Fourth Sunday of Lent

On March 22, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, and feast of the Holy 40 Martyrs of Sebaste, we had a nice liturgical celebration. St. George’s Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. Following the readings from the Scripture he preached a homily:

“Today’s Sunday continues to lead us in our spiritual journey of the Great Fast. Today the Church wishes us to commemorate holy Father John Climacus, or John of the Ladder, a holy monk who lived in the monastery on Mt. Sinai and became an author of the book called “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”. But since today we celebrate feast of the Holy 40 Martyrs of the Sebastian Lake, we omit the commemoration of St. John. We honor those 40 champions of faith who received the crown of martyrdom in the 4th century.”
“Holy 40 Martyrs were the soldiers of the Roman army at the time when Christianity has just become a predominant religion of the Empire. However, a ruler of the Eastern part of the country, Licinius who was against Emperor Constantine, was a pagan, and he continued to persecute Christians in his land. But 40 of his warriors refused to renounce Christ and firmly declared their faith. Therefore, they were tortured. They were forced to get into the waters of the lake near the city of Sebaste. At this time, at the end of March, it was very cold there. Sebaste was located in the region called Great Armenia. Now it is in the middle of Turkey. The climate there is pretty cold in winter. I checked the usual weather in that city and found out that the normal low temperature in March is 29 degrees F.  So, the lake was very cold and filled with ice. But the Martyrs bravely went into the icy waters. They took off their clothes saying, “Let us put off the man of old and let us inherit Heavenly Kingdom!” They endured in the lake the whole night and did not die. The Lord gave them strength to overcome the cold of the icy lake. After that the torturers had to put them to death.”
“The example of the Holy 40 Martyrs of Sebaste teaches us that these people had a great and strong faith. They probably did not know much about Theology. And Theology was not very elaborated in those times. But they believed in Jesus Christ, so they could endure the sufferings and receive the crowns for the Kingdom of God. And today’s first Gospel reading of St. Mark is telling us how important to have faith. Faith helps people to acquire many gifts. Today’s Gospel tells that faith helped a father of a young man possessed by a demon. Due to his father’s faith, he was made whole by our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Lack of faith becomes the reason for many troubles in the world. People who have a very shaky and small faith are easy to be drown away from the right perception of everything around them. This is why we have so many problems in the society, so much immorality in the conduct of the people. For example, our city of New York is now having so many problems also because our Mayor and his officials have a very little faith in God. Otherwise, they would not support and promote sinful lifestyle. But not only secular people, a number of religious communities now support sinful behavior. Episcopal and recently Presbyterian Church decided to bless same-sex unions. We may not realize how it will affect our life, but if we do have faith, we should remember that these sins are calling heaven for revenge. That means that those who engage in these sins are going to punished not only in eternity, but also in this life. And religious, so-called ‘Christian’ communities should remember that. But their faith is little and shaky, so they forget what is written in the Scripture.”
“The world populated with people having insufficient faith resembles a chaos. People suffer in that world because they lack faith. This why our Lord Jesus is shown losing His temper in today’s Gospel and exclaiming: “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?”(Mk. 9, 19).  And when faith is lacking, the people and the world becomes driven by the evil forces, because they have no difficulty to overcome them. The example of the young man possessed by such evil force in today’s Gospel has to show us what may happen to the people lacking faith and not living a spiritual life. They may become prisoners of evil and have no possibility to free themselves.”
“On the other hand, if people have faith, all things become possible. God’s power is being then released through peoples’ faith. And our Lord seeks to elicit such faith from us, as He was seeking to find it in the father of the possessed young man. We read that the father was not certain about his faith in Jesus. He pled with the Lord: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”(Mk. 9, 24). What was that? It is a faith, but faith seeking God’s help. The presence of a doubt does not mean the absence of faith. Christ honors whatever faith we have, as long as it is sincere. He then will increase our faith when we sincerely desire Him to do so.”
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, let us cherish and hold our faith, so we could not be called “faithless generation”. Let us rather understand that our faith may not be great, but let us sincerely ask the Lord to increase it through His divine grace. Let us exclaim with the father of the young man: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” Then He will help and make our faith strong and making wonders. And thus, let us persist in our spiritual journey toward His holy Resurrection.”

