26th Sunday after Pentecost


On December 22, on the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, St. George Church held a liturgical celebration. The Divine Liturgy was served by the parish Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov. After the reading from the Gospel he preached a homily:

“Today is December 22, and this is the shortest day of the year. Last night was the longest night, but starting tomorrow the days little by little will get longer. Natural darkness will be overcome by light. In today’s Epistle lesson St. Paul also talks about the light and darkness, but in a spiritual sense.”
“Today’s Epistle reading to the Ephesians has many beautiful thoughts and instructions for us. Every phrase, every sentence of today’s reading is precious. But the main idea of St. Paul’s message was to remind his spiritual children that they have to spend their life wisely, doing things which are really important and necessary for salvation. The main thought is to tell us that we have a precious gift of time, and our time must be filled with rather spiritual, not worldly preoccupation. St. Paul calls it “to walk as children of light” (Eph. 5, 8). What a nice expression! We say that Jesus Christ is our Light, so we are His children, “children of Light”. Our journey of this life has to be “walking as children of light”. St. Paul shows the contrast between light and darkness, day and night. For him life without remembering of God, without faith in Jesus Christ was like walking in the darkness. And, on the contrary, since Christ is our Light, living with Him is walking in the light. But in order to walk in the light, as St. Paul tells us, we have to find out “what is acceptable to the Lord” (Eph. 5, 10). It means that we have to learn what is right and what is wrong, what is good and evil, eternal or temporary. It is about choosing what is best for us. And it is about establishing the priorities.”
“Today’s Epistle lesson becomes especially useful if we remember that we are in the middle of the Nativity Fast, if we recall that we should be preparing ourselves for Christmas. Here we are confronted with many visible features of this world, the world which often lives without remembering of God. All those commercials, advertisements dedicated to Christmas, all that rush with buying presents, going shopping and preparing for the holiday season, – all of that very rarely reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. This kind of preparation may not be wrong by itself, but it is not going to get us far in our spiritual life. We have to remember about priorities. And the priority is to prepare for the Nativity by spiritual works, by prayer, fasting, and repentance. This is why the Church established this period called St. Philip’s Fast to help us in that preparation. This is the right time “to walk as children of light” and to walk carefully, as St. Paul instructs us, saying, “Walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 15-17). I think that this is an excellent instruction!”

“When I served at one of my former parishes I once had a conversation with a woman, a parishioner of mine. She had certain disability and was not able to attend the church. I asked her whether she wants me to visit her during the Nativity Fast, so she could receive the Sacraments before Christmas. The woman answered that she is too busy preparing for the holidays. She said that she has to prepare the pirohy for Christmas Eve supper. The time the conversation occurred was three weeks before Christmas. Three weeks before the holy day, and this woman is saying that she has to spend most of her time making pirohy! Is Christmas about the pirohy or any other food? Was Christ born and came to this world, so we can make pirohy? Is it all He wants from us: the Christmas tree, decorations, lights, presents? Or maybe we should distinguish what is really important, necessary, and what is of the less importance. Having a traditional Christmas Eve supper with all those twelve meals is very nice. It is great, but it is much less important than having a pure heart, clean soul and joyful spirit. And Christmas shopping, certainly, is much less important than spending your time in prayer, in spiritual expectation of our Lord coming to us, in repentance for our sins, in going to confession. Believe me, staying and waiting in the line for confession is much more helpful and fruitful than spending your time in the line at the shopping center!”
“Going to confession before Christmas is spiritually fruitful. And St. Paul mentions today the word “unfruitful”. He urges us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5, 11). Time is precious, and we have to spend it fruitfully. Many worries, cares and preoccupations of this world are, in fact, unfruitful.  And especially fruitless are the works of sin and dark desires of our corrupted nature. Why should we waste our time having fellowship with them?”

“Dear brothers and sisters! The message of today’s Epistle lesson is in the words of St. Paul who calls us, “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Eph. 5, 14). When we care about less important things, when we spend our time doing less important tasks, we are in the spiritual darkness, we are spiritually asleep, even dead. Let us awake, especially now, during this blessed time of Fast, let us walk in the light, let us walk “circumspectly”, not as fools, let us understand what the Lord’s will is for us. His will is that we remember that there is God who cares, who loves and who gave His only Son for us. This Son of God we should be expecting now, when we prepare for the holy days. This Son of God we should be expecting any day of our life. Thus, let us be awake and expecting!”

