22nd Sunday after Pentecost


On November 24, on the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost we had the Divine Liturgy celebrated in our church. It was served by St. George’s Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov.
Following the Scripture readings Fr. Igor preached a homily:

“On the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost we hear a continuation of the same theme in the Epistle reading as we heard last Sunday. It is about Old Testament rules being abandoned by the followers of the New Testament. Last week we reflected on the words of St. Paul saying that no one can be justified by the works of the Law of Moses, but through faith in Christ. In today’s Epistle lesson St. Paul says, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal. 6, 15). It does not matter whether we follow the Old Testament rules. What matters is whether we are the new creation, new people in Jesus Christ.”
“Thinking of our own life experiences we see that many of us wish to correct our past mistakes. We often wish to change our wrong choices we made in our lives. We would be happy to get a “fresh start”, to have a new beginning, “to start from scratch.” “If only I could begin all over again!” This has been our plea since Adam. Jesus, the Son of God came to us to answer to this plea. He came to give each one of us a fresh start. And He does not require any more to bear a sign of our allegiance to Him on our flesh, as He required the people of the Old Testament. They circumcised their baby boys to show their covenant with God. In Christ this is no longer required. But there are other more important conditions to meet, in order to become that new creation St. Paul speaks of in today’s Epistle.”

“First of all, we have to be born in Christ. Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God… unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3, 3-5). This new birth is given to us in Baptism. The line of heredity was transferred from the old Adam line to the new Christ line. Life found a new origin, a new beginning. We received the Holy Spirit. Our bodies became temples of God. The blood of Jesus now flows in us through Holy Communion. We became the new creation.”

“But this new birth in Christ must be followed by a personal acceptance of Christ as our Lord and Savior. Many of us were baptized at the early age. But even those who received that Sacrament later in their lives, may lose some freshness of its grace. Thus, after the new birth should come this personal acceptance, personal commitment to Him as God. This is followed by repentance for our sins and a complete forsaking of the old life. It is called conversion. But even repentance itself is called the ‘second Baptism’. We are born again and again in a true repentance, in a sincere and honest confession.”

“A man when he is born is only a man. But a man when he is reborn in Christ is more. He is a new man with a new life and a new name. He is even named after Christ: ‘Christian’.  This new person’s task is to put Christ on, to receive the Holy Spirit through prayer and the Sacraments, so we may conduct that new life in union with Christ and in communion with the Holy Spirit. And that can be done only if we are the members of the Christian community. We cannot be in that alone. “We may be damned alone but we are saved together”, said Alexei Khomiakov, a famous Russian religious philosopher. We are saved in a community which is called the Church of Christ. We Orthodox believe that to be saved it is necessary for every human creature to find fellowship in the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ, the Ark of salvation. The Church creates a new man and keeps him alive.”
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, let us truly “commit ourselves and each other and our all lives to Christ, our God,” as we pray every Divine Liturgy. Let us receive a new spiritual birth a renewal in the holy Mystery of Penance, to refresh our baptismal grace and ability to be the new people in Christ. Let us participate in the spiritual life of the Christian community, of the Church. Let us be together in this Ark of salvation, a saving Sheepfold. Then we will be able to become this new people of God, a new creation which will be worthy of seeing the Kingdom of God and entering into eternal blessedness!”

Upon the Liturgy dismissal Fr. Igor reminded parishioners that next week, on November 28 the Church enters into the Nativity fast, a period of spiritual preparation to the great feast of the Birth of Christ. This year the first day of the fast falls on the Thanksgiving Day. Therefore, the Rector urged the people of faith to be wise and prudent during that time and try not to break the fast. As one of the ways to avoid this Fr. Igor mentioned a possibility eating turkey earlier in the week.

