Sunday after the Theophany

 

On January 22, on the Sunday after the Theophany, Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our parish temple. After the reading from the Holy Gospel he preached the following homily:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Last week we celebrated great holy day of Theophany, which is the Baptism of Christ. The Gospel of today says that after Christ was baptized, He began to preach the same theme as St. John the Baptist did. He appealed to the people saying, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4, 17). Why? Because after we have been baptized, we are always tempted and the only way to end temptation is to repent. Our Gospel lessons proclaimed on Sundays do not tell us all the details of the life of Christ, but those lessons are rather some short messages telling us about His teaching. But if we read the Gospel of Matthew we would learn that after being baptized Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Christ did not fall after temptation and began His ministry. Thus His first sermon to the people was to repent because the Kingdom of heaven is near. But what exactly do these words mean? What is repentance? What is the Kingdom of Heaven?”
Sometimes we hear how people say, “We are sinful, but we will repent…” They may imagine that repentance is some abstract thing, a mood or an idea. But it is not just an idea, a thought. First of all, it is an action. Repentance is a change of mind which leads to a practical and visible change in our way of life. It does start in our mind, but it must produce action”.
Repentance is a conversion to God. Every time we repent, we must undertake a mini-conversion. Because if we commit a sin, especially a grave sin, we turn away from God, and we need to come back. It is like being lost on some road. Very often if we took a wrong highway we need to exit and go back. Our highway system is very comfortable. We can easily find our way. If we are lost we usually take an exit and go back to get to a proper route. Thus, repentance is like an exit from the wrong highway. We get out, come back and find the right way”.
If this is repentance, what then is the Kingdom of Heaven? First of all, the Kingdom of Heaven is Christ Himself Who spoke these words to the people of that time, before whom He stood. The Kingdom of Heaven was indeed at hand, for He stood before them. Secondly, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and stands before us here and now. The Kingdom of Heaven is here and now, but it depends on our willingness to accept Christ. At this very moment each one of us is in fact able to meet God and enter into His eternal joy, but only if we wish to do so through deep repentance. The joy of the Kingdom of Heaven is a state of our soul, a state of our mind, and it is open to all those who wish to accept Christ”.
Yes, it is true that our well-being does depend on whether we have a roof over our heads, enough money to pay our way in the world. But none of these things is absolutely essential, for there are people who have all these things but are still unhappy, they do not have the Kingdom of Heaven. And there are people who have none of these things and yet they are happy, they have the Kingdom of Heaven”.
Some people marry and then divorce, remarry and redivorce and do this even several times, and each time blame the others for the divorce. In fact it is them who bear the problem inside themselves, in their selfishness and hardness of heart. Some people may go from country to country and from job to job, blaming each failure on others. In fact the problem is carried in their suitcase, the problem is with the instability of the person, their inability to get on with others”.
Dear brothers and sisters! The presence of the Kingdom of Heaven depends ultimately not on our circumstances but on us, on our interior disposition, on our ability to repent. Indeed it is only if we repent that the Kingdom of Heaven at hand. Therefore, let us ask our Lord baptized in the Jordan to grant us a desire and an ability of true repentance”.

The choir performed festal hymns of the Theophany during preparation for Holy Communion.

Following the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector made some announcements.

Theophany, or Baptism of the Lord

 

