mountain are not finished and they are very bumpy. In addition, we had to climb or come down from the hills. But we endured these inconveniences.

The Simonopetra Monastery is beautifully situated on the huge rock above the sea. It is probably one of the most beautiful places of Mt. Athos. Coming to the monastery we visited the main temple and venerated the right hand of St. Mary Magdalene, the main holy relic of this monastery.

On the balcony of Simonopetra Monastery

View at Simonopetra Monastery

Our next place to visit on that day was the monastery known as Xenophontos. This monastery is known for its large library, as well as because it has a residence of the Ecumenical Patriarch. We prayed at Vespers at the Xenophontos main temple known for its best acustics on the Holy Mountain. This was also adorned by the fabulous voice of the monastery abbot, Fr. Alexy who proclaimed certain parts of the service. Following the Vespers we enjoyed delicious trapeza at Xenophontos refectory and later had a meeting with Abbot Alexy in his office. The monastery patron is Holy Great Martyr George, so, as Rector of St. George Church, I was especially uplifted to visit that place. We were given an opportunity to venerate a part of St. George relics, as well as the famous Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God “Showing the Way” (Hodegitria).

The yard of the Xenophontos Monastery

Evening trapeza at Xenophontos Monastery

The residence of the Ecumenical Patriarch at Xenophontos

Meeting with the Abbot of Xenophontos, Fr. Alexy

Our group near the main temple of Xenophontos

Our night accommodations were reserved in another famous monastery, the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon where we headed after visiting Xenophontos. We arrived there at sunset and were given relatively large rooms to spend a night. On the next morning, on Wednesday, May 31, we went to the main monastery temple to pray. At this early time, after the sunrise, we could see that the temple architecture here was influenced by the Russian style. We participated in the Matins service and the Hours. Services were held in Slavonic language. Then by the blessing of Bishop Philaret I joined him in celebration of the Divine Liturgy. It had been a special spiritual feeling to serve the Liturgy at St. Panteleimon’s monastery, a blessed place where many of the monks from Rus’ used to pray, serve and lead an ascetic life.

The main church of St. Panteleimon Monastery

Following the Liturgy all the monks and pilgrims were led to trapeza. The food at St. Panteleimon had already some Slavic influence: we had mashed potatoes which not usually eaten in Greece.

After the trapeza the pilgrims were offered an opportunity to venerate the multiple holy relics kept at St. Panteleimon Monastery: of Holy Great Martyr Panteleimon, foot of Holy Apostle Andrew, head of Holy Apostle Luke, parts of the relics of the Apostles Peter, Thomas, Philip, Bartholomew and Barnabas, part of the relics of Holy First Martyr Stephen and some other relics. We had also venerated the Jerusalem Icon of the Mother of God.

We left St. Panteleimon Monastery to return to Vatopedi where we had a scheduled appointment with its abbot, Fr. Ephrem. Arriving there we were warmly welcomed by Fr. Ephrem at his residence. We had delicious sweets and coffee at the residence balcony and conversed about a number of issues which concern Orthodox Church. Special attention, of course, was given to the life of the Church in Ukraine.

After a nice meeting with Fr. Ephrem we went to see a number of places on the Holy Mountain. We arrived in the St. Andrew Skete, a very large monastery built on Mt. Athos by the Russian tsars in the 19th century. Before Russian Revolution it had around 700 monks living there. However, following the disturbances in Russia most of the monks left that place. It later became taken over by the Greeks and now it is attached to Vatopedi Monastery. The main church of St. Andrew Skete is the largest temple on Mt. Athos. It is built in the Russian style. We had an opportunity to venerate part of the relics of Holy Apostle Andrew. After visiting the temple we met Metropolitan Paul of Khanty-Mansiysk, a Russian bishop who used to serve in our Patriarchal Parishes. Giving us his archpastoral blessing, Metropolitan Paul wished our American Orthodox community all God’s graces. We also were charmed to see the large Russian bell on the monastery yard which, unfortunately, could not be hanged at the bell tower, and we took some pictures near it.

Inside the main temple of St. Andrew Skete

Bishop Philaret, Metropolitan Paul and I in St. Andrew Skete

A picture near the large Russian bell

Following that we visit Karyes, an administrative capital of Athos where the governing offices of this monastic republic are situated. Near that capital we visited the monastery called Kutlumush, by the name of its legendary Arab founder. It is a cozy place where we could venerate the Passion Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God.