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

21st Sunday after Pentecost


On November 17, on the 21st Sunday after Pentecost we had a beautiful celebration at St. George Church. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. After the reading from the Gospel he preached a homily:

“Today’s reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians concerns the idea that a newly converted Christians should not retain the rules prescribed by the Old Testament, by the Law of Moses. Some of the Galatians thought that they should follow the Old Testament regulations and preserve Jewish customs. To persuade the Galatians that those old rules are not in effect for the Christian people, St. Paul wrote, “A man is not justified by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2, 16).”
“Jesus Christ came into this world and brought the New Testament, the new law. This is the law of God’s love. It is based on the old law, because Jesus Himself said that He came not to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Mt. 5, 17). For instance, we still have and have to keep Ten Commandments given by God to Moses. However, the Gospel of Christ makes most of the rules of the old law obsolete. God visited His people and offered Himself for them as a sacrifice. Thus the old sacrifices are of no need anymore. God made all things new (Rev. 21, 5).”

“The rules of the Old Testament such as circumcision, observance of Sabbath, dietary restrictions called kosher, all these prescriptions of the Law of Moses had to be abandoned by the new people called Christians. Those rules ceased to mean something important after Christ had come, died for us and was raised from the dead. He fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, therefore, they had to give a way to His new law, the new reality in Christ, in which “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal. 6, 15). This is why St. Paul says that now no man can be justified by the works of the law, but we can be justified only by our faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 2, 16).”
“People always had certain rules and laws that determine our behavior, shape the way we act and make us do certain things. We know that we have to stop before the red light, we have to pay taxes. Similarly, the laws make us avoid doing certain things. We don’t assault people, don’t steal. There is nothing bad about the laws (at least, about most of them). However, if we observe the law only for the sake of the law, we miss something. If we don’t steal only because there is a law saying that stealing is prohibited and punishable, we miss the most important point. The point is that a good person would not do something because his conscience will not allow him to do so, and not because it is forbidden by the law. The “new creation”, the new people in Christ observe the law because they feel it should be observed. If we have faith in Christ, then it will not allow us to break the law.”

“The Jewish law had many strict observers. In the time of Jesus and the Apostles there was a great number of Jews called Pharisees who meticulously followed the Law of Moses to every least detail. We learn from the Gospel that Jesus often had problems because of these people. He argued with them a lot. The Pharisees picked on Jesus and criticized Him for healing the sick on Sabbath, or for reaping the wheat in the fields on Sabbath when His disciples were hungry. We also recall the parable about a Pharisee and a publican. That Pharisee was proud of himself exactly because he observed the Law. But Jesus pointed out that such an observance did him no good. On the contrary, the publican who was a sinner, who did not follow all the rules of the Law, left the Temple justified. The publican humbly prayed God to be merciful to him; he had a sincere faith, despite his sinfulness. So, “man is not justified by the works of the law, but through faith…””
“We as Christians are supposed to justify ourselves through faith in Jesus Christ. We still have certain religious laws to observe and rules to follow. They are good and important. They help us to find our way to Christ. But they are not the goal of our religious life. We should not observe them only for the sake of those rules. Then we would become like those Pharisees. In our times some Christians are still mistaken about that. Roman Catholics believe that if they observe religious rules and do good works, they receive certain merits, get certain “points” to get to heaven. They think if they collect merits, they can claim salvation. On the other hand, many Protestants think that they don’t need any rules, don’t need to do any works of the law if they believe in Christ. “Believe in Jesus as your personal Savior, and you will be saved!” say many Protestant preachers. Both those communities are in error. They do not understand the teaching of St. Paul. We are justified by faith in Christ, but this faith has to be shown in our works, the works of faith, the works of mercy, the works of the law. Our good deeds and our observance of the Commandments are supposed to be done not because the law says so, and not because we will be rewarded for this or punished if we do not do this.  Our good deeds have to be in our nature as Christians. Doing good things should be like an air we need to breathe. Then we will be justified through faith in Jesus Christ. Such a justification will come not because we do certain things, but because doing them we believe in Christ and strive for the final goal of our existence – to be with Him.”