After the dismissal of the Liturgy Fr. Igor had a brief sermon about the feast of the Conception of the righteous Anna that we celebrate on December 22. He mentioned that Roman Catholics developed an elaborated teaching about the Immaculate Conception of Mary which they would celebrate today, if they were following our calendar. We, Orthodox Christians, do not share that Catholic belief not because we do not consider Virgin Mary sinless and immaculate, but because we strongly believe that Her freedom from sin was not a result of being “programmed” in the beginning, at the moment of Her Conception. It was a result of Her personal choice to serve the Lord and not to commit any sin. Of course, Virgin Mary was abundantly blessed by God’s grace to make such a choice. But the choice was Hers. And it was finally made when She responded to Angel Gabriel saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord” (Lk. 1, 38). And today’s feast celebrated on the shortest day of the year when the light will soon begin to overcome darkness in the earthly nature, this feast reminds us of the Conception of Mary, the Theotokos who began Her life today. Later She was born, grew up and then She gave birth to the Son of God who overcame the darkness of this world.

Following the service our parishioners and the Rector enjoyed delicious meals and a good conversation at the coffee hour.

Patronal feast at St. Nicholas Cathedral


On December 19, on the feast of the Holy Father among the Saints, Nicholas the Wonderworker our Patriarchal Cathedral in New York celebrated its Patronal feast. The Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas was celebrated by His Eminence, Archbishop Justinian. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov joined the Archbishop and other clergy and concelebrated the service. Celebration was also attended by our Warden and Choir Director Olga Roussanow and our parishioner Moses Dunetz.

Following the Divine Liturgy our Rector and parishioners attended festal luncheon held at the Cathedral hall.

25th Sunday after Pentecost


On December 15, on the 25th Sunday after Pentecost St. George Church’s Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov celebrated the Divine Liturgy in our temple. After the Gospel reading he preached a homily:

“The message of today’s St. Paul’s Epistle lesson is about unity. St. Paul is writing to the Ephesians and all early Christians that they should live “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4, 3). He explains this unity saying that “there is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father for all” (Eph. 4, 4-6). So, today we will reflect on the unity. It is very important to be united. Perhaps every nation has proverbs, sayings or parables about the importance of unity. If a nation is united, it can overcome any powerful enemy. If a family is united, it can survive any crisis. Unity is an indispensible condition for a group of people to achieve success.”
“However, if we look at the way we, people, live and relate to each other, we may realize that unity is very desirable, but not often an existing thing. People are divided in many ways. They are conservative or liberal, Republicans and Democrats, pro-life and pro-choice, Christians and Jews, believers and atheists. To make the issue trivial, let us recall that we have different taste. People like different food or different colors. People have differences. We are different in many ways. And in many instances it is totally appropriate to be different, to hold a distinct opinion or to like what somebody else does not like. God created us to be different, to be individual persons. But in some cases people need to be united. In some instances differences become very dangerous, if not fatal. If a boat is sinking, everyone should work together in order to be saved, cooperate with the captain and not express the differences. In such a situation differences in opinion as to what should be done may cost people lives.”
“This is the case when people are bound together in striving to achieve the goal of eternal salvation. Such a group of people is a community of believers called the Church. The Church has to be one, all members should be united by one goal, one way of life, one spirit. Although we are many different persons with many different thoughts, opinions and preferences, we have to share one nature in Christ. As St. Paul believes, this is a new nature uniting Christian community, so it has “one body and one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4, 4-6). We have one God in whom we believe, one and only Savior, Jesus Christ whom St. Paul calls “one Lord”. In Baptism we all become able to partake of the same nature. We also become the followers of one teaching, and as St. Paul put it, “called in one hope” (Eph. 4, 4). These are the things in which we may not have differences. These are the points about which we may not argue. It would be improper or dangerous to argue about that. Therefore, St. Paul warned his spiritual children that they have to preserve unity in faith.”

“Speaking of these signs of unity St. Paul reveals us a mysterious reality of life of the Holy Trinity in the Church. He tells us about one God, one Lord and one Spirit, the Three divine Persons of the Trinity, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He also combines one Baptism and the three virtues of faith, hope and love into one great reality. Each Person of the Trinity sanctifies us, but the sanctification is one, because our Baptism is one, and the grace of that Sacrament is one.”
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, we need to preserve the unity of faith. We cannot divide the body of Christ, the Church. We cannot separate ourselves from it. But there may be a question how this unity should appear. St. Paul describes it very briefly is “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4, 3). Should it be then a uniform group of people with the same views, customs and habits? Or, on the contrary, should it be a unity in diversity where each person or each particular group has certain distinctive features? Should it be a “melting pot” or a beautiful mosaic? This country, the United States, was first tending to be a melting pot for the nationalities joining here together, but later it began to consider itself rather a beautiful mosaic consisting of different ethnic and religious groups with their different customs, cultures and traditions. This kind of unity gives strength to this nation.”