Upon the Liturgy dismissal the Rector preached a short sermon in Russian to convey the ideas of his previously preached homily.

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

Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross

On March 15, on the Third Sunday of Lent dedicated to the veneration of the Holy Cross, we had a beautiful celebration in our temple. It was headed by our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov. Before the reading of the Hours the Rector solemnly transferred decorated cross from the altar to the middle of the church and placed it on the stand.

During the Divine Liturgy, following the lessons from the Scripture Fr. Igor preached a sermon in the Russian language. An English version of that homily is as follows:

“On the Third Sunday of Lent when we are in the middle of our spiritual journey towards the holy Resurrection, the Church gives us an opportunity to venerate the holy Cross. The tree of the Cross stands on our way now in order to give us some rest, some comfort, some encouragement for our pilgrimage to the Holy Pascha.”
“The tree of the Cross reminds us that our Lord Jesus Christ offered a perfect sacrifice for us when He died on that holy tree. It tells us that He redeemed us, substituted for us in the punishment He underwent instead of us. He accomplished our salvation for us. We do not have to do anything about it. Our Lord did everything for us. St. Paul talks about that in today’s Epistle lesson calling Christ the High Priest “who has passed through the heavens”(Hebr. 4, 14).  As the high priest who offered sacrifice for the people, Jesus offered a highest sacrifice being the Son of God. But if a high priest could do it entering the holy place in the temple, Jesus could offer it passing through heaven, being the Son of God. That makes such sacrifice the highest possible. This is a great comfort and consolation in all the troubles we may encounter in our lives. This is why St. Paul goes on saying: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need” (Hebr. 14, 6). Thus, the big part is done: we are saved. It is now time for us to do our part which is much smaller.”
“Today’s Gospel lesson tells us about our part. It consists of denying our very self, taking up the cross and following Jesus. We may say that it does not appear to be a “small” thing to do. And it is not. But it is much smaller than what the Lord Himself accomplished for us. He redeemed the whole world. We are called to finish, to confirm it for ourselves only. At this point we may be frightened by the words such as ‘denial’, ‘taking up the cross’ and so on. But let us think about them.”
“‘Denying himself’ does not mean that a man must renounce to be himself. We are not called to refuse to be who we are. But we are expected to reject the things which are transitory, unnecessary and pertaining only to this world. These are the things we will lose anyway when we will pass to the eternal life. Especially we need to reject passions, sins and wrong inclinations. Since those things very often become our nature, the Lord uses the expression “denial of himself”. We must refuse to follow what is wrong in our nature, to renounce it.”
“‘Taking up the cross’ means to do what we are doing anyway. Our earthly life is carrying a cross. Everyone has his own cross to carry. We may carry it in a lousy way or we may carry it with dignity. Jesus wishes us to carry our crosses with dignity. It means to accept the cross, to endure and to be obedient to the will of God. Again, the holy Cross of Jesus should be a great comfort for us while we are carrying our own crosses. We should remember and understand that His Cross was much heavier than ours and much harder to carry. It had a weight of all our sins. We carry only our own.”
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, let us take a rest under the holy tree of the Cross, let us come boldly to the throne of grace, let us obtain help from our merciful Lord Jesus Christ and let us continue our journey denying ourselves, taking up the cross and following Jesus. Let us follow Him into the eternity.”

After the Liturgy dismissal the Rector made a brief speech in English repeating main ideas of his homily previously preached in Russian. He also congratulated our parishioner, Sophia Kay on the occasion of her birthday and proclaimed traditional “Mnogaia leta”.

Following that the Rector and altar servers came out of the sanctuary before the stand in the middle of the church and venerated the Precious Cross.