On January 19th the Orthodox Church celebrates great feast of the Theophany, or Baptism of the Lord. Our parish had a beautiful celebration of that holy day headed by our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov. He served the Divine Liturgy at St. George Church. After the Gospel lesson the Rector preached the following homily:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, also called Theophany or Epiphany, words which mean the Appearance of God, and this feast is also called the Enlightenment. For that is exactly what this feast is about, it is the first public Appearance of Christ, the beginning of His public preaching at the age of 30, and so the Enlightenment of mankind”.
Theophany is in fact one of three Trinitarian feasts in the Church Year, where “the worship of the Trinity is made manifest”. For today the voice of the Father bears witness that, “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased”, and the Spirit is seen in the form of a dove. Another such feast is Pentecost, also called Trinity or Trinity Sunday, where the Son sends down the Spirit from the Father, from Whom the Spirit proceeds. Thirdly, there is also the feast of the Transfiguration, where the voice of the Father is also heard and the Spirit is seen in the form of the Light of Tabor transfiguring the Son”.
Today’s feast proves to the world that Christ is both God and man, that He has two natures. On the one hand, the Father calls Him “My beloved Son” and the Spirit bears witness. On the other hand, as St. John the Baptist shows in his humility that he is unworthy even to undo Christ’s shoelaces, the sinless human nature of Christ did not need baptism. Christ underwent baptism in his human nature only because He needed to set us an example, to undergo all that we must undergo in order to be worthy of the Kingdom of God. Christ was indeed human flesh and blood – you cannot baptize a spirit or a ghost – Christ truly took on Himself our human nature”.
The effects of the Baptism of Christ’s human nature, of His body and soul, His mind and will, are immediate, for the world around Him may also be baptized through Him. In the icon of today’s Feast we see in the waters of the Jordan a serpent-monster, a demon lurking in the water. Until the time of Christ, the whole world lay in evil. Through Christ’s coming, however, the whole world can be purified and redeemed. This process began with the purification of water, on which all life depends, of which our own bodies are mainly made up. Through Christ’s Baptism the way is open for the baptism of the whole of mankind and the purification of the whole Cosmos. Christ’s Baptism was the beginning of the purging of the world from evil. Those who reject Baptism allow the world to be filled with evil once more. This is why we baptize the new-born child, before the seeds of evil can come to lurk in his soul. This is why we sprinkle with Theophany water our homes and work-places, our cars and buses – so that no evil can lurk in them”.
But what does Baptism mean for us, however, who are already baptized? Although we believe that there is only One Baptism, in Church practice we use the word baptism in a figurative sense, for the sacrament of Confession is often called “a second baptism”. It is through the “second baptism” of Confession that we can renew ourselves by preparing ourselves to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, in the same way as the waters of the Jordan received Christ bodily when He was baptized. Thus among us too the old waters of the Jordan of human sin can be driven back and sin flees, as the demon-serpent is driven out of us by the Appearance of Christ and His Enlightenment of us”.

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

After the Prayer behind the Ambo the Rector performed the Great Blessing of water.

Following the Liturgy dismissal the Rector and the altar server came before the icon stand and performed the rite of glorification singing the troparion, kontakion and magnification of the Theophany. Then the Rector greeted the faithful on the great holy day.

 

Sunday before the Theophany

 

On January 15, on the Sunday before the Theophany, Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our temple. After the Gospel lesson he preached the following homily:

“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! On this Sunday before the feast of the Baptism of the Lord we hear the reading from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. And we just heard of the preparation for the appearance of the Lord to the world.  That preparation was made by God sending His Prophet, John the Baptist. We call him the Forerunner meaning that he was running before Christ; he was a predecessor of Christ. He ran before to prepare the ways of the Lord”.
“That Gospel story spiritually instructs us that we have to prepare the ways of the Lord in our own lives.  St. John the Forerunner specifically called the people for the preparation for the coming of the Savior. He called them saying, “Prepare the ways of the Lord; make His paths straight” (Mk. 1, 3). Therefore, we have to participate in that preparation”.
“Let us take an example. When we are preparing for the Holy Communion, we have to repent, to ask the Lord to make us worthy to receive His Body and Blood. We have pray that the Lord may unite with our human essence, that He may sanctify and cleanse us. We need to practice prayer, fasting and repentance to prepare for our union with the Lord. Preparation is important”.
“We often complain that we do not feel God’s help in our life, in our deeds. Today’s Gospel lesson should open our eyes and help us see our spiritual state. If we wish God to be present in our lives, to help us; if we desire that the divine grace may shine in our souls; if we wish that the blessing of God was upon us – we need to prepare ourselves. We have to undertake spiritual labor. St. John the Baptist called to such a labor when he said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3, 2)”.
“Today we commemorate Venerable Father Seraphim of Sarov. He lived 3 centuries ago. Most of his life was spent in spiritual labor. He was praying a lot, he had an endeavor of staying on a rock for a long time. In such a way St. Seraphim was preparing his soul for the Lord. Could he complain that God is not with him? He could but he probably never did. Could he feel that God is not helping him? Maybe. But he endured and persisted in his spiritual labor. Therefore, St. Seraphim deserved a great devotion among the Orthodox people and became one of the Lord’s elected ones in the Heavenly Kingdom. He believed that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, as the Gospel says, so he acted to prepare for it”.
“And for us, dear brothers and sisters, spiritual labor may not be so intense as it was in the life of St. Seraphim. For us would be sufficient to realize how sinful we are and to repent the way it was done by the people who were coming to St. John the Baptist. He plunged them into the waters of Jordan, and that meant washing away their sins. But he told them, “I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk. 1, 8)”.
“Dear brothers and sisters! We have the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ who through the Holy Church grants us abundant and various gifts of the Holy Spirit. And in order to be spiritually comforted by God’s blessings and His help, we need to undertake spiritual labor, to prepare ourselves, our hearts, our souls to be always united with the Lord”.
“The two feasts, Nativity and Theophany, being united, make a joyful winter holiday season. In the ancient Church those two feasts were celebrated together, on one day, in order to honor the great work of the Incarnation of the Son of God and the coming of the Savior into this world. We, nowadays having two separate feasts, should remember about their spiritual connection. On the Nativity, when our Lord was about to be born into the world, the Holy Family came to Bethlehem but could not find any place to stay. Human dwellings shut their doors for the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. This was because the human souls were also closed for the Son of God coming into the world. Let us not repeat what those people did in those times. Through the lips of St. John the Baptist the Church calls us to open our hearts to the Lord, to prepare ourselves for His coming and to prepare ourselves to follow Him. Let us open our souls to follow Him, so that we may enter His Heavenly Kingdom, the Kingdom He brought to us, so “whoever believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn. 3, 16)”.

