Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross


On September 27 the Holy Orthodox Church celebrates the great feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross. On that day we had a festal service at St. George Church headed by our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov.

Before the reading of the Hours the Rector and the altar server performed a procession with the Holy Cross. They proceeded from the sanctuary to the middle of the church placing the Cross on the stand and then venerated it.

During the Divine Liturgy, after the Gospel lesson, Fr. Igor preached a homily in Russian. The English version of that homily is as follows:

Today we celebrate feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is a Lord’s holy day but it is not dedicated to some event in the life of Christ, but to the Precious and Life-giving Cross. But the Cross of Christ cannot be separated from the crucifixion. Therefore, in today’s Gospel lesson we hear the sorrowful story of the holy Passions of the Lord, the story of His crucifixion. And today’s Epistle lesson proclaims that we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness” (1 Cor. 1, 23)”.
To the ancient Greco-Roman world, the Christian claim of the cross was complete foolishness. If you are familiar with Greek mythology, you remember that Greek gods could also take on human appearance. For instance, Zeus did it to chase after women, causing more harm than help. We, Christians, believe that God assumed a human body and soul, not to find pleasure but to enter into our pain. This is the mystery and the glory of the Holy Cross”.
The sign of the cross is often reduced to a good-luck charm. We wear it around our necks or we may make a sign of the cross when we begin something important. But let us remember that the Cross of Jesus Christ does not promise us success, health, or pleasure. The Cross only promises us that Jesus will be with us, no matter how badly we suffer, no matter how badly we fail, and no matter how horribly we feel. Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mt. 28, 20). It is through His Cross that Jesus is with us. That is the meaning of the Cross and that is the meaning of our Christian faith”.
God enters into the depth, the pit of human experience through Jesus’ crucifixion and death. We are not alone. We wish that the Holy Cross meant that we don’t have to suffer, but it means that God chose to suffer with us. God’s ways are not our ways. The lesson of the Holy Cross is still very hard for us. That is why the Holy Cross became the sign of the Christian faith. Every Orthodox church is adorned by the cross, and the cross is everywhere among the Christian people. It is an emblem of our faith, the most known symbol of Christianity”.
The Holy Cross is also a sign of hope. When we look on the Holy Cross, we can believe that there is hope beyond our suffering, our failures, and our loss. We can believe that there is hope for the single pregnant mother, hope for the terminally ill, and hope for the poor. There is hope because God will not abandon us in our sufferings”.
And finally, the Holy Cross is a sign of love. God sent His Only-begotten Son because He loved the world. Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross because He so loved the world. And the Cross is stretching its sides as the Lord Jesus stretched His arms on the Cross to embrace us in His infinite love”.
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, we must always exalt and lift up the Cross of Jesus Christ. We must exalt and honor that sign of our faith, the sign of our hope and the sign of God’s love. If the Greek gods played their games with humans, the God of Jesus Christ suffered with human kind. And He suffers with us. Exalting the Precious and Life-giving Cross we should realize that God is indeed with us”.

The choir prayerfully performed hymns of the Exaltation of the Cross before Holy Communion.

After the dismissal of the Liturgy the clergy and the altar server performed glorification of the feast in the middle of the church and venerated the Holy Cross.

Following the Liturgy the Rector served a memorial Litia requested by Juliana Avraam to commemorate her deceased family members. He also performed a blessing of the mother after 40 days since childbirth over Evangelia (Lilia) Douvris praying for her and her newly-born baby. A memorial meal prepared by Juliana Avraam followed all our services.