A view at Mt. Athos peak

Near the main administrative building in Karyes, the capital of Athos

The Kutlumush Monastery

Inside the walls of Kutlumush

Looking at the beautiful view

After Kutlumush and the Athos’ capital we drove to the known Iveron Monastery. It used to be a Georgian monastery, however later it became totally populated by the Greek monks. Here we prayed before the Iveron Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, also known as the Portatissa (the Gate Keeper). According to the tradition, the icon was at one time in the possession of a widow in Nicea. Not wanting the icon to be seized and destroyed by the iconoclasts, she spent all night in prayer and then cast the icon into the Mediterranean Sea. The icon had been found in the waters near Mt. Athos and recovered from the sea by a Georgian monk. The tradition goes on to say that the following day, when the monks entered the church they could not find the icon. After searching they discovered the icon hanging on the gates of the monastery. This occurrence was repeated several times, until the Georgian monk reported that he had seen a vision of the Theotokos, wherein She revealed that She did not want Her icon to be guarded by the monks, but rather She intended to be their Protectress. After this, the icon was permanently installed above the monastery gates, where it remains to this day. Because of this, the icon came to be called Portaitissa or “Gate-Keeper”. We can add that the copy of this icon is very much revered in Russia, in the city of Moscow and was also known as miraculous.

Later, in the afternoon we came to the Philotheou Monastery where we had a chance to venerate the Icon called “the Sweet Kiss”, along with the relics such as the right hand of St. John Chrysostom and part of the relics of St. Cosmas and Damian. Then we headed to the monastery known as St. Paul’s (Agiou Pavlou) because it was founded by a holy monk, Ven. Paul. There had an opportunity to see and to venerate the relics known as the Gifts of the Wise men.

Our plan was to spend the last night on the Holy Mountain at the Skete of St. Ann, a place situated very high on the mountain above the sea. In order to get to the skete you need either to climb the stairs for about one hour or to ride there on a mule. I was generously offered to mount a mule. In this way I got to the skete while other members of our group preferred to take the steps by foot. The rise was long and hard but we did not regret it. The view from St. Ann Skete on the sea and the mountains was spectacular. And the monks living there were very welcoming and nice to us. We had a nice supper at that great evening conversing about different spiritual and life matters.

A spectacular view from the mountain of St. Ann Skete

The night view from St. Ann Skete

On Thursday, June 1, on the morning of our last day on Mt. Athos, we got up early for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the little chapel attached to our kellias. Bishop Philaret served the Liturgy while I served as a cantor and members of our group prayed. Finishing the Liturgy and receiving the Holy Communion we had a trapeza with the monks of the skete.

Following the delicious trapeza we visited the main church of the skete where were given an opportunity to venerate the relics, especially the foot of St. Ann, Mother of the Thetokos. That foot preserved not only the skin, but also veins and many pilgrims claimed that they felt the warmth of the foot when they kissed it. It should be noted that the skete is a known pilgrimage place for childless men who ask St. Ann’s intercession. According to the testimony of faithful, St. Ann had helped many. Childless couples who had children after these pilgrimages bring pictures of their children born by the prayers of St. Ann, so there are a lot of such photographs in the temple.

After thanking the monks, especially their abbot, Fr. Gabriel for the nice welcome, we started our descent from the mountain to the sea shore. This time we all walked by foot, and it was a little hard because the steps there are made of different and uneven rocks. It took us around 40 minutes to walk down.

At the pier we waited on our motor boat which arrived soon and took us back to Ouranoupolis. We returned to the mainland Greece, to the secular world. But we desired to keep the great spirit of the Holy Mountain in our hearts.

Concluding my short story about our pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain I wish to express my special gratitude to His Grace, Bishop Philaret who headed our small group of pilgrims and was giving us a great spiritual inspiration and guidance during this journey. Thanks to Bishop Philaret who is well known to the Athonite brotherhood we were given a very nice welcoming at every place we visited. I wish to thank all the members of our group for their moral and prayerful support and brotherly attitude. And, of course, I am very grateful to our Archpastor, Bishop John who gave me a blessing to undertake this unforgettable pilgrimage.

My Pilgrimage to Greece

by Archriest Igor Tarasov


By the blessing of His Grace, Bishop John, I recently undertook a pilgrimage to Greece and to Holy Mountain of Athos. I left New York on Tuesday, May 23 and flew to Thessalonica, Greece.

Thessalonica, also known as Thessaloniki, is the second-largest city of Greece and the capital of the ancient region of Macedonia. It has a great and glorious history as one of the cultural and administrative centers of the Roman and Byzantine Empires. For us Christians it is remembered as a place where Holy Apostle Paul preached and converted a number of people. Later he wrote his two Epistles to Thessalonians. In the Christian era the city also became famous for its Saints, such as Great Martyr Demetrius, St. Gregory Palamas and other holy men and women.