The choir nicely performed various hymns of the holy day season during preparation for Holy Communion.

After the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector made announcements regarding the approaching feast of the Theophany.
Following the services the Rector and parishioners enjoyed a delicious luncheon held in honor of Fr. Igor’s past birthday. A toast to our Rector was raised by our Warden, Olga Roussanow.

Circumcision of the Lord. Feast of St. Basil the Great

 

On Saturday, January 14, our parish celebrated great holy day of the Circumcision of the Lord and feast of St. Basil the Great. The Divine Liturgy in our temple was served by our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov. Following the readings from the Sacred Scripture he preached the following homily:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Today we have a combined celebration. On this day we celebrate Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as commemoration of St. Basil the Great. In addition, many of us remember that today is the civic New Year, so-called the “Old New Year”. First of all, let me tell you that the New Year’s Day is not so important for the Church celebrations. It is not even something absolute or unchangeable. The New Year in Byzantine Empire was on September 1, the way it is still observed in our Church calendar. Our ancestors, ancient Slavs celebrated their New Year on March 1. It was rather Western European custom to begin the New Year in January, as we do now. This is why the New Year’s Day is not so important in the Church than celebration of other, more religious feasts”.
Our authentic Christian and folk tradition knows three winter holy days celebrated on the row: Nativity, Circumcision and Baptism of Christ. And the period of their celebration is called “Sviatki” in Russian tradition. Today we are in the very middle of that festal period. We just finished celebrating Christmas and are preparing to celebrate Theophany. Between those great holy days we have today’s feast of the Circumcision. Sometimes we may hear that our people are wandering why we, the Christian Church, celebrate the Circumcision of Christ, since we don’t practice circumcision”.
To answer that question we should look at all these three winter holy days as connected and proclaiming for us one great message: God became Man, God came to the world; He did it to save mankind. This is why Nativity and Baptism of Christ used to be celebrated on one day and was called the Theophany. This was done in the Ancient Church, but later the Church decided to introduce a separate feast of the Nativity to replace a popular pagan celebration in honor of the sun. Therefore, the idea of both Christmas and Theophany is that God became Man, appeared to the world to save it. And becoming Man, He had to follow the rules given by God Himself to the men. One of those rules was to circumcise male children after 8 days of their birth. This was in the Covenant between God and Abraham and this was in the Law of Moses. And Child Jesus had been circumcised on the 8th day of His birth. It took place, and we commemorate it. And this commemoration teaches us to follow the rules of the Church. Jesus followed the rules of the Old Testament Church although He was to establish the Church of the New Testament. So we should now obey all the rules of our Church. The Saint whom we honor today, St. Basil the Great, was, by the way, a prominent maker of the different Church rules. His memory today also reminds us of those important things”.
Today’s feast offers us a great mystery to reflect on: Infinite and Eternal God becomes a little Child and does not despise to be circumcised. But keeping in mind His future, we understand that Jesus also did not despise to be crucified. Thus, circumcision was only the beginning of His humble service and sacrifice for the human race. Today’s hymn calls Jesus an “eight-day-old by Mother and beginningless by Father”. This is the mystery of our faith: a beginningless and endless God becomes a Man, He condescends to our nature to save it. This is why today’s troparion says, “glory to Thine Providence, glory to Thine condescendence, o only Lover of mankind!”