“Dear brothers and sisters! The law exists to help us. “The Sabbath for made man, and not man for the Sabbath”, said Jesus (Mk. 2, 27). He is the Master of the Sabbath, He is the Giver of the supreme Law. He alone can give a purpose to the laws we follow. Let us believe in Him, follow His commandments and be justified by our faith.”

Following the Divine Liturgy Archpriest Igor Tarasov officiated at the Sacrament of Marriage. Our parishioners Elisej and Anastasia Flora received the Church blessing and were crowned in holy Matrimony. The rite of Crowning was performed very solemnly. Relatives and friends of the groom and bride were present and enjoyed the beauty of our pious liturgical tradition. Upon the dismissal of the office of the Crowning Fr. Igor preached a brief sermon about the meaning of Christian marriage and wished the newlyweds God’s help, divine graces and many happy years.

After the services Elisej and Anastasia were greeted by our parishioners and their relatives and friends. Some refreshments were served and a toast made to the newlyweds.

20th Sunday after Pentecost


On November 10, on the 20th Sunday after Pentecost St. George’s Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. Following the Scripture readings he preached a homily:

“On the 20th Sunday after Pentecost we begin readings from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. A few words should be said about this Epistle. Galatians were the people lived in the region in the middle of Asia Minor called Galatia because a couple of centuries before the Galls were exiled there. St. Paul visited that region and converted a number of people. But when he left some of the Galatians began to question his authority and his teaching. This is why Paul had to write an Epistle to them to defend his apostolic authority and to persuade them that he is conveying the right teaching of Jesus Christ. Therefore, in today’s reading we hear his words:  “I make known to you, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached by me is not according to man… but it came through revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1, 11-12). St. Paul tells that the teaching he received and preached to the Galatians is not man’s invention. It was revealed by Jesus Christ.”
“Christianity is a revealed religion. It was not invented by any wise man, by any philosopher or a religious leader. It came directly from God. Our beliefs, our morals, our values, our guidelines and principles – all were revealed by God through Jesus Christ.”

“Our life is like a traveling in a sea of right and wrong, but God did not leave us without a compass. Any American flight to space could not be accomplished without mission control in Houston. The astronauts were in constant communication with their home base. If they had lost contact, they would have vanished – perhaps forever. If control and guidance are important on a flight to space, how much more important they are for our journey through this life to eternity. Yet the good news is that God has not left us alone on this journey. He has given us guidance. He gave us His Son, Jesus to be our “mission control”. In constant contact with Him, guided and filled with the Holy Spirit, we know the way, we know what the real values of life are.”
“Many today’s people and even today’s Christians are confused and disoriented. This is why we see them accepting wrong ideas and wrong values of this world. This happens because they lose the contact with our “mission control”, with our Lord Jesus Christ and are deprived of the grace of God. On the other hand, a true Christian person should feel like being out of step with the values of this world. It is because he marches to the music of a different drummer: the Lord Jesus. He is the One Who reveals to us values that never change, the eternal value of God. As He Himself said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14, 6).”

“A diamond assessor has a difficult job to determine the value of different finished diamonds. He is surrounded by dozens of trays of those precious stones. One day an assessor was asked how can he look all day at hundreds of diamonds without becoming confused. The assessor smiled. “It is very simple,” he replied. Holding out his hand, he pointed to a fabulous diamond ring on his finger. “This diamond is perfect,” he said. “It doesn’t have a single flaw. Every half hour or so, I put it under my eyeglasses. The picture of the perfect diamond restores my sense of values!””
“What the flawless diamond was to the assessor, the Lord Jesus is to us. By looking constantly at Him and measuring all things in the light of His perfection and His commandments, we keep a sense of what is really important and what is not, what is right and what is wrong, what is eternal and what is temporal, what is expensive and what is cheap, what deserves our allegiance and what does not.”

“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Our religion and our way of life are not based on the opinions of great thinkers or human leaders. They are based on the will of God revealed to us. God has spoken in Christ. He was the One Who spoke to St. Paul. He is the One Who speaks to us today. Let us listen to Him. Let us obey the voice of God said at the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, “He (Jesus) is My beloved Son, listen to Him!””

