Sunday before the Theophany

 

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.

Sunday after the Nativity

 

On January 9, on the Sunday after the Nativity, our St. George Parish family gathered again for a nice celebration. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our temple. After the Gospel reading he preached the following homily:

“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! On this Sunday after Christmas we have to learn what happened very soon after the Birth of Christ. Today’s Gospel lesson is telling us that after the departure of the Wise Men the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt because king Herod was looking for the Child Jesus to destroy Him (Mt. 2, 13). So, right after the joy of having Her first-born Child, Blessed Virgin had to run and hide. This gives us a very common picture of the life in this sinful world. The fallen human nature, human envy and hatred do not allow to live peacefully, but, on the contrary, spoil the lives of others and tend to destroy it. It is common that some people have a lust for power and wealth, and tend to oppress others while other kind of people are oppressed and deprived. Some persecute while others are persecuted”.
“The Christmas story is about those different kinds of people. In fact, it is about all kinds of them, it represents the whole human world”.
“King Herod represents all human corrupt rulers who desire to preserve their power at any cost. Herod knew that the Messiah was to come into the world. However, his own power was more important for him than salvation of his own people. And when Jesus was born and the Wise Men came to search for him, Herod became very disturbed (Mt. 2, 3). Instead of being excited about the Birth of the Messiah, he was worried that this little Child could take over his throne. Today we hear from the Gospel that Herod became angry after being deceived by the Wise Men who did not tell him about the place where the Child Jesus was. So he sent to kill all the infants in Bethlehem from two years old and under (Mt. 2, 16). The history of mankind is full of the examples of many Herods who sacrifice their own people, who shed innocent blood in order to strengthen their power. They do not care for spiritual matters but only use them to support their dominion. They falsify the elections to stay in their office, they use military and police force to keep their power”.
“But the Christmas story is not only about Herod. As we said, we also see other kinds of people. We see the shepherds. They become worthy of the appearance of the Angels who proclaim the joyful news to them – that the Savior is born. And the shepherds rush to the cave to worship Him. This is an example of simple, sincere and pious people who are blessed by God. We should now recall that from the beginning of humanity God loved the shepherds. Righteous Abel was a shepherd and God blessed his sacrifice. Thus shepherds are the devout people who sincerely love God”.
“In the story of the Nativity we see the Wise Men. These were the astrologers, the scientists of their age. Our tradition often refers to them as to the Three Kings. So, they could be the rulers in their own countries, just as Herod. They were serving false gods, practicing magic and sorcery, but they were looking for the truth. And being led by the star of Bethlehem they found the true Savior of the human race, the Child Jesus. Thus those wise men represent the scholars who look for the truth, who search for God. As the kings, they also represent the rulers who are seeking justice and do care about spiritual matters, the rulers who maintain the religious and moral values in their countries”.
“Today’s Gospel tells us about the Holy Infants killed by Herod in Bethlehem. They became the first Martyrs for the newborn Christ. They represent innocent children murdered by other people. First of all, they represent the unborn children killed in the mother’s womb, the victims of abortions. Yes, this is also part of the Christmas story. And in our festal joy we should not forget about that bitter truth, about such a terrible crime taking place in our world”.
“Finally, we see the Holy Family. Especially, the head of the household, righteous Joseph the Spouse. He humbly fulfills his duty to care and protect the Holy Family. Being advised by the Angel of the Lord he accepted Mary when She was pregnant. Now, again, advised by the Angel he takes the Child Jesus and His Mother and flees to Egypt. We may only imagine how hard it was for him and for the Holy Family to leave their native country and to go to the different land. But they did so in order to preserve the future Savior of the world. Therefore, St. Joseph represents a worthy and decent man who is fulfilling his obligation of taking care of the family, who protects his spouse and his children. And the Holy Family fleeing from Herod represents the persecuted in the world. Especially, it represents the persecuted Christians who are even now, in our times, are in fact persecuted and discriminated. They are persecuted in the Middle East or China; but they are in a different way persecuted in our own country”.
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, the Nativity story shows us the human race in different types of people. And we need to imitate some of them and avoid the attitude of others. We need to imitate the shepherds in their sincere trust to God, in their simple but fervent faith. We need to imitate righteous Joseph in his readiness to obey the will of God and in his care for the Holy Family, for the Child Jesus. Like him, we need to preserve Jesus, preserve Him in our hearts and let no one to destroy Him. We need to imitate the wise men in their love for knowledge but combined with the search for spiritual truth, the longing for God. And when they found God, found the Child Jesus they presented Him with the gifts. We also should give the Lord our own gifts – gifts of material nature like gold, gifts of spiritual nature like incense and gifts of moral nature like myrrh. But we have to avoid the attitude of Herod, the attitude of sin, evil desire and lack of love. Like those Wise Men who did not return to Herod, we should avoid being in contact with such people or such powers in the world, but to worship the true God, our Lord Jesus Christ born for us in a manger but who will rule the universe and redeem it!”