On Thursday, May 25, on the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, I prayed during the Divine Liturgy at the Thessaloniki’s Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Gregory Palamas. Following the service I had an opportunity to venerate the relics of St. Gregory which are rested in the Cathedral’s chapel.

After the festal service in the Cathedral I visited other important places of worship in the city, such as the Church of Panagia Acheropoietos (of the Mother of God “not made by hands”) and the Hagia Sophia Church. These are very ancient temples in Thessalonica that preserved the old frescos and ancient style. Hagia Sophia Church has relics of St. Basil of Thessalonica which I visited and venerated.

Taking a taxi cab I could get to St. Paul’s Hill where this Holy Apostle preached to the citizens of Thessalonica in the 1st century AD. There is a small church and a monastery built there which I had also visited. That monastery is also famous for its founder, Venerable David of Thessalonica whose endeavor was to live on a tree (similarly to the Stylites who lived on the tops of the pillars).

Walking down from St. Paul’s Hill to the city I came to St. Demetrius Basilica, an ancient church dedicated to the very famous Martyr who died for Christ in this city in the 3rd century. The relics of Great Martyr Demetrius had been taken from Thessalonica by the Crusaders. They were held in Italy. However, recently the relics were returned to this city by the Italian Roman Catholic hierarchs. Now they are rested in St. Demetrius Basilica where a special chapel is built upon the reliquary. In addition, there is a source of myrrh in the Basilica’s basement. The myrrh was noted to flow a number of times from the relics of the Holy Great Martyr, thus St. Demetrius is often called the “Myrrh-streaming”. I had an opportunity to venerate the relics of St. Demetrius, as well as the myrrh source and to taste the holy water from the water fountain in the Basilica. It has to be noted that at the times when the relics of St. Demetrius were taken from Thessaloniki, the faithful venerated his “empty tomb” in another chapel attached to the Basilica. They believed that the relics were first reposed there. But even an empty tomb of the Holy Martyr was making miracles. It is still honored, so I could also enter that chapel and venerate this tomb. In addition, St. Demetrius Basilica holds relics of Martyr Anisia which are very accessible in the church.

On this same day I also visited the ancient Baptistery of St. John the Forerunner where early Christians gathered for their underground services and later people of the city were baptized. Then I came to the church dedicated to the Meeting of the Lord. It is a place of the repose of the relics of Venerable David and Theodora of Thessalonica, two ascetic persons who lived and fulfilled their endeavors in the city. We already mentioned St. David who was a Dendrite, an ascetic living on a tree. He lived in the 6th century. St. Theodora lived a monastic life in the 9th century. I had an opportunity to venerate their relics in the Holy Meeting Church.

On the next day, Friday, May 26, I left Thessalonica to visit famous Mt. Olympus. The ancient Greeks believed that this mountain was a dwelling place of their gods. In the Christian era many monasteries were founded on that mountain in order to overcome pagan cults and chase the demons out.

My journey first was to St. Ephrem’s Monastery. It is a women’s convent situated in a very beautiful countryside near Mt. Olympus. This monastery is relatively new and my tour guide told me that the nuns who came to dwell there had training in landscaping design and architecture. They made this monastery very beautiful and appealing. It is known for the holy relics: the right hand of Venerable Ephrem the Syrian and a part of the relics of Great Martyr Catherine. These relics are rested in the main monastery church. After venerating the relics of the Saints we were invited to the guest hall of the monastery. It has to be said that every Greek monastery has nice tradition of hospitality. The pilgrims are usually invited to the guest hall called the “archontariki”. There they are offered a shot of homemade grape liquor, some sweets, especially the lukum, and coffee.

Another holy place we visited on that day was St. Dionysius of Olympus Monastery. Venerable Dionysius lived in the 16th century when Greece was already conquered by the Turks. He founded a number of monasteries, including several on Mt. Olympus. Now there are two of them in the area. They are situated between the high mountains. The old monastery had been partially destroyed by the Germans during World War 2. But it still has an acting temple where we could venerate the icon of the Saint.

