Second Sunday of Lent

 

On March 24, on the Second Sunday of Lent, St. George Parish family gathered for a nice celebration. Following the Hours the Divine Liturgy was served by our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov. After the Gospel lesson he preached the following homily in English:

“On this Second Sunday of Lent the Church commemorates holy Father Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, a great theologian and a spiritual writer who lived in the 14th century. Almost two years ago I had an opportunity to visit that glorious city of Thessalonica and venerate the relics of St. Gregory Palamas. His relics are kept in the main cathedral of the city dedicated to him, and St. Gregory is the second honored local Saint in Thessalonica after Holy Great Martyr Demetrius.”
“St. Gregory Palamas very much known for his teaching on so called divine energies, on the ways a man can acquire divine grace. Very often we forget about his teaching on human death. Today we should recall the ideas of St. Gregory on that. That great Archpastor of Thessalonica taught that only human body dies but human soul only passes from this world to another. Just like the body dies becoming separated from the soul, so the soul dies if becomes separated from God. Such death of the soul is a true death because in that way the soul becomes separated from God and united with the sin. St. Gregory taught that Christians should ask themselves whether their souls are dead or alive. If they are already dead, separated from God, we may still revive them; they can have a resurrection. It will occur if we truly repent, abandon our sin and unite with God. Repentance and forgiveness of our sins may resurrect our dead souls.”
“Today’s Gospel lesson is telling us about that important and so much saving process. A paralyzed man was brought to our Lord Jesus Christ. He was carried on his bed by four men. Jesus seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you” (Mk. 2, 5). Little later Jesus also healed the paralytic. Thus, the Lord first forgave the sins of the sick man, then He made him whole. That tells us that the trouble with that man was not paralysis but something deeper. Body and soul live so close together that often the sickness of one affects the other. The torture of sin and guilt was the deeper cause of this man’s infirmity. So Jesus removed the primary cause saying that the sins of that man are forgiven.”
“If a person is a bad driver, he will ruin any car, even the best one. The best therapy in such a case is not the constant repairing of the car, but the re-education of the driver. If Jesus had healed only the body of the paralytic, the guilt of unforgiven sin would have found expression in some other physical ailment. This man was paralyzed by sin, and physical paralysis was only an outer manifestation of the inner spiritual infirmity. Sin is the greatest paralysis. It paralyzes man, body and soul. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to cure this paralysis.”
“Going back to our previous talk about spiritual death, as St. Gregory Palamas taught, we may see that the sin, being a paralysis, leads to death. A greatly sinful person is spiritually dying or already spiritually dead. Only our Lord Jesus Christ can heal him and bring him back to life. Only His divine grace, His uncreated energy can resurrect him. St. Gregory preaches to all of us, “Look into your souls, are they alive or dead? Christ is our life. Those who are removed from Christ abide in death, although they are alive in their body. Take care of your soul! Remember, there is only one life – this is life in God, and there is one death – this is alienation from God”.”
“In these days of Lent every Christian must check himself: is he alive or dead. If he died, let him remember that he can rise again here in earthly life, that is, to unite with God. Divine Providence is designed to resurrect human souls from death. The Holy Church, reminding us of the spiritual death, calls us: “Beware therefore, O my soul, lest you be weighed down by sleep, lest you be given over to death”. We believe that our soul is immortal, it does not die. But it can die spiritually: it can undergo eternal death when it will be condemned at the Last Judgment. About that kind of death the Church says when we sing that troparion about Christ the Bridegroom coming in the middle of the night. The Church sings in that hymn that if our soul will not be vigilant, we will be unworthy of the Kingdom of God and we will be given over to death, the spiritual and true death.”
“Dear brothers and sisters! Look into yourself, check your faith and your life. Try here on earth, before death, to reach the resurrection of your soul. Let us exclaim along with Holy Apostle, “Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Eph. 5, 14).”

The choir prayerfully performed hymns to St. Gregory Palamas during preparation for Holy Communion.

After the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector preached a short sermon in Russian addressing the ideas of his English homily. He also made an announcement that on Sunday, April 7, on the feast of the Annunciation we expect the multiple relics to be brought to our church. Among them the relics of Holy Great Martyr George, our parish Patron, as well as of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and St. Spyridon.