This is why, dear brothers and sisters, we celebrate today’s feast. And again, it is not a separate feast but a part of our wonderful celebration of the Incarnation of the Lord. Therefore, let us pray that our Lord Jesus Christ through the prayers of the Holy Father Basil the Great grant us His abundant blessings in this festal season and in this New Year, so it will be spent in piety and pleasing God who came to save us!”

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

After the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector and the altar server performed the rite of glorification singing the troparia, kontakia and magnifications of the Circumcision and of St. Basil the Great.

Parish Warden and Choir Director, Olga Roussanow greeted the Rector on his birthday wishing him good health and a long service to the Holy Church. Tradition Polychronion was proclaimed to Fr. Igor.

Sunday after the Nativity

 

On January 8, on the Sunday after the Nativity, feast of the Synaxis of the Most Holy Mother of God, our St. George Parish family gathered again for a nice celebration. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our temple. After the Gospel reading he preached the following homily:

“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Today we celebrate the second day of Christmas which is dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God who gave birth to the Savior of the world. Today is Her gathering feast. And today is also Sunday after Nativity which is dedicated to St. Joseph, the Sponsor of the Holy Family, and to king David and holy Apostle James the Brother of the Lord. We know from the Gospel of today that when the joy of the Birth of Christ was over, when the wise men departed, the angels returned to heaven and shepherds left the cave, righteous Joseph had to begin his work of protecting the Holy Family. For him, as well as for the Blessed Mother of God, the miracle of Christmas ended and a hard and dangerous life began”.
“For many of us it is a similar feeling when Christmas is over. The holy days ended, and we have to think about our daily life. Some people rush to take off the decorations, especially after the New Year’s day. Although our tradition leads us to the other two winter holy days (St. Basil’s and Theophany), we feel like something big is already finished. The radiant days of celebration have passed and the gray and boring time of our daily cares approaches again. Now it is very important not to lose the spirit of Christmas. Again, our beautiful and holy tradition helps us with that. It prolongs our celebration with two more holy days. It tells us to keep the decorations and the tree until after the Theophany or, as done in some local traditions, until February. But more important is to keep Christmas within our hearts, to be aware of the fact that “the Child was born to us, the Son is given to us” (Is. 9, 6) and God is with us. We have to remember that “for our sake the Young Child is born, God before ages”. The Word of God became flesh and dwelt within us (Jn. 1, 14). If God is with us, no one will overcome us”.
“God will give us the power to conquer all evil in our daily life. Our everyday existence seems to be a constant fight for survival. But it was the same for the little Infant Jesus. He had to flee to Egypt, flee for His life. He had to stay there for some time, to be a refugee, a foreigner. Even when He could come back to His homeland, He had to avoid coming to Judea where the son of Herod was ruling, but went to Nazareth in Galilee. We say He did, the Child Jesus, but we know that all this was done by His Sponsor and protector, holy and righteous Joseph who was the head of that household. St. Joseph did a great job protecting Christ; he literally saved the Savior of the world. Despite all the difficulties and dangers of the evil world around him, Joseph, being helped by the grace of the Lord and assisted by the angels, could accomplish his task of preserving Jesus for the human kind”.
“Following actual Christmas celebration we are having a similar task. We have to preserve faith in Jesus, the real spirit of His Birth for ourselves and for the other people, even for the generations to come. St. Paul says in today’s Epistle: “When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace to reveal His Son to me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1, 15-16). God’s grace calls us to preach Jesus among other people by our life and actions. This will make us the protectors of faith, similar to St. Joseph. Let us imitate Holy Joseph in his humble readiness to obey the will of God, in his bravery before the misfortunes of life and in his caring and loving protection of the precious gift he was entrusted – the Holy Infant Jesus and the Blessed Mother of God. Let us practice this kind of attitude in our daily life, so this life will become a joyful continuation of the miracle of Christmas”.

The choir prayerfully performed different beautiful hymns of the Nativity during preparation for Holy Communion.

After the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector made announcements regarding our January service schedule and encouraged the faithful to attend them.

Nativity of the our Lord Jesus Christ. Christmas

 

On January 7 the Russian Orthodox Church observes feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, also known as Christmas. Our St. George Church had a nice celebration of that holy day. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. He was co-served by our guest and friend of the parish, Abbot Eutychius (Dovganyuk) from the ROCOR.

Following the Gospel lesson the Rector proclaimed the Christmas Sermon of Venerable Isaac the Syrian.

During the Litany of Fervent Supplication the Rector had a petition for the suffering country of Ukraine and its people. He also added a commemoration of the “suffering Ukrainian land” at the Great Entrance.