“Same kind of unity should be preserved in the Church of Christ. Resembling the mysterious unity of the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, the Church has different traditions, customs of the different nationalities that all united in the same Universal Church. We have such differences between the Greek and Russian Church. We have also some distinctions between each ethnic Orthodox community, between the Russians, Serbs, Romanians and so on. But all of us united in the same faith, same Baptism, same hope to achieve salvation. Some people may visit a Greek parish and say, “Oh, they pray, sing and serve differently. There is something wrong with them!” These people would be mistaken. The Greeks are of the same Orthodox faith as we are. Even in the same national Church there may be some slight differences between one parish and another. And again, some people may go to another parish and say that there is something wrong there. They are mistaken. The Church is not a melting pot. It is a unity in diversity.”
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not forget one hope of our calling (Eph. 4, 4). Let us keep the unity of one faith, hope and love, the unity in one Spirit, one Lord and one Baptism, in “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all” (Eph. 4, 6).”

After the Liturgy dismissal Fr. Igor congratulated our parishioner and sacristan, Andrew Malyshew on the occasion of his past name day and wished him God’s blessings and many happy years. A traditional polychronion (“Mnogaia leta”) was sung.

The Rector also said a brief sermon about the feasts of the coming week, especially about St. Nicholas Day (December 19). He also reminded of the days of commemoration of the Old Testament Prophets during this time of the Nativity fast. Fr. Igor called the parishioners to spend this season of fasting reading the Scripture, especially the books of the Old Testament prophecies about coming of the Messiah into the world. That coming was prophesized in those books and we now spiritually expect to celebrate it on Christmas.

24th Sunday after Pentecost


On December 8, on the 24th Sunday after Pentecost we had a celebration in our temple. The Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. Following the Gospel reading he preached a sermon:

“In today’s Epistle lesson St. Paul is talking about us, Christian people, as about some kind of building. He says that we are “built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone in whom the whole building being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord…” (Eph. 2, 20-21). These words and these beautiful examples St. Paul used to convince the early Christians that all of them, both Jews and Gentiles, all those who converted to Christ, became united in Him as parts of one building. Both circumcised and uncircumcised, became fitted together in one community established by God.”
“We should admit that St. Paul is also talking about us. In Christ each one of us becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit. Recently we celebrated feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Mother of God into Temple. The Blessed Virgin Mary entered the holy Temple in Jerusalem. But in our prayers we say that Mary Herself was a Temple because She had to bear the Son of God. God found Himself a dwelling within Her. But also from the moment Virgin Mary entered the Temple of Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies, Her human life itself became a Temple. Later every follower of Christ became a temple, because God dwells within us by His grace and because we are united with Him as members of His Body.”
“That understanding leads us to another idea that St. Paul conveys in today’s Epistle lesson. He is talking about the spiritual building of the Body of Christ, of the Church. We, as its members, are built on the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, and the cornerstone of the building is Jesus Christ Himself. In Him, says St. Paul, the whole building is fitted together (Eph. 2, 21). Thus, we are parts of the building which is the Church. We are the members of the greater Body which belongs to Jesus Himself. We are also members of God’s household, as St. Paul nicely put it in today’s lesson. He says, “You are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the Saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2, 19). If you really think about this, you may realize what a great thing it is! Some people dream of being members of a wealthy and influential family, some people wish they were born to rich and noble parents. Here we are, all of us, born to the family of Christ, members of God’s household! What family can be more powerful, what household can be wealthier?! We are the parts of Christ.”

“This kind of honor requires a lot of responsibility. That means, we have to be aware of the great role which is given to us. If God wishes to permeate all our life, we must be aware of that and cooperate with His grace in all moments of our existence.”
“One Christian preacher said once, “The real test of religion is life. To know whom you worship, let me see you in your shop, let me overhear you in your trade; let me know how you rent your houses, how you get your money, how you keep it, or how you spend… The test of your religion is your weekday life, your works, and not your words.” He was right although he wasn’t Orthodox. He was right because we need to practice religion not only by what we do in church, but also by what we do out of church: how we speak, how we earn money, how we treat our family. Of course, the Church is necessary. Here we meet Christ, here we are able to receive Him in the Eucharist. But in another way we meet Him also outside of church in everyone, even in least of our brethren. In the temple we receive Christ, but we need to bring Him out of the temple, into the world to reshape the world according to Christ.”