The choir prayerfully performed different beautiful hymns of the Nativity during preparation for Holy Communion.

After the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector made some announcements.

 

Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christmas

 

On January 7 the Russian Orthodox Church observes feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, also known as Christmas. Our St. George Church had a nice celebration of that holy day. 

On January 6, on Christmas Eve, our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the All-Night Vigil. That service consists of the Great Compline, Matins and the First Hour. 

On Christmas day, January 7, our Rector served the Divine Liturgy. Despite the snowfall that occurred that morning, most of our parishioners came to the temple to participate in the divine service of the great feast.

Following the Gospel lesson the Rector proclaimed the Christmas Sermon of Venerable Isaac the Syrian.

During the Litany of Fervent Supplication, the Rector had a petition beseeching the Lord to spare the faithful from the outbreak of the disease.

During the preparation for Holy Communion at the Liturgy the choir beautifully performed different liturgical hymns of the Nativity.

After the Liturgy dismissal the Rector and the altar servers performed the rite of glorification singing the troparion, kontakion and magnification of the Nativity before the festal icon in the middle of the church. Then the Rector greeted the faithful on the occasion of the great holy day of the birth of the Son of God. He preached a sermon concerning the two aspects of the feast.

First, as the Rector pointed out, we should reflect upon the Incarnation of God – that God became Man. Jesus Christ became one of us, completely the same as we are, except sin. And when we think of that, we may say that our human nature is corrupt, so it is natural for us to be sinful. However, as the Holy Fathers, especially Venerable Maximus the Confessor, stressed, sin was not a part of human nature at the beginning. Thus it was completely right and understandable that Christ assumed our nature without sin. This idea should encourage us to strife for perfection in Christ.
Secondly, we should note that the Nativity of Christ happened almost in secret. It was not known to the most of the world. The Holy Family came to Bethlehem due to the census conducted by the Ceasar and the Virgin Mary did not intend to give birth there. The Holy Family was not known in that area and it found no place to stay, just a cave serving as a stable. When Christ was born there, only the shepherds enlightened by the Angels came there. Later the wise men arrived being led by the mysterious star. And Herod learned later and was disturbed. No one else knew about that event. In the similar way, we, Orthodox Christians, sometimes feel when we celebrate Christmas according to our calendar, in this country. Most of the people here have already celebrated. And they did it in the opposite way: many had their Christmas party before December 25. We should celebrate today and be merry after, not before Christmas. And we do it in our way being a minority in the society. But we should be encouraged by that also, keeping in mind that we, in some way, resemble those to whom the Birth of the Savior was revealed. And we should remember that at the second coming Christ will come openly and His coming will be known to the whole universe.

After the Rector’s sermon the parish Warden, Olga Roussanow had a speech in which she congratulated Archpriest Igor Tarasov on the occasion of his 32nd Anniversary of priestly ordination. Traditional Polychronion (“Mnogaia leta!”) to Fr. Igor was proclaimed.