2015 Annual Parish Meeting

Annual Parish Meeting of St. George’s Church was held on Sunday, March 8, following the Divine Liturgy and coffee hour.
Many of the parish members were present at the meeting and the Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov presided. Church Warden, Olga Roussanow read the minutes of the last Annual Meeting held in 2014. The Rector reported on financial situation. He informed that although church attendance became higher, parish income in the year 2013 was considerably lower than in the previous year. It is due to the fact that two our long-time parishioners and donors missed many church services and did not send their donations. Although our expenses were almost the same, we had a deficit. Parishioners and sponsors could not cover our spending. Fr. Igor recommended again that Parish should introduce some principles of stewardship and that parishioners should plan their contributions for the church needs. However, this could be difficult to some parish members due to financial hardships in today’s times of economic crisis. At least, it is expected that those parishioners who miss the church services should send their donations by mail.

Following the discussion of financial situation it was pointed out that Parish Treasurer should seek more efficient ways of performing her duties. It had been proposed that Valentina Dron will remain on the position of the Treasurer and will work more closely with the Rector. Such proposal was supported by all present members of the Parish.
Considering difficult financial situation it had been also decided to raise parish dues to $100 to be paid twice a year in $50 installments.
Olga Roussanow raised a question regarding possible floor replacement in the church. Parishioners found such project favorable. However, due to the lack of funds it was decided that the project could be started only if the funds for that purpose will be raised.

Second Sunday of Lent

On March 8, on the Second Sunday of Lent, the Rector of St. George Church Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. After the reading from the Gospel he preached a homily:

“On the Second Sunday of Lent we read the Gospel story about healing of the paralyzed man and we honor St. Gregory Palamas, a holy Father who lived in the 14th century. The Scripture reading of today is telling us a number of things. First of all, it is about a spiritual effort, a labor which must be performed in order to receive God’s favor and to acquire salvation.”
“Holy Evangelist Mark tells us today that when our Lord Jesus Christ was in Capernaum and He stayed in a house, so many people gathered there to hear His teaching. Then four men came carrying a paralytic. They could not approach Jesus because of the crowd, so they uncovered the roof where He was. Then they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. These men took a great effort to bring their friend to Jesus, they labored to achieve that goal. And, as a result, the Lord saw their faith and healed their friend. This has to teach us that any spiritual achievement and, above all, our final salvation , requires a great work on our part.”
“If last Sunday we mentioned the heresies, we have to say that a great heresy of our times is to believe that salvation can be acquired without labor. Many people live with such a wrong attitude that if you are so-called “good person”, you may end up in heaven without special spiritual works like penance, prayerful life or attending the church services. Positive thinking and nice attitude by themselves will not save you. They may only help you in your work, but that work must be done. Any person who did not start making spiritual efforts is like a paralytic. We are all more or less spiritually disabled, paralyzed. Only a great spiritual labor will make us healthy and successful. That labor consists of prayerful life, fasting, penance and participation in the Church life. Only these things will heal our spiritual paralysis.”
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, let us look at them as our four friends who may bring us to Jesus, as those four friends brought to Him the paralytic in today’s Gospel. Again, those our four friends are prayer, fasting, repentance and participation in the life of the Church. It is impossible to be saved, it is impossible even to get closer to the Lord without having those four friends. May all of you look at yourselves and see whether you are friendly with those things. Very often we realize that such friendship is not always and fully maintained. But let us admit that it must be. No other force will bring us to the Lord’s grace, His favor and to our salvation except the power of the spiritual works.”
“The Saint whom the Church wishes to honor on the Second Sunday of Lent, Holy Father Gregory Palamas, archbishop of Thessalonica, is known for his writings and teachings where he instructed that people, being subject to sin and imperfection, have a chance to become holy through the works of spirit: through prayer, fasting and penance. He also teaches that men are able to achieve a highest level of spirituality and become so holy, that he may be worthy to see the uncreated light of God, the same light the Apostles saw on Mt. Tabor when Jesus transfigured before them. Such light is from God, thus it is not created, but comes from Him. This may sound very remote from our daily life, especially if we do not practice much spirituality. But this is how much any person is able to reach if he or she will take an effort, do the work, perform a labor.”
“Dear brothers and sisters! Let today’s Second Sunday of our great spiritual journey towards holy Pascha teach us to take spiritual efforts, to use help of the four friends, prayer, fasting, repentance and Church life, and to strive for achieving holiness and salvation.”