First Sunday of Lent. Triumph of Orthodoxy

 

On March 17, on the First Sunday of Lent, also known as celebration of the Triumph of the Orthodoxy, St. George parish had a nice liturgical service. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. After the Scripture readings he preached a homily in Russian. An English translation of that homily is as follows:

“Dear brothers and sisters! We have started Lent and passed the first week of that special time. On this First Sunday of Lent we commemorate the triumph of the sound Church doctrine of veneration of the holy images, the holy icons. We know that icons are very important in our religious and spiritual life. We have them in the churches, we venerate them, keep them in our homes. Our tradition calls them “windows to heaven”. We believe that they represent God and His Saints and show us their presence. Through them we may mysteriously know about God’s Kingdom and have an awareness that God is with us. We also believe that with or without icons God is with us because He knows about us and He sees us.”
“In today’s Gospel we heard that when Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, He said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (Jn. 1, 47-48). Nathanael was surprised that Jesus saw him in some secret or intimate moment of his life. But he was probably much more surprised that Jesus had read the thoughts of his heart. God is He who sees. He sees everything, He reads every thought, He knows about everything. And we constantly live in the sight of God. Does it mean that we may be threatened like children whose babysitter says, “I am watching you, you better behave!”? Does it mean that?”
“Some prisons are now equipped with video cameras placed at such spots that every jail cell is within view. Guards can see everything that goes on. Nothing can be hidden from the probing eyes of the camera. Such cameras are now found in banks, hospitals and stores. Some time ago many cameras became installed in the traffic lights and other spots in New York City. All these cameras remind one of the all-seeing eye of God that is painted on many Orthodox icon screens. Is this what it means to live constantly in the presence of God who sees all? Is God a great eye constantly watching us to see if He can catch us off guard? Certainly not!”
“God does not see us from the top of some tower, but from the Cross. Through Christ we have learned that the eyes of God are the eyes of tender love and mercy. God sees and watches us not because He wants to punish us but because He loves us. In fact, He loves us so much that He cannot take eyes off us. As a mother cannot take her eyes off her newborn baby, so the Lord does not withdraw His eyes from us. As the Scripture says, He does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous” (Job 36, 7). He sees our sufferings and pain. Because He sees, He is able to comfort, and strengthen, and help. And because we know He sees, we can say along with the Psalmist, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil”. Why no fear? “For Thou art with me” (Ps. 22, 4).”
“God sees us in our sorrow. He sees us also in our sin. But even in our sin He looks upon us with love summoning us to repentance. He sees what is in our hearts. He saw what was in the Nathanael’s heart in today’s Gospel. He sees all mankind and every person. He saw Abraham of old. He saw His people suffering in Egypt. He sees us today. He sees us in our sorrow to comfort us and in our sin to forgive us. He sees us from the Cross. He sees us with love and it is His seeing that keeps us at our best. If the eyes of Christ are windows through which God sees us, they are also mirrors in which we see ourselves as cared for and loved by our Creator and Redeemer.”
“Dear brothers and sisters! This is a very important aspect of our faith: we believe in God incarnate. This is the Orthodox faith – to believe in God who became man. And for that reason God being the Son of Man can and should be imaged. For that reason His images should be venerated. Because through Jesus Christ God sees us and we see God, as well as we see ourselves being loved by Him.”
“What a difference it would make in our lives, if we remembered that everything we do, and say, and attempt, and think, and imagine is going to be done under the loving eyes of God. It would truly change our lives. And the icons we have are of big help. They remind us of God’s eyes, but they also make us able to see through them the heavenly glory. Therefore, the Church call them the “windows to heaven” and a “theology in painting”. Theology is a study of God. Through the icons we can study God, know God and simply feel God, feel that He is with us. We can feel that He is loving and caring; that He knows everyone of us from our beginning, from the womb of our mothers.”
“Dear brothers and sisters! Let us rejoice along with the whole Church on that day of the triumph of the Orthodox faith. Let us also rejoice for knowing that the loving and caring God is with us in an invisible way, as well as visibly in His holy icons. Let us ask Him that we may pass this holy time of Lent under His sight and care, with His love, to be worthy also to join Him in heaven. There we are going to see Him directly and not through His images. Let us always wish that!”

The choir prayerfully performed penitential hymns during preparation for Holy Communion.

After the Liturgy dismissal the Rector performed prayer service of the Sunday of Orthodoxy solemnly declaring the Orthodox faith and proclaiming eternal memory to the champions of that faith and the polychronion to the Church hierarchy and Orthodox Christians.

At the conclusion of the service the Rector congratulated the parishioners on the completion of the first week of Lent and wished them to continue an endeavor of further observance of the fast.

Compline with the penitential Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

 

On March 13, on Wednesday of the first week of Lent the Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Compline with the reading of penitential Canon of St. Andrew of Crete.