Our celebration continued at the trapeza table where a tasty luncheon was prepared by our parishioners. Everybody enjoyed delicious meals and a nice company. Several toasts in honor of Fr. Igor were raised by parishioners and the Polychronion to our pastor was sung again.

Sunday before the Nativity

On January 2, on the Sunday before the Nativity, we had a nice celebration at St. George Church. Due to the Prefeast of the Nativity the temple was already decorated for Christmas and the covers of the icon stands, as well as the altar and serving vestments were changed to white. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov, served the Divine Liturgy in our temple. The service was attended by Abbot Eutychius (Dovganyuk) who was praying in the sanctuary. After the Gospel lesson Fr. Igor preached the following homily:

“Dear Father, dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Last Sunday the Church commemorated all the righteous of the Old Testament who awaited the coming of Christ. Today, on Sunday before the Birth of Christ on earth, the Church remembers all those in the Old Testament who were related to Christ by blood and those who spoke of His Birth as a Man. That is why today we have read Christ’s family tree from the Gospel of St. Matthew”.
“In this way the Church shows us that Christ was a historical figure, not a mythical or a legendary person. He really lived on Earth and was part of the human history. And in a more profound and spiritual way, today’s celebration and today’s reading from the Gospel teaches us that Jesus Christ really became a man. Тhe Son of God really took on human nature. He was not a ghost, an apparition, or a myth. He was not some “god of philosophers”. Such a god does not have a family tree. Jesus Christ is the son of Abraham. And He is God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He has flesh and blood, human ancestors. By taking on human nature, the Son of God became like us in all ways, in flesh and blood, in tears and sweat, in mind and soul, in heart and will. As a human, He was different from us in only one way – He did not sin. All His human ancestors did sin. For instance, king David. David is remembered for committing two grave sins – murder and adultery. But David is also remembered by his sincere repentance. Since we know that human nature of Christ remained sinless, He shows us the way that we can strive to avoid sin and thus to improve our failing human nature”.
“Dear Father, dear brothers and sisters! The fact that Christ took on human nature and has a family tree, has another meaning too. Christ is descended from Adam through Abraham and David, through His ancestors Joachim and Anna. Therefore, in His human nature He is related to us and we are related to Him. He is a relative of our ancestors, of our forebearers, Adam and Eve. He is one of our own. He is our relative and we are His relatives, we belong to the same, as we would say, “extanded” family. We should understand that with Christ we belong to one household, a family of Saints and a family of sinners, but a household of which He is the Head and we are His children, the children whose Mother is the Church and the Father is God. And in Him we believe in the Fatherhood of God and in the Brotherhood of Man”.
“And our Lord Jesus Christ who became Man, came to save this human brotherhood, so through Him we may become true children of God, not only by the fact of our creation by God, but by divine grace and our faith which make us saved in God”.
“And therefore, dear brothers and sisters, dear Father, preparing for the solemnity of the Birth of our Lord in flesh, let us become aware of our human brotherhood, as well as of our sonship to God, and let us implore our holy Ancestors: “Holy Fathers of Christ, pray to God for us!”

During the Litany of Fervent Supplication Fr. Igor proclaimed a petition beseeching the Lord to spear the faithful from the outbreak of the disease.

During preparation for Holy Communion the choir performed the hymns from the Nativity Canon.

Following the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector greeted everyone on the occasion of the civil New Year and made the announcements regarding the coming Nativity celebration. He  proposed  the parishioners to get the new wall calendars for the year 2022 in exchange for a donation. Fr. Igor also thanked our sisterhood for decorating the church before the holy days. Then Fr. Igor greeted Moses Dunetz and Phoebe Ching Huei-Li on the occasion of their birthdays celebrated these days proclaiming the traditional Polychronion on their behalf.