“Dear brothers and sisters! If we are members of God’s household, parts of the Body of Christ, and temples of the Holy Spirit, let us bring the Triune God to others. Our stay in the holy temple is like staying on Mt. Tabor. But Jesus did not heed the request of Peter to remain on the mountain. He descended into the valley to continue His ministry. Therefore, the purpose of our ascension through prayer and the Liturgy in the temple is that we may be transfigured with Christ and then descend from our ‘Temple mountain’ into the valley of life to transfigure it with His grace and love.”

Since on this day the Church observed final day of the celebration (apodosis) of the Entrance of the Most Holy Mother of God, upon the Liturgy dismissal the Rector and altar servers performed the rite of glorification in front of the festal icon. They sang the troparion, kontakion and magnification of the feast.

After the service Fr. Igor had a brief speech reminding the parishioners that on December 8 we commemorate Holy Hieromartyr Clement, pope of Rome. This Saint who was one of the Apostolic men, one of the first bishops of Rome, is dear to us, members of the Russian Church because he was exiled to Crimea and martyred there. Later his relics were miraculously uncovered there. At the same place in Crimea our enlightener, great prince Vladimir received holy Baptism. Our local Church of Rus’ has its beginnings there. Therefore, St. Clement being a Roman and the bishop of Western Church, was in fact a Saint of the Universal Church who is so dear to us, the Russian Orthodox.

Following our services parishioners enjoyed the coffee hour having delicious refreshments and a nice conversation.

Entrance of the Most Holy Mother of God into Temple

On December 4 the Church celebrates feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Mother of God into Temple. We had a nice celebration at St. George Church. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. Following the Scripture readings he preached a homily:

“The Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Mother of God happened, according to the preserved accounts of Holy Tradition, in the following manner. The parents of the Virgin Mary, righteous Joachim and Anna brought their little daughter Mary to the Temple when She was 3 years old.  Then the high-priest, through an inspiration from above, led the Most Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies. It was a special place in the Temple, separated by the veil where only the high-priest could enter one time a year with a purifying sacrifice of blood. Therefore, all those present in the Temple were astonished at this most unusual occurrence…”
“The meaning of this holy day for us is very profound. Today we hear the Troparion of this feast saying that we celebrate a “preview, or prelude of the goodwill of God”. The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies is a preview of what was intended by God to happen to the human kind. Not Blessed Mother, but Her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ entered the Holy of the Holies to offer a sacrifice for the whole humanity. Due to that sacrifice of His blood shed on the Cross, we became saved. And coming of the Blessed Virgin into the Temple, Her ascending on the steps leading to it, it is a sign, a preview of our universal ascending to the countenance of God.”
“The Prophet, holy king David  foresaw this and exclaimed, The virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You, with gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought; they shall enter the King’s palace”(Ps. 44, 15). Those virgins, the companions of the Theotokos are the souls of the faithful. The King’s palace is God’s heavenly abode. It is the task for our souls to follow the Blessed Virgin, to be Her companions.”
“The tradition tells us that the little girl Mary ascended to the Temple through the steps. There were 15 those steps. In the same way, our souls may have many steps to climb into the heavenly glory, up to the holiness. St. Theophan the Recluse, a great Russian spiritual writer,  named three major and most important steps for our souls to follow the Theotokos.”

“St. Theophan says that the first step is to chose virtue instead of sin, to chose good over evil. It is already difficult because our corrupted souls like to live according to the desires of flesh. Our flesh enslaves the soul, and the soul lives pleasing the flesh. For instance, it is easier to eat everything than to keep fast. It is easier to indulge yourself than to persevere. If we firmly chose virtue and pious life over a life of sin, then we make the fist step.”|
“The second step is to act in piety not just superficially, but through all our mind and through all our heart. Some people appear to be good, pious or caring, but they do it because it makes them look good, because it helps them in life or makes them successful. For instance, some workers do good work because they want to be paid well and to be promoted, not because they feel they should be good workers. All our essence should desire to be good in our hearts and works, to be pious before the Lord and to be caring for the neighbor.”

“Finally, the third step is to live with God, to feel His presence, “to walk before God”, as the Scripture says. This is the goal of the soul. Two previous steps are just preparing for that. This is to enter through the veil, to enter into the Holy of Holies, to be in front of God’s countenance. Some holy people became worthy of such a state. They were able to reach that final step even during their earthly life. Thus, this is possible for us.”
“These are the three steps to follow the Most Holy Mother of God in Her Entrance. On which step is our soul? Let us remember that any one of those three steps is good. What is not good if we are under them, if we lay in sin and chose sin instead of climbing those steps. Thus, dear brothers and sisters, like those virgins, the companions of the Blessed Virgin, let us follow Her on the steps to the entrance into the King’s holy palace, into the heavenly abode of the Almighty God!”