This Canon is composed as a conversation of a person with his own soul. It reveals that often we imitate sinners mentioned in the Scripture but do not wish to follow the steps of the righteous ones. It also calls us to bring the fruits of repentance and not to exalt ourselves.

Following the service the Rector preached a sermon about the significance of penitential Canon for the faithful. The Canon’s purpose is to teach us about our sinfulness and imperfection. He noted that our human imperfection can be observed in many details of our life. For instance, in our economy we always see the inflation: everything becomes more and more expensive while the money loses is value. Although the scholars in economy tell us that it is necessary, a man of faith perceives that it is an example of how imperfect we are. Anything man does is not free from defects or shortcomings. Thus our moral and spiritual life is also imperfect and sinful. Awareness of that and true repentance may lead us to the perfect God who will forgive and save us.

 

Cheesefare Sunday

 

On March 10, on Cheesefare Sunday, our parish was prepared to have a nice liturgical celebration. But unfortunately, due to an inclement weather in Northern New Jersey where our Rector resides, we had a two-hour delay in our services. As a result, we did not have the Divine Liturgy but Archpriest Igor Tarasov served only Vespers with the Rite of Forgiveness.

At the Vespers after the singing of the Great Prokimenon the priest and the altar servers he changed their vestments to the Lenten color of black.

After the dismissal the Rector preached a sermon about the importance of forgiveness. He stressed that in order to forgive we need to understand persons who offended us or caused us pain. Such a situation recently emerged in our parish community when our parishioners opposed the decision of the hierarchy to sell our church property. That decision caused pain to the parishioners, but they also caused some pain to the Church authorities and to the Rector. However, the actions of each side may be understood, and thus a mutual forgiveness may be reached.

After finishing the sermon Fr. Igor asked for forgiveness bending his knees. The parishioners also knelt down and asked their pastor for forgiveness. Then each one of the faithful could come to the Rector to kiss the cross and to express the forgiveness.

Following the services of this special day the Rector and parishioners joined at the Blini Lunch. We enjoyed delicious meals, especially the blini, nicely prepared by our ladies.

A Visit to the Elevation of the Holy Cross Parish in Hackettstown, NJ

 

On Sunday, March 3, Rector of St. George Church and some our parishioners visited the Elevation of the Holy Cross Church in Hackettstown, NJ. That parish community held a celebration of the honorary retirement of their long-time Rector, Mitered Archpriest John Kassatkin, and of the installation of the newly-appointed Rector, Priest Andrew Massey. Archpriest Igor Tarasov, as the Chancellor of the Patriarchal Parishes in the USA, came to that parish to head the said celebration.

The Divine Liturgy at the Elevation of the Cross Church was celebrated by Archpriest Igor Tarasov who was co-served by Archpriest John Kassatkin and Priest Andrew Massey. The service was attended by local parishioners, as well as some guests from other parishes. Our St. George Church was represented by our Warden and Choir Director, Olga Roussanow and two other persons. Following the Gospel lesson Fr. Igor preached a homily in Russian. Then before the Holy Communion of the faithful a homily in English was preached by Fr. Andrew.

After the dismissal of the Liturgy the Chancellor proclaimed the Bishop’s Decree placing Fr. John on retirement and naming him Rector Emeritus of the Holy Cross Church, and then the Decree of appointment Fr. Andrew the Rector of that Church. Fr. Igor also commended Fr. John on behalf of Patriarchal Parishes for his long-time service to the Holy Church, expressed him gratitude from the hierarchy and wished him a blessed retirement. Then he expressed a heartfelt wishes of God’s assistance and great success of leading the parish and faithful to the new Rector, Fr. Andrew.

Celebration continued at the local restaurant where a reception was held in honor of the old and new parish Rectors. Fr. Igor and our parishioners attended that event and enjoyed delicious food and nice interaction with the clergy, parishioners and guests of the Holy Cross Church.

Meatfare Sunday

 

On March 3, on Meatfare Sunday, we had a liturgical celebration at St. George Church. In our Rector’s absence it was headed by Priest Mark Rashkov, cleric of St. Nicholas Cathedral.

The Gospel lesson on this Sunday is telling us about the Last Judgment at the second coming of Christ. Fr. Mark preached a homily regarding that spiritually important theme.

Since no services for the departed were performed on Meatfare Memorial Saturday, Fr. Mark added the Litany for the deceased to the Liturgy with commemoration of those who had fallen asleep.