Sunday of Orthodoxy

On March 1 the Church celebrated First Sunday of Lent, also known as Sunday of Orthodoxy. St. George Parish had a beautiful celebration on that day. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. Following the Gospel lesson he preached a homily in Russian. The English version of his sermon I as follows:

“On the first Sunday of Lent we commemorate the victory of the true faith over the heresy of iconoclasm. It happened in the 9th century when a wrong teaching prohibiting to venerate the holy images was defeated and condemned at the 7th Ecumenical Council. For that reason today’s Sunday is known as Sunday of Orthodoxy. The feast itself was introduced to mark the victory over the iconoclasm. But at that point in the history, after those seven Councils, the Church completed its proclamation of the Christian teaching. The Church formulated and defined all main truths of faith in the decisions of those Councils. This is why we call that victory not the triumph of the veneration of the icons, but the triumph of Orthodoxy.”
“It does not mean that no more heresies emerged after this triumph. On the contrary, much more of them appeared following the 9th century. But today’s feast means that all the heresies are condemned in advance by the teaching of the seven Councils.”
“In today’s world we may see two main heresies. The one is the wrong understanding who Jesus Christ is, and another is the new iconoclasm, refusal to venerate the holy icons.”
“Some modern heretics call Jesus Christ the Great Teacher; they like His teaching, but they do not consider Him the Son of God.  Even if they admit that He is God’s Son, they still refuse to believe in His miracles and His resurrection. For instance, they often interpret the resurrection of the Lord in the spiritual sense only and deny the resurrection of His Body. All these errors of thought were condemned b the teaching of the seven Councils.”
“If Jesus Christ is not the Son of God, born from the Holy Spirit and the ever- Virgin Mary, and if He did not rise from the dead, then no salvation of the human race took place. Then we remain in sin and death has the power over the world. Then our life has no sense.”
“But we believe that the life has a great value because our Lord Jesus Christ – the Son of God who became man – saved us from the sin and death. And today the Church celebrates the victory of that saving teaching.”
“Another modern heresy is denial to venerate the holy images. Such a wrong conviction can be seen in all the Protestant denominations. Some of the preachers of that heresy call the icons idols. This is not new in the history. They just repeat the mistakes of the ancient iconoclasts.”
“Modern iconoclasts have pretty primitive philosophy. They say that Ten Commandments prohibit to worship the man-made images. The ancient Greeks had more sophisticated grounds to deny the icons. They believed that the matter is evil, thus God cannot unite with the evil things. They went further saying that the Son of God could not unite Himself with the human nature, to become man. But the Holy Scripture clearly states that all created by God is good. God did not create evil. The matter is good because God made it. Our flesh is good, our environment is good, the whole universe is good. The Son of God united with what is good.”
“Thus God who became man can have an image. His human nature can be shown on the holy icons. The true Christians venerate our Lord Jesus Christ, His Blessed Mother and the Saints who are pictured on the icons, and not the wood and paint. In this way we worship the true God who became man and venerate the image of His Incarnation. Jesus Christ for us is a true God and true Man, not an idol. By proclaiming the veneration of the icons the Church protected the truth of the Incarnation.”
“Thus, dear brothers and sisters, let us listen to the Church saying to us today: “Come, let us venerate the holy images of Christ, His Pure Mother and Saints, and let us reject the evil faith of those who proclaim bad tidings.””

After the Liturgy dismissal the Rector performed prayer service of the Sunday of Orthodoxy.