After the Liturgy dismissal the Rector and the altar servers came before the icon of the feast and performed the rite of glorification singing the troparion, kontakion and magnification of the Entrance. After celebration Fr. Igor congratulated the parishioners on the occasion of the feast and expressed his joy of seeing children in the temple.

23rd Sunday after Pentecost


On December 1, on the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost St. George parish had a liturgical celebration in our temple. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. After the Gospel lesson he preached a sermon:

“Today we began reading the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians. The main theme of this Epistle is to tell about the riches of Christ given in the Church. Thus, in today’s reading we hear the following words: “God who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2, 4). It should be noted that if we read the whole chapter, and not just the assigned lesson for today, we would see that these beautiful words are preceded by the word “but”. St. Paul says that the Ephesians once walked according to the course of this world, according to the evil one, conducted themselves in the lusts of flesh; they were by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2, 2-3). “But,” – he says, “God… made us alive” (Eph. 2, 4). “But” is a word which makes a difference.”
“We say, “That is a good idea, but…” “He is a good person, but…” Some of us may be unlucky to hear, “You are a good worker, but I have to let you go”. That word may change the whole situation.”
“This is true in our reading of the Scripture. Again and again we come upon the expression “But God…” Whatever may have been said before is immediately corrected by these words. Today’s Epistle lesson is an example of that. The Ephesians and the whole human kind was living in sin, was driven by the devil, was following the desires of body and mind. But God who is rich in mercy corrected that and made alive those who were dead through trespasses. We had no way to escape the bondage of the devil, the slavery to sin, and the condemnation of death, but God had such a way for us. We were helpless sinners, says St. Paul in another Epistle, to the Romans. Then he says those two words again: “But God shows His own love toward us, in that we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5, 8). No matter how sinful we are, how unworthy or inferior we consider ourselves, God’s forgiving love can hardly wait to bestow upon us the immeasurable riches of His grace. Yes, we are sinful, but God’s mercy is greater than any sin.”
“Let us recall some other examples from the Scripture. The book of Genesis tells us about righteous Joseph, the son of Jacob. He was sold to slavery by his own brothers, then he was brought to Egypt. There he was wrongfully accused and thrown into prison. The Scripture  says, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper” (Gen. 39, 21-23). It seems that everything was against Joseph, but God was with him. Life does terrible things to us. We suffer broken hopes, moral failures, different misfortunes. But God is able to bring good even out of evil to those who love Him and work with Him. Thus, at the end of the story Joseph said to his brothers, You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50, 20).”
“Another example we find in the Gospel. Jesus said to the holy Apostle Peter one day, “Simon, Simon,
behold, Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” (Lk. 22, 31). In time of deepest darkness and despair Jesus wanted Peter to know that He cared. He prayed to him to be restored and to become an example of a firm faith to his fellow Apostles.”

“And our final example from the Scripture for today: Jesus on the Cross. He died and then He was buried. That was to be the end of the greatest life ever lived. But wait! Here comes another and the greatest “but” ever spoken “But God raised Him from the dead” (Acts 13, 30).”
“Dear brothers and sisters! The world may press in upon us, but God makes the difference. We are weak, but in Jesus Christ we find strength. We are tempted but in Him we find a way out. We despair, but in Him we find hope. May the Lord God help us to cling to Him!”

After the Liturgy dismissal Fr. Igor reminded parishioners that on Wednesday, December 4 we will celebrate feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Mother of God into Temple. He urged to bring children to the church for that celebration, despite it is a school day. For we will commemorate a special event when holy parents Joachim and Anna brought their 3 year old little daughter Mary, the future Mother of the Savior, to the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Classes may be skipped on such days, and parents should not be afraid to write a note to the schools that their children participated in a religious celebration. It is considered a legal absence in the American schools. Parents may think that they do good to their children if they send them to school, but when they do it on the days of great Church celebrations, they harm their kids spiritually. Fr. Igor encouraged parents to raise children in a spiritual and religious way. He recalled an example of the holy Martyr Barul whose memory we celebrate on this very day (Dec. 1). This Saint was martyred along with St. Roman, and he was a young boy. His mother encouraged him to suffer and die for Christ, although he was only a teenager. When the boy, before being killed, asked for a drink, his mother told him to suffer until the end and refused to quench his thirst. Such examples may not be totally understood by many of our today’s parents living by the rules of the world, but they show the greatness of Christian spirit. And all Christian parents are called to do the best for spiritual education of their children.