On January 16, on the Sunday before the Theophany, our parish gathered for a nice celebration in our temple. Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. After the Gospel lesson he preached the following homily:
“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! On Sunday before the Theophany we read the beginning of the Gospel of St. Mark. We hear about the preparation for the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ to the world. That preparation was made by God sending St. John the Baptist who is called the Forerunner. He was “running before”, he was a predecessor who had to prepare the way for the Lord”.
“By the way, today we commemorate Holy Prophet Malachi who revealed the God’s prophecy about St. John 4 centuries prior to his life: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You” (Mal. 3, 1). These same words are written by Holy Apostle Mark in today’s Gospel. Prophet Malachi was one of the 12 Lesser Prophets of the Old Testament. In fact, he was the last Old Testament Prophet. Sometimes we say that St. John the Baptist was the last Prophet of the Old Testament and the first Prophet of the New Testament. But to be precise, Malachi was the last one among the prophetic men who was writing about the coming of Christ. And he was writing about the messenger who was supposed to be sent before Christ to prepare His way, prophesying about John the Baptist. But the very name Malachi meant “my messenger” or “my Angel””.
“Dear brothers and sisters! Today’s Gospel story spiritually teaches us that in our own lives we also have to prepare the ways for the Lord. Holy Forerunner John was calling the people to get ready for the coming of the Savior. He said, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight” (Mk. 1, 3). Thus we have to take our own part in that preparation. How can we do that? Let us see what we do to prepare for the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Partaking of the Holy Communion is, in fact, coming of Christ into our life – physical and spiritual coming. So, what we do to get ready for that coming? Usually, we read the rule of prayer, we fast from midnight. But we also examine our conscience and decide whether we need to go to confession. For many of us reception of the Eucharist is connected to another Sacrament – the Mystery of Penance. Very often we need to repent before we partake of the Holy Communion. Even if we choose not to go to confession, we absolutely need to show repentance for our sins before we dare to approach the holy chalice. And our prayers before Communion contain a lot of words of repentance. Therefore, prayer, fasting and repentance are the preparation to unite with the Lord”.
“Sometimes we complain that we do not feel the real help from God, or we say that we are not really exalted by our spiritual works. Today’s Gospel should open our spiritual eyes to see our spiritual state. In order to acquire God’s help and divine blessings, we need to be prepared. We need to do some spiritual labor. St. John the Baptist was calling us to such a labor saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Mt. 3, 2). Spiritual labor is to see our sins, to become aware of them and to confess them, as those people did – the people who were coming to St. John the Baptist. He baptized them, he immersed them into the waters of the Jordan River, so their sins were symbolically washed away. But he was telling them that his baptism is just a preparation for the Baptism of Christ. St. John was saying, “I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk. 1, 8)”.
“Dear brothers and sisters! We now have the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ who is giving us various gifts of the Holy Spirit through His Holy Church. And in order to be spiritually comforted, strengthened and to have God’s blessings and help, we have to work spiritually, we have to prepare our souls for being along with the Lord”.
“The two great holy days, Nativity and Theophany, being united together, make up a joyful season which is called “Sviatki” in Russian. In the ancient Church these two feasts were celebrated on one day, so the Incarnation of the Son of God and His appearance to the world were honored together. That ancient feast was called the Lord’s Theophany. The Armenian Church is still doing that. Although it is formally considered fallen from the fullness of Orthodoxy, it is spiritually close to us and is keeping many ancient traditions of Christianity. And we, who have the two separate holy days, the Nativity and Theophany – we should remember about their spiritual connection to each other”.
“In fact, we have the three important feasts of this season – Christmas, Circumcision of the Lord and His Holy Baptism. They all are linked together. On Christmas day we commemorate the Birth of Christ. On Circumcision we remember that Christ was given His special human name – Jesus, meaning “God the Savior”. And on the feast of Theophany, or Baptism, we commemorate His appearance to the world”.
“When we celebrated Christmas, we recalled that when Christ was born into this world, He found no place in human dwellings. The homes of men, as well as the hearts of men were closed for the Lord coming into the world. But now the Church begins to call us not to repeat what the most people did at the time of the Birth of Christ. Through the lips of St. John the Baptist the Church calls us to open our hearts, to prepare the ways for the Lord, so the Lord would be with us not only at the time of preparation for the feast of His Baptism, but in all our life. By the words of the Holy Forerunner the Church teaches us to follow Christ, to live by His blessed Commandments and to enter the holy Kingdom of God that He brought to us that no one who believes in Him would not perish but had eternal life!”
During the Litany of Fervent Supplication, the Rector had a petition beseeching the Lord to spare the faithful from the outbreak of the disease.
The choir performed Psalm 33 during preparation for Holy Communion.
After the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector made announcements regarding coming holy day of the Theophany.
Parish Warden and Choir Director, Olga Roussanow greeted Archpriest Igor Tarasov on the occasion of his past 56th birthday and expressed good wishes to our pastor on behalf of all the parishioners. Traditional Polychronion (“Mnogaia leta!”) was proclaimed to Fr. Igor. Then the Rector thanked her and parishioners for their greetings.
After the service a delicious luncheon was served in honor of Fr. Igor’s birthday. The Rector and parishioners had a chance to enjoy tasty meals and a nice company. The luncheon was attended by Abbot Eutychius (Dovganyuk) who also greeted Fr. Igor. To adorn the feast, the choir singers performed the Polychronion in a special way and a Ukrainian Christmas carol.