On the third day of my stay in Greece, on Saturday, May 27, I visited the two holy places located near Thessaloniki. In the village of Souroti there is women’s monastery dedicated to Venerable Arsenius. This place is known because Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos lived there his last years of earthly life, being in the care of the monastery nuns. Elder Paisios who died in 1994 is very respected for his spiritual guidance and ascetic life in the modern times. He was canonized in 2015. Elder Paisios’ grave is a very honored place. Usually the pilgrims make a long line to come and venerate it. On the day I came the line was not too long. It took me about 10 minutes to get to the Elder’s grave. Then I entered the monastery temple and venerated relics of Venerable Arsenius.

The next interesting holy place to visit near Thessaloniki was the monastery dedicated to Holy Great Martyr Anastasia Pharmakolytria (the Deliverer from Potions). This ancient woman Saint was born in the 2nd century and died in 304 AD. She was given a name of the “Deliverer from Potions” or “from Bonds” because her intercessions are credited with the protection of the faithful from poison and other harmful substances. She is also believed to be a protectress from any evil spells and charms. Many pilgrims purchase special rings blessed in that monastery to protect themselves from evil forces. The monastery itself was founded in the Middle Ages and the relics of St. Anastasia were transferred there from Constantinople. It is now in the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople while most of the local Greek churches and monasteries belong to the autocephalous Church of Greece. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago the relics were stolen from the temple and still not found. However, faithful still venerate the place where the relics reposed and the two icons of the Saint. It is noticeable that the interior walls of the monastery temple are painted black as a reminder of the fire which once burned St. Anastasia Monastery. Another important treasure of St. Anastasia Monastery is a part of the relics of Holy Apostle Andrew which is rested in the main temple, and I had an opportunity to venerate it.

On Sunday, May 28 I prayed at the Divine Liturgy at St. Demetrius Basilica in Thessaloniki. The temple was filled with the parishioners and pilgrims. Following the service I had a chance to approach and venerate holy relics of the Great Thessalonica Martyr for the second time. After attending the church I had a free time and took some rest before another stage of my pilgrimage which was a 4-day visitation of Mt. Athos.

Pentecost. Feast of the Most Holy Trinity

 

On June 4 all Orthodox Christians celebrated Pentecost, the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. Our St. George parish family had a beautiful celebration in our temple. The church was nicely adorned with greenery. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy.

Following the Gospel lesson he preached a homily in English. In that homily the Rector pointed out that in all areas of human life we need an experience. Same is with spiritual life. We must experience God’s presence, His love and grace. This had been experienced by the Holy Apostles when they became worthy of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The event of Pentecost described in the Epistle lesson was a very impressive experience of coming of the Divine Comforter.
God cannot be fully expressed. In fact, a God fully defined is no God, but He can be experienced. He expressed Himself once in the Person of Jesus. The purpose of that expression was that He might be experienced in the lives of His people as Emmanuel – God with us. No one can prove to you that Christ is the Son of God. We have to find out for ourselves. It’s like love – you can only love by experience, not by reading it in a book.
This is why the Scripture says, “Come and see” (when the Disciples found Christ and one of them said it to another) (Jn. 1, 46), or as the Samaritan woman said to her neighbors, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did” (Jn. 4, 29), or as the Psalm says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 33, 8). We have to see, taste or experience God in order to have a true faith. Every Liturgy from this day of Pentecost and until the next Pascha we sing, “We have seen the true Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, we worship the undivided Trinity”. We have seen, we have received, we had an experience, thus we are able to worship the Holy Trinity.

The choir piously performed the hymns of the feast during the preparation for Holy Communion.

Following the Liturgy dismissal the Rector preached a short sermon in Russian stressing the main thoughts of his English homily.

After the Liturgy the Rector served Pentecostal Vespers with kneeling prayers.

Sunday of the Blind Man. Feast of St. John the Theologian

 

On May 21, on the Sunday of the Blind Man, as well as on the feast of Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, our Parish family gathered for a nice celebration. St. George’s Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. After the reading from the Holy Gospel he preached the following homily in English:

“Dear brothers and sisters! Today is the last Sunday of our Paschal celebration, and on this day the Church offers us a Gospel story about a healing of the man who was born blind. It was a great and unrepeatable miracle because, as the Gospel today says, since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind” (Jn. 9, 32). Yet the people who witnessed such a great miracle, instead of marveling and coming to believe in Christ, began the whole investigation to find out how the eyes of the blind man were opened. Today’s pretty long Gospel lesson is telling us about that. This happened because many of the Jews were not ready to embrace the New Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only some of them who became the Disciples of Christ, His Holy Apostles, did accept the Messiah. Among those Apostles was St. John the Theologian who wrote the Gospel the passage of which we heard today, and whose memory we celebrate on this day.”
“But even the Disciples of Christ when they saw the man blind from birth, asked their Teacher, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn. 9, 2). They did so because they were living by the Old Testament understanding of God who is a zealous and vengeful Lord punishing those who offend Him. Their understanding of God was limited and simplistic, colored by fear, the pressures of the struggle to survive in a hostile world. Such an understanding was needed in the Old Testament times because the Jews held the right belief in one God while other nations and tribes did not. So, the true worshipers were supposed to fear mixing with others and offending the true God. But by the time of the coming of the Messiah it had to be changed. This is why Jesus challenged the common view of God as angry, vengeful and ready to punish those who sin. He teaches His Disciples that blindness of that man in today’s story is not because of sin, but blindness is an opportunity for the works of God to be revealed (Jn. 9, 3).”
“We may also say that blindness of that man was an opportunity for the love of God to be revealed. The whole ministry of Christ was an act of unconditional love towards mankind. And each and every miracle, every healing performed by Jesus Christ was an act of His love. He came to the world to visit the corrupt, imperfect and sinful human nature. His response to human infirmity, disease and death was His love, His comfort, His healing and His own Resurrection from the dead. A man could be born blind because human nature is imperfect. But behold, Jesus came and by His love restored the sight of a man who could never have the sight. This is the understanding of God according to the New Testament: God is Love, God is the Lover of mankind. Of course, God is just and He will judge us at the end of the world, but first of all, God is loving us. This idea was especially preached and confirmed by Holy Apostle and Evangelist John whose memory we celebrate today.”
“Holy Apostle John wrote: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn. 4, 7-8). “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 4, 16). St. John also taught that to love God means to love your fellow man. “If someone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 Jn. 4, 21).”
“Dear brothers and sisters! Finishing the days of our Paschal celebration, let us rejoice that Jesus Christ who was risen from the dead is the God of Love. He is not vengeful and angry master, but a loving Father who is willing to help us. Even if we suffer this could be an opportunity to reveal the great works of God and His love. Let us follow His teaching and the thoughts of His beloved Disciple, John the Theologian, to abide in His endless and perfect love!”

The choir prayerfully performed hymns assigned to the Sunday of the Blind man and Paschal Aposticha during the preparation for Holy Communion.

Following the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector preached a brief sermon in Russian conveying the main ideas of his English homily.

Our celebration continued at the trapeza table where our Rector and parishioners enjoyed delicious meals and a nice company at the coffee hour.

 

Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

 

On May 14, on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, we had a nice liturgical celebration in our temple. Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. Following the Gospel lesson he preached the following homily in English:

”In today’s Gospel lesson, we can clearly see how our Lord Jesus Christ combines within His Person two natures, human and divine. We see that as a human being, He could become tired, thirsty and hungry. The Gospel tells us that Jesus was thirsty and He asked the Samaritan Woman for drink. On the other hand, we see that He is also divine. Living as God in eternity, He knows the present, past and future of all. Thus as God He knows that the Samaritan Woman has already been married five times and that at present she is living in sin with another man. Also He tells her that He can give her “living water’” from an Eternal Well, and He tells the disciples that His “food is to do the will of Him that sent Me” (Jn. 4, 34).”
”As a man, Christ was a Jew, and His disciples were surprised to find Him conversing not only with a woman, but with a Samaritan Woman. A Jew would never speak with a Samaritan, especially with a Samaritan Woman. It is mentioned in today’s Gospel that “Jews had no dealings with Samaritans” (Jn. 4, 9).”
“As God, however, Christ does talk to those who are able to accept Him as the Messiah, for the vocation of Christ is universal. He says that “salvation is of the Jews” (Jn. 4, 22), but this salvation is only for those who accept Christ, and not many Jews accepted Him. According to the Jews, the Samaritans were heretics; they had rejected the importance of Jerusalem and much of the Old Testament, rejected the Prophets; they had confused pagan idolatry with the Old Testament. On the other hand, the Jews had rejected Christ. The Jews turned the truths and revelations of the Old Testament into a dry legalism and an arrogant racism. They had denied that Messiah, a Jew as a man, could, as God, come for the salvation of all the nations. It is that ideology which still to this day insists on what you may call “an ownership of God” – the Jews claim that they own God and that God owes to them because He proclaimed them a chosen people. The Jews had kept the letter of the Law but had rejected the spirit of the Law. And without the Spirit they were unable to recognize Christ.”
“The Samaritans had rejected the letter of the Law, but some of them, at least, did not stubbornly insist on their errors but were open to its spirit, for they were open to Christ, the Word of God, the Inspirer of the Law. If the Jews rejected Christ, the Samaritans, as we heard today in the Gospel, kept Him with them for two days and many believed in Him (Jn. 4, 40-41). And when our Lord returned from Samaria to Judea, He had to say that “a prophet has no honor in his own country” (Jn. 4, 44).”
“Why does the Church commemorate the Samaritan Woman today? Because this is the first Sunday after Mid-Pentecost, the feast that stands half-way between Easter and Pentecost. At Pascha the great truths of the Church are being revealed – that Christ is both God and man, that He is crucified and risen from the dead. However, these truths, may remain rather abstract until at Pentecost we understand their inner meaning, their implications for our daily life. By the coming of the Holy Spirit, these truths become living, and we worship Christ in spirit and in truth. Thus the Church reads to us the words that, “the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4, 23).”
“And this is why this world still continues today, why the world has not yet ended. Until the Gospel of Christ has been preached in spirit and in truth, that is, in Orthodox manner, in all lands, throughout the world, the world cannot end. For as long as there are new Samaritans, new nations, new tribes to hear the Truth, as long as there are people who can still potentially become Orthodox, the world must continue, for there is harvest still to be reaped (Jn. 4, 38).”
“Dear brothers and sisters! Let us pray that we too like the Samaritan Woman may bring others to the Church, testifying like her to the Divinity of Christ, becoming reapers of that which we have not sown.”