During the preparation for Holy Communion at the Liturgy the choir beautifully performed different liturgical hymns of the Nativity.

After the Liturgy dismissal the clergy and the altar server performed the rite of glorification singing the troparion, kontakion and magnification of the Nativity before the festal icon in the middle of the church. Then the Rector greeted the faithful on the occasion of the great holy day of the birth of the Son of God.

After the Rector’s greetings Fr. Eutychius had a speech in which he congratulated Archpriest Igor Tarasov on the occasion of his 33rd Anniversary of priestly ordination. Traditional Polychronion (“Mnogaia leta!”) to Fr. Igor was proclaimed.

Our celebration continued at the trapeza table where a tasty luncheon was prepared by our parishioners. Everybody enjoyed delicious meals and a nice company. Several toasts in honor of Fr. Igor were raised by parishioners and the Polychronion to our pastor was sung again.

Our Rector attended Deanery Meeting

 

On December 17, on the feast of the Holy Great Martyr Barbara, Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov attended clergy meeting of the Eastern States Deanery of the Patriarchal Parishes. It was held at St. John the Baptist Church in Little Falls, NJ.

The meeting was preceded by the Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Deanery clergy and headed by the new Chancellor of the Patriarchal Parishes, Archpriest Igor Vyzhanov. Since our Rector has a special devotion for St. Barbara, as well as for St. John of Damascus, the Saints honored on that day, he could not miss such an opportunity to serve the Liturgy on that day.

Following the Liturgy the Fathers present at the meeting were offered a modest but delicious lenten lunch at the Parish hall. Then the Dean of Eastern States, Priest Yulian Ryabtsev, headed the meeting. Certain current affairs were discussed. At the conclusion, the Dean and the clergy expressed a desire to hold the next meeting on May 6, 2023, in our St. George Parish, attending our Patronal feast.

27th Sunday after Pentecost

 

On December 18, on the 27th Sunday after Pentecost, feast of Venerable Sabbas the Sanctified, St. George Parish family gathered for a beautiful celebration. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov headed the Divine Liturgy in our temple. After the Gospel lesson he preached the following homily:

“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Today we read the Gospel about the healing of ten lepers (Lk. 17, 12-19). First of all, that story is supposed to teach us to be grateful: grateful to God for His blessings and grateful to other people for their good deeds towards us. But today we will also speak about people being together as a group or as a community, and also about us acting alone”.
“Today we celebrate feast of Venerable Father Sabbas the Sanctified. He lived in the 4th and 5th centuries, and all his life he was a monk. Being a 8-year-old boy, Sabbas was left for some time in a monastery in Alexandria by his parents. After 9 years they came to take him back home, he refused and became a monk at his early age of 17. Later St. Sabbas moved to the Holy Land and lived in the desert monasteries near the Jordan River. He became a founder of several monastic communities, especially of a large monastery bearing his name – the Lavra of St. Sabbas. He is called the Sanctified because he was a priest while most of the monks of those times did not receive the holy orders. St. Sabbas was the author of the liturgical and monastic rules known as the Jerusalem statute. And the specific of his monastic rule was that the monks live as a community, live together in a so-called koinobia, in common living, a living as a community. We should recall that first Christian monks usually started their desert life alone. However, later many of them gathered together or some community of disciples gathered around some elder who started alone. Thus, the community living of the monks became more spread, and St. Sabbas was one of the founders of such type of monastic life”.
“As we can see, dear brothers and sisters, people join together to make their life or their efforts easier. We join into different kinds of groups, social communities, business partnerships, political parties, religious congregations, and that help us. The philosophers say that human being is a “social animal”. Therefore, it was natural and useful for the monks to prefer living together in the monasteries, as St. Sabbas organized, and not alone. Praying together, holding services together and supporting each other in many ways – that is helpful for the monks. In the similar way, we, as Orthodox Christians, get together in our parish communities. We gather for the services, especially for the Divine Liturgy where we have the greatest celebration of the communion with God, the Holy Eucharist. When we pray, we say “Let us pray to the Lord”, not “Let me pray”. We say “Blessed be our God”, not “My God”. And, finally, the Lord taught us to pray “Our Father”, not “My Father”. The whole Orthodox Church is such a community keeping us together as the Body of Christ”.
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, it is good to belong to a community, especially to such a holy community as the Holy Orthodox Church. However, not every group of people is helpful and beneficial. There are the gangs of criminals, the hordes of villains or heretical sects. It is better for a man not to join them. The Book of Psalms starts with the impressive words, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the council of the ungodly” (Ps. 1, 1). If there is such a council, such a group, it is better to be alone than to join them”.
“In today’s Gospel the lepers also joined together in a group. There were ten of them staying together. As we read, they asked Jesus to help them. You may say that it was some kind of communal prayer, a resemblance of a church. But, in fact, the lepers joined for convenience, not for a high cause. They were comrades in misfortune: due to their illness, the lepers were outcasts of the society and could not communicate with other people. So, they joined in such groups. And as we see, that group had no real unity. When they became healed, they no longer stuck together: only one came back to Jesus to give thanks. Thus, even if the other nine were still together, the one separated to do the right thing. He was alone but he did it and he did not walk in the council of the ungodly”.
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, we have to learn to be wise and selective in our choices. We have to understand that it is better to be in a community, in a right gathering to achieve beneficial results. We have to stay in the Church to be saved. We have to belong to a parish to attend the services and receive Sacraments together, to listen to the Word of God and to the sermons of the priests. But when we have danger or temptation to join a group of people whose goals are ungodly, or sinful, or not beneficial for our well-being – then we have to avoid such a group, then we better stay alone. Many holy men and women preferred to be alone than to belong to some bad company, a wrong crowd or a community of sinners. These days of December we often commemorate the Old Testament Prophets. Very often they were alone in their cry against the iniquities of the people while most of the society lived in sin. Nowadays many people around us live ungodly, forgetting about God. But we should not join them. There is a popular saying that if everyone else will decide to throw themselves from the bridge, will we follow? We better be in a minority, better even be alone than to be with them. And in today’s Gospel one of the healed lepers was alone in his gratefulness to the Lord, in his God-pleasing attitude while nine others were joined in their ungratefulness”.
“Dear brothers and sisters! Let us be wise and discerning what is good and beneficial for our souls and what is bad and dangerous. Let us remember that we are being saved in the Holy Church, in a sanctified gathering, but we are saved individually. Salvation is our own personal agenda. If we see that people around us do not care for salvation, we better avoid them and take care of our souls. But if we see the true Church of God, the true Body of Christ where we may be saved, we have to be there. Thus, like those ten lepers, let us be together for acquiring the divine grace, to receive the healing of the souls, but like one of them, let us be alone in our personal journey for salvation. And may the all-merciful Lord by the prayers of Venerable Sabbas praise our efforts and bless our ways, both common and individual!”

During the Litany of Fervent Supplication the Rector had a petition for the suffering country of Ukraine and its people. He also added a commemoration of the “suffering Ukrainian land” at the Great Entrance.

The choir nicely performed hymns dedicated to the commemorated Venerable Sabbas the Sanctified during preparation for Holy Communion.

After the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector greeted our Sacristan and altar server, Andrew Malyshev on the occasion of his past name day. Traditional Polychronion (“Mnogaia leta!”) was proclaimed and the Theotokian prosphora given. Then Fr. Igor handed the presents from St. Nicholas to the parish children.

26th Sunday after Pentecost

 

On December 11, on the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, our Parish family gathered for a nice celebration. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov performed the Divine Liturgy in our St. George Church. After the reading from the Holy Gospel he preached the following homily:

“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Today the Holy Gospel tells about the healing of a woman who was sick, bent over for 18 years (Lk. 13, 10-17). She came to the synagogue on the Sabbath, and our Lord Jesus Christ who was there teaching the people delivered her from her infirmity. You may think that all the people present there should rejoice seeing that healing. However, as the Gospel says, some of them condemned Christ for that act because it was done on the Sabbath when, according to the Jews, no labor can be performed”.
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, today we should speak about proper keeping of the Fourth Commandment of God, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Ex. 20, 8). That Commandment was very important for the Jews in the times of Christ and it is still very important among them. “Sabbath”, or in Hebrew shabat means rest, discontinuance of any work. That Commandment was set by God, so after 6 days of work man may rest on the 7th day; that he may stop working physically but may engage in some spiritual work – to remember about God and to pray. In a similar way, according to the Book of Genesis, God Himself was creating the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th day and blessed that 7th day (Gen. 2, 1-3). And when God was giving His law to Moses, it contained that Commandment to remember that 7th day of Sabbath and to keep it holy”.
“However, that Commandment was not always understood correctly. The Jewish religious sect of Pharisees in the times of Christ was teaching to keep the Sabbath very strictly, but mostly outwardly. And their cause was continued by the Jews after Christ. If the Sabbath starts, they stop everything. Nothing can be done. They may not even walk longer than it is prescribed. They may not light the fire. Nowadays they say that you may not drive a car or ride in the elevator. A bunch of Jewish books were written about that – they call them the Talmud. And it contains so many prescriptions: what can be done and what cannot be done on the Sabbath, so the common man can easily get confused. This is why, when Jesus came to the world, He began to denounce the Pharisees telling them that they replaced the Commandments of God by the teaching of men”.
“Thus Jesus in today’s Gospel was condemned by those Talmudists because He performed a healing on the Sabbath. But the Lord properly responded to the accusers. He called them hypocrites and reminded that even on the Sabbath they perform necessary works, like, for instance, they loose their ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it (Lk. 10, 15)”.
“For the Jews, Sabbath was the day of the Lord, and for us such day is Sunday. In the New Testament it replaced the Sabbath because on that day, the first after the Sabbath, our Lord was risen from the dead. Therefore, in the Russian language that day is called voskresenie, the Resurrection. And every such 7th day is a little Pascha, commemoration of the Christ Resurrection. And if you take the Slavonic word for Sunday – nedelia – it is from the words “ne delati” meaning “not doing”. It means that on this day we don’t work. So, for us the Fourth Commandment had never been abolished. In our Christian observance, first of all, we need to keep the spirit of the Lord’s day: for 6 days we have to do our work, and then the 7th day should be dedicated to God. It means that on Sunday we have to abstain from physical and any unnecessary work, and to come to the church for prayer and participation in the Divine Liturgy. We should also perform the works of mercy and charity on that day. However, many people violate that Commandment, especially nowadays”.
“We may recall that in our old country many people were not raised in faith, so most of them now do not observe the Lord’s day. The Communists who were in power in those lands, were fighting the religion and wanted to alienate the people from keeping the Lord’s day. They were holding special working days on Sunday, requested schoolchildren to collect scrap metal. The farmers during the reap season were forced to work relentlessly in the fields. As the result, many Soviet people, even those who were not complete atheists, began not to observe Sundays: they did cleaning of their homes, washing of their clothes or cultivating their gardens. Only a minority, and mostly the inhabitants of the regions occupied by the Soviets later – like people in the Western Ukraine – kept many Christian customs and observed that Commandment”.
“But nowadays even the people living in the Western world which was not under the godless Communist rule, people in Europe and America, lose Christian faith and neglect the Commandments. And therefore, now we see everywhere that the Fourth Commandment is not observed: the people mow their loans, wash their cars or do other physical work on Sundays. There used to be so-called the “blue laws” in America that prohibited to open the stores on Sundays, but now most of them are repealed”.
“Dear brothers and sisters, all these things are sad. But, despite the spirit of this world, we have to keep the true faith and strive to observe the Commandments of God. But in our observance we need to beware of the “leaven of the Pharisees”, meaning that we need to observe Sunday not only outwardly. For among us we may have some legalistic persons resembling the Pharisees. They would not work, would not even use the scissors on Sunday, but would judge the neighbor or would not help him. We need temperance in everything, not an unwise zeal. Therefore, as the Lord taught us, we need to observe the spirit, not the letter of the law. The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”, – He taught (Mk. 2, 27). Therefore, any good deed done for another person should always be performed, especially on the holy days. To visit the sick, to feed the hungry, to serve others, as the Gospel teaches – all that should be done. On the other hand, we should not hide behind the “help of your neighbor”, but do cleaning or washing on Sundays if that’s convenient for us. We need to have reasoning and desire to please the Lord”.
“That sick woman who was bent over and could not straighten up is the image of our soul. Sometimes sin bends our soul, so in our life we see nothing but dirt, nothing but earthly and vain things. And only our Lord Jesus Christ is able to straighten our souls, so they might see the divine heaven. And we need to strive for it, but in such a way that we would not appear Christians only outwardly; that we would seem to be Christians because we observe the external rules that the Holy Church gives us, but to be Christians in our souls”.
“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! May today’s story of the healing of the bent woman teach us the correct observance of the Commandment regarding the 7th day, the day of the Lord. Let our observance of that precept be meaningful, not only external but internal and spiritual. May the keeping of Sunday, of the Lord’s day, holy lead us to the future day of the Lord when His Kingdom will come!”

During the Litany of Fervent Supplication the Rector had a petition for the suffering country of Ukraine and its people. He also added a commemoration of the “suffering Ukrainian land” at the Great Entrance.