After the Liturgy Rector and parishioners enjoyed refreshments and a nice company at our coffee hour.

19th Sunday after Pentecost


On November 3, on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost we had our liturgical celebration at St. George Church. The parish Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. Following the Gospel lesson he preached a sermon:
“In today’s Epistle lesson we are told strange words that St. Paul says the Lord Himself told him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12, 9). This is a paradox of our Christian faith: strength is made perfect in weakness.”
“We have to say that Christianity is full of paradoxes, of certain contradictions. We believe in God Who is ineffable, inconceivable and incomprehensible, yet we believe that we may know Him. We say that God does not belong to the world, yet He is present everywhere in the world. We believe that God is Spirit, yet He became man. We believe that God is strange to our nature, yet He acquired our own nature. We believe that God is inapproachable by men, yet we may become the partakers of His nature. In the same way St. Paul tells us that the Lord says that our strength is made perfect in our weakness.”

“When we are weak, then we are strong. This is so because our weakness makes us lean on God’s strength. There is a story of a sheep that limped and never went away from the shepherd. Someone asked about this sheep – why it limped and why it never left the shepherd’s side. The shepherd explained that that sheep was partially deaf and could not hear the shepherd’s voice. As a result, it was often in danger. Many times it had to be rescued. Finally the shepherd had to injure the sheep’s leg. Since then the sheep limped, but it stayed closer to the shepherd and it was safe. The sheep was weak, but it was strong along with the shepherd.”
“In today’s Epistle reading St. Paul tells that he was also afflicted by some “limp”. It did not come from God, but from the evil one. Paul says that he was given “a thorn in flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me” (2 Cor. 12, 7). Many interpreters of the Scripture guessed what kind of “thorn on flesh” St. Paul had. It could be a chronic illness, or troublesome Christians who criticized him, or hard-hearted Israelites who persecuted him, or even some sinful desire which burned St. Paul, tempted his flesh. We don’t know for sure. But what we do know is that God allowed that thorn to remain in order to keep Paul weak, “limping” at the Shepherd’s side where he would find constant strength for his weakness. And when St. Paul discovered that the true purpose of that thorn was to keep him close to the Source of power, he rejoiced. He said, “Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12, 9).”

“All of us, at least once in our lives, were driven into a corner from which there seemed to be no way out. If this happened, you may be sure that God allowed it, so He may come with His almighty power to deliver you. But first He wants you to discover that you are powerless and that you have to depend on Him. “When I am weak then I am strong.” If we are weak, let us admit it and accept it. Let us not pretend that we are able to do a lot of things. Accept the weakness, but not just the weakness. Accept that such feeling of weakness is needed to lead us to Him Who is the real source of strength.”
“Some young man once said to a priest, “Don’t you see, your religion is a crutch!” The priest replied, “Sure it is. But who is not limping?” Like the sheep in the story, we have to limp by the Shepherd’s side. St. Paul did and became strong.”

“St. Paul prayed three times that the thorn in flesh, his weakness might depart from him. God answered him and said, “My grace is sufficient for you…” (2 Cor. 12, 9). To all our weaknesses God may give us His help which will be enough to overcome the difficulties, to solve the problems and to feel secure. And God said to Paul that His power is made perfect in weakness. Paul discovered that God is right. In his weakness Paul leaned on Christ and found power beyond what he thought possible.”
“Let us then, dear brothers and sisters, ask our Lord that our weaknesses may drive us closer to Him and that we may find in Him the strength to follow Jesus on the path of our salvation. Let us then boast in our infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon us!”

Upon the Liturgy dismissal Fr. Igor reminded the parishioners of the feasts celebrated during the following week, especially the solemnity of the Icon of our Lady of Kazan on November 4th. This feast is now a national holiday in Russia because the miraculous icon of Kazan at least two times saved that country from the foreign enemies, especially in 1612 when it helped the people to free Moscow from the invaders.