Following the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector preached a short sermon in Russian stressing the main ideas of his English homily.

On the occasion of Mother’s Day the Rector congratulated all the mothers of our parish wishing them God’s blessings and joy in their children and grandchildren. Traditional Polychronion (“Mnogaia leta!”) was proclaimed.

The Rector also performed an order of Blessing for the Traveling by Air for the Malyshew family who are going to leave for Moscow and stay there for a month. He wished them a safe trip and a protection of the Guardian Angels.

 

Sunday of the Paralytic

 

On May 7, on the Sunday of the Paralytic, Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our parish temple. Following the Gospel lesson he preached a homily in Russian. An English translation of that homily is as follows:

“On this Sunday, one among the Paschal season Sundays, the Church wishes us to reflect upon a miracle of healing a person who suffered from paralysis for 38 years. He was near the pool at Ship Gate in Jerusalem, famous for healing, but could not be healed because there was no one to help him enter the water of this pool. In Slavonic language this paralytic is literally called the “relaxed one”, and this holiday is called Sunday of the Paralytic, of the “relaxed man”. We should remember that in Lent we also heard the Gospel story of another paralytic – whom four people brought to Christ. And today we hear about a paralytic, which no one helped. He himself explained this to Christ when he said: “I have no man to put me into the pool” (Jn. 5, 7). Only our Lord Jesus Christ was able to heal this man.”
“This paralytic is the image of our souls. We are near the most healing font. We have a great source for our healing and for our salvation. We have the Law of God. We have the Commandments of God. We have the Holy Church. And we are close to all of it. But, as it often happens that despite all that we have, we cannot take advantage of it. We are always missing something. It is like that paralytic said: “I have no man to help me”!”

“The Holy Church tells us about this miracle, so that when we see the paralyzed, relaxed state of our souls, when we see sins overwhelming us again, we do not lose heart, but we knew that we have a Man who can save us. We have not just a man, we have Christ the God-man, who can, not just once a year, like it was at the Sheep Gate pool, manage to heal someone, but who is able to heal constantly every man who turns to Him. He saves him from death, saves from sin, heals his paralyzed soul. And He makes him able to walk again glorifying God. Look what the Lord said. He did not simply say, “I heal you”, but He said: “Arise, take up your bed and walk” (Jn. 5, 8). That means, take up those same stretchers on which you used to lay, on which you were carried, now you carry them!” Why did the Lord say so? Because now that person who was lying on these stretchers for thirty-eight years, began walking himself, and carrying those stretchers and showing it to everyone, he began to preach about the Lord, preaching about Christ the Savior in a visible way. Everyone saw how he used to lay on a stretcher, and now he himself walks and preaches about Christ.”
“Dear brothers and sisters! This is what we are often lacking. We need to preach about the Savior and our Lord Jesus Christ by our Christian life. The Lord gives us the joy of life, gives us consolation, gives us deliverance from our sins. He saves us from all evil. Therefore, we are obligated to preach about Christ, just as this healed paralytic did. And we will preach this in the best way, if we lead a pure Christian life. If we forgive each other, if we are compassionate to each other, are merciful to each other, if we strive to love one another – this will be our holy preaching. Then we could cease being spiritually paralyzed (or “relaxed”), then we will rise and begin to walk.”
“Of course, it is difficult – to start preaching about Christ with your life. On this path there will be many obstacles, because the life of a Christian in an ungodly world is always difficult. That healed paralytic just started walking, and the Jews immediately began to bother him and say: “How can you wear a stretcher on Saturday? It is forbidden”! – Indeed, the Old Testament law forbade doing anything on Saturday. We have to keep in mind that our Christian law also forbids any hard and physical labor on Sunday. But the Lord of the Sabbath, the Chief of the Law himself, the One who is above all law, is the True God and the true Savior Jesus Christ commanded this, and that man had to do it. Thus, without fearing all obstacles and temptations, let us ask the Lord to help us to overcome the paralysis or relaxation of our souls, that He will give us the grace to live in Christian way: to believe, to hope, to love, to overcome all temptations.”