The choir beautifully performed hymns dedicated to the commemorated Saint, Venerable Martyr Stephen the New during preparation for Holy Communion.

Following the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector made a remark regarding the Nativity Fast. He said that we have passed two weeks of that fast, so if someone did not get attuned to the fasting mood and observance, should brace himself and get involved in that spiritual exercise.

25th Sunday after Pentecost. Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple

 

On December 4, on the 25 th Sunday after Pentecost, feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our parish temple. After the Gospel lesson he preached the following homily:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Today we celebrate the 25 th Sunday after Pentecost and feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Mother of God into the Temple. The first Gospel lesson is telling us about a wealthy man whom God called “fool”, although he was not a fool by this world standards. He was a good and successful businessman, a landowner. Yet he was fool in the eyes of God because he grew rich for Himself instead of becoming rich toward God”.
Our Lord says, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Lk. 11, 23). It happens that a man is working all his life gathering his wealth, taking a good care of his business, worrying about making more and more riches and thinking that it will sustain him for many years. But at the end it turns out that all these efforts are useless because this treasure is gathered without God. God is not there, thus it has no worth. Thus all such man’s labors become unsuccessful and fruitless. The only true wealth and true possession is the one which a man does not lose here on earth, but takes it along with himself into afterlife. Such a treasure is gathered in the Lord”.
How could we become rich toward God? All our actions and all our desires need to be in accordance with the faith of Christ. They need to be in accord with the Commandments of God. Jesus Christ has to lead our lives. Then we could gather the treasures that will be in Christ and become rich toward God. And such a treasure will never be taken away from us. Just as Mary from today’s second Gospel lesson listening to the words of Christ acquired a better part than her sister Martha who worried about unnecessary things. The Lord said that Mary will not be deprived of her chosen part (Lk. 10, 42)”.
If you think about Martha’s efforts, you may compare it to our usual preparations for a party. Recently we celebrated Thanksgiving and many people had special dinner at their homes, invited guests. They probably were very busy with cooking and serving. And it is a very good and nice thing – to be hospitable, to treat your family or friends. However, what happens later? The dinner is over, the meals are eaten. The leftovers are given away or stay in your refrigerator. If you are an Orthodox, you were not supposed to eat most of them on Friday, you had to finish them on Saturday and Sunday. Then what? Your celebration is behind, your guests are away, your enjoyment is over. You labored only for that event which is now finished. Same was with Martha: she was right in caring for the guests, especially since Jesus was at her house, but she was wrong in her overwhelming with that. Mary was more correct in taking her time listening to Christ. Because the words He spoke, although at some point He finished speaking them, those words remained in Mary’s heart forever. And they became her treasure that could never be taken away from her, the true wealth that probably led her to salvation. It never finished, was not ended like some celebration we may hold”.
Dear brothers and sisters! The true wealth which may never be taken away from us consists of things belonging to spiritual and eternal world, things coming from God. Therefore, if we do not labor and do not gather with the Lord, we cannot acquire any good or any truth. And if we possess anything without Christ, it is illusionary, not real, not valuable. Therefore, all our efforts and our works will be useless”.
Celebrating today’s feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Mother of God, we see the Virgin Mary as a four-year-old girl brought to the Temple by Her parents Joachim and Anna. Their daughter was the most precious treasure they possessed. And they wished to offer that treasure to God. Most Holy Virgin stayed in the Temple until such time as She Herself will accept to become a temple, Her womb becoming the dwelling for God Incarnate. The Virgin becomes the Mother of God, She who from that day on inhabits the Temple, Herself becomes the Temple of God. What treasure can be greater than that?”
Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: what is our treasure? Does it belong to eternal world, to the divine things? Or it is temporary and won’t last forever? And which world therefore we seek? Which things we wish to inhabit us? Which is our choice? Do we gather with Christ or do we scatter? In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks to us: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11, 28). Let us, therefore, not only hear the words of Christ, but also keep them, inhabiting the world of God, the eternal and spiritual things, so that God will then come and inhabit us”.

During the Litany of Fervent Supplication the Rector had a petition for the suffering country of Ukraine and its people. He also added a commemoration of the “suffering Ukrainian land” at the Great Entrance.

During preparation for Holy Communion the choir nicely performed the hymns of the feast of the Entrance.

After the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector greeted the faithful on the great holy day of the Theotokos and pointed out that we passed the first week of the Nativity Fast.