“And when the Savior later met this healed man in the temple, He said to him: See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you (Jn. 5, 14). Let us also, brothers and sisters, pray to our Savior, that He may give us strength not to return to sins, that He may give us the strength to avoid the worst that sin brings with it evil, godlessness, hatred and untruth. Let us strive to nourish our souls and souls of our loved ones with the great Paschal joy about the risen Christ, who gives life to our souls and to us, “the relaxed ones”, who makes us walk again in the ways of the Lord.”

Following the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector preached a brief sermon in English conveying the ideas of his Russian homily.

Parish Patronal Feast of St. George

 

On May 6th Russian Orthodox Church celebrates feast of the Holy Victorious Great Martyr George. This is the Patronal feast of our parish. On this day we had a beautiful celebration in our temple. The Divine Liturgy was headed by our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov who was co-served by Abbot Eutychius (Dovgan) from the ROCOR Synodal Cathedral. Service was attended by our parishioners, as well as a large number of guests from other parishes. Among the visitors was Hieromonk Zosimas (Krampis), our former Rector who was present at the Liturgy.

On this holy day our choir was joined by several guests, so the singing was especially beautiful. Hymns in honor of St. George, as well as Paschal hymns were nicely performed before the rite of the Holy Communion.

Following the Liturgy dismissal the Rector preached a homily in which he pointed out that our Patron Saint was a Martyr for Christ. Christianity very often means martyrdom for Christ. Today’s two Epistle lessons from the Acts of the Holy Apostles were telling us about persecutions of the Holy Apostles, especially Peter and Paul. And the Gospel reading reminded us that, according to the words of the Lord, “A servant is not greater than his master” (Jn. 15, 20). If our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was persecuted, His servants were persecuted also. Holy Apostles were persecuted and most of them died as Martyrs. And later many other followers of Christ had to become Martyrs. Our Patron, St. George was one of them. Therefore, being a Christian always means to be ready for becoming a confessor or even a martyr for Christ. But if this idea is disturbing, let us remember that our Lord is always with us and He conquered death and rose from the dead. Today’s feast of St. George always falls during Paschal season, and our Church hymns dedicated to the martyrdom of St. George are mixed with the Paschal hymns of the Resurrection. This is why we have to be of a good cheer remembering that the Lord is the Victor of evil, so the Saints like Great Martyr George are also the victorious in the Risen Lord.

The Rector also expressed his gratitude to the parishioners who labored to prepare for this celebration, as well the guests who joined us at this parish solemnity. Traditional Polychronion (“Mnogaia leta!”) was proclaimed to all the faithful present.

Our celebration continued at the abundant and delicious trapeza prepared by our ladies. Our clergy at the trapeza table was now joined by Archpriest Alexandre Anchoutine, Rector of Holy Protection Church in Glen Cove and Dean of the local ROCOR parishes. He had a speech congratulating the Rector and our parishioners on the occasion of Patronal feast and wishing all God’s blessings in our future religious life as a community. Fr. Alexandre also congratulated our Rector on the occasion of his recent appointment as Chancellor of the Patriarchal Parishes and expressed his wishes of God’s help at this responsible obedience. Another speech was later delivered by our Sacristan, Andrew Malyshew who on behalf of our parishioners expressed gratitude to our Rector, Fr. Igor, as well as the former Rector, Fr. Zosimas for their labors for the good of this parish. He pointed out that despite all the difficulties in our parish life, our church keeps serving the spiritual needs of the Orthodox believers and is under ongoing protection of its Holy Patron, St. George.

Sunday of the Holy Myrrh-bearing Women

 

On April 30, on the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women, we had a beautiful service at St. George Church. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov celebrated the Divine Liturgy. Following the reading from the Holy Gospel he preached the following homily in English:

“Dear brothers and sisters! On this Sunday after Pascha we honor holy Myrrh-bearing Women, righteous Joseph and Nicodemus who participated in the burial of our Lord Jesus Christ. Later some of them became the witnesses of His Resurrection, as we heard in today’s Gospel lesson. A huge stone was rolled against the door of the tomb where Jesus was laid, but when He rose from the dead the stone became rolled away. As we think today of that tomb of Jesus, other tombs come to mind – tombs where Jesus is buried today, strong tombs, heavily sealed, tombs that are designed to keep Jesus isolated from our lives.”
“An author who is known as “A Monk of Eastern Church” writes: “In many souls, Jesus seems to be buried as if in a sepulcher. He seems to be paralyzed, immobilized, even dead. He is covered by a heavy stone; the stone of sin, of ignorance, of indifference, the stone of bad habits that have accumulated over years.” Buried by those errors we cry out like the Myrrh-bearing Women: “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” (Mk. 16, 3).”
“The sin is the first stone by which we can cover Jesus in His sepulcher. Our sins don’t let us give our Lord a place in our life; they keep us away from Him. First of all, it happens when we let our sins rule over us. Then we serve sin, not our Lord. And second, when our sins, or a particular sin of ours, keeps us away from God.”
“The second stone is ignorance. What kind of ignorance buries Jesus? The ignorance about Him. Ignorance about our faith, ignorance about religious matters, ignorance about basic, but very important things in our life. Many people don’t know our faith, why we believe in this or in that. Many people don’t know the pious traditions: why we do certain things in our Church, what we are supposed to have in our Church… This is the great stone that keeps Jesus buried in the tomb. If you don’t know something – ask, inquire. Talk to the priest, ask or simply listen when the priest is telling you about it.”
“The third and the greatest of the stones is indifference. Indifference is what keeps Jesus buried in the terrible grave of apathy. A priest once stopped in a coffee shop and sat at a counter next to a man. The man glanced at the priest and asked where his church was. When the priest told him, he said, “That’s the church I go myself”. “Isn’t that strange?” the priest said, “I’ve been a rector there for five years and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you.” The man replied, “Come on, Father, I didn’t say I was a fanatic”. It is OK to be fanatic about football but there is something wrong with you if you are serious about Jesus. It is that kind of indifference that keeps Jesus buried. It is an extremely heavy stone and it needs to be removed if Jesus is to become a living presence in our lives.”
“In addition, there are the people who bury Christ in their hearts, in their souls. They are the people who tell us: “I may not come to church, but God is always in my soul”. It is a very popular attitude, especially among the Russian people. They don’t participate in the Liturgy. They don’t receive the Sacraments. They don’t support the work of Christ through His Church. They seldom pray and yet – they tell us – God is in their souls. Maybe He is! But then, that’s where they keep Him dead and buried.”
“If there are those today who claim that God is dead, it is also because we Christians have buried Him in our sins, in our ignorance, in our indifference, in our souls. And if we have buried God, there is no wonder why we are so anxious and worried people today.”
“Dear brothers and sisters! Roll the stone away from the tomb and let the Risen Christ step out of our indifference, out of our sins, out of our ignorance, even “out of our souls” into our lives and see what happens as a result! See what power He brings! What joy! What peace! What love!”

The choir prayerfully performed the Aposticha of Pascha during the time of preparation for Holy Communion.

Following the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector preached a short sermon in Russian stressing the main thoughts of his English homily. He also congratulated our ladies on the occasion of this Sunday which is the Orthodox Women’s day. Traditional Polychronion (“Mnogaia leta!”) was proclaimed.

Following the Rector’s sermon the Parish Warden, Olga Roussanow spoke and congratulated Archpriest Igor on his appointment as Chancellor of the Patriarchal Parishes in the USA. She wished that the Lord may assist him to fulfill his new obedience as a superior official of our Church in the United States and an assistant to our local Bishop. Fr. Igor expressed his gratitude to the parishioners for their nice and heartfelt wishes and asked for their prayers, so he may worthily and effectively fulfill his new obedience.

Our celebration continued at the trapeza table where the Rector and parishioners enjoyed delicious meals and a nice company. The toasts to the Rector due to his new appointment, as well as to our ladies were raised. At this time we also were happy to welcome our guests from the Syrian Orthodox community who visited our parish and were present at our service. They stayed for our trapeza and shared interesting information about their community suffering from the Islamic extremists in the Middle East.