Sunday before the Exaltation. Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God


On September 25, on the Sunday before the Exaltation, our parish had a beautiful celebration. In addition we observed feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God transferred to Sunday. The Divine Liturgy in our temple was served by the Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov. After the readings from the Sacred Scripture he preached the following homily:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Today we celebrate Sunday before the Exaltation of the Precious Cross. We also observe feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God. That holy day was during the last week and we transferred it to this Sunday. By the way, today is the final day, the leave-taking of that feast, so it would be the same service today, even if we would not transfer the feast”. “Today’s first reading from the Holy Gospel mentions the events from the Old Testament history. It says that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (Jn. 3, 14). Our Lord Jesus Christ compared His mission of salvation to the mission of Moses who led the chosen people of God from the Egyptian captivity to the promised land. The Jews were wandering in the wilderness for the long 40 years. But God was taking care of them. He gave them food and water, He provided for His people. But the people complained and regretted that they left Egypt where they had a lot of food. They forgot that they were slaves in that country, and remembered only some good things they used to have there. A punishment for that ungratefulness to God and to Moses came soon. The Israelites came to an area full of poisonous snakes. Those serpents bit and killed a lot of people. Everybody could perish there if God did not stop that. God told Moses to make a copper snake and to raise it on a pillar. God told that any person who would look at the copper snake will not die of the poison”.
This event is the symbol of what happened on the Cross of Christ, and a prophecy of what is going on with the whole human race. Desert is this earthly life. It is full of poisonous snakes. Evil bites any human from birth and up to the last hour of his or her life. Countless snakes surround human life from all the sides. These are the sins and passions that surround us. There is no cure for that, if not a merciful God, who sends us not Moses, but His Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Only if our gaze is turned to Christ, to His Cross, to the copper serpent of our faith, then we get healed”.
Celebrating the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God, we may notice that the Gospel lesson dedicated to that feast does not mention the birth of the Theotokos, moreover, it does not mention the Mother of God at all. That today’s second Gospel reading is always read on the feasts of the Theotokos, but it does not mention Her. It tells that one woman named Martha was busy with much serving while her sister named Mary (and she was not Mary the Mother of God) sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to His words (Lk. 10, 39). If we recall today’s second Epistle reading, a lesson dedicated to the Mother of God, we may also notice that it doesn’t mention the Theotokos. It is about our Lord Jesus Christ. In the beginning Holy Apostle Paul says, Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2, 5). St. Paul teaches us to think like Jesus, to imitate Him, to fix our mind on Jesus. In other words, he wants us to focus on Christ, to gaze at Him in the same way as the Jews in the wilderness had to gaze at the copper serpent”.
Dear brothers and sisters! The whole life of the Most Holy Mother of God was in God and in Her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why the Church honoring Her assigns such readings from the Sacred Scripture that are not directly about Her, but about Him, the Savior Jesus Christ. The Most Holy Theotokos was humble and modest. She did not speak much, did not stress Her importance. She was giving all the glory to Her Son, considering Herself the maidservant of the Lord (Lk. 1, 38). Listening the words of Jesus sitting at His feet mentioned in today’s Gospel, or having our mind the same as in Jesus Christ mentioned in today’s Epistle – these things are about the life of the Most Holy Mother of God. And it is the same life conduct as we recall in the Old Testament looking and gazing at the copper serpent, an object of salvation”.
Let us then, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, turn our spiritual eyes to our Lord Jesus Christ. The Most Holy Theotokos shows us a perfect example of that. She dedicated all Her life to Her Son, focusing on Him. Every moment of Her life, the life started at Her holy Nativity, was dedicated to the Savior. Every little drop of Her blood was for Him. The New Church Year begins with the celebration of that Nativity of the Theotokos, giving the beginning for the feasts marking our salvation. Thus, let us also, honoring Her, focus on Him, on His Holy Cross, let us ask for the forgiveness and delivery”.

During the Litany of Fervent Supplication the Rector had a petition for the suffering country of Ukraine and its people. He also added a commemoration of the “suffering Ukrainian land” at the Great Entrance.

The choir beautifully performed the hymns of the Nativity of the Theotokos during preparation for Holy Communion.

Following the Liturgy dismissal the Rector and the altar servers performed the rite of glorification in front of the festal icon singing the troparion, kontakion and magnification of the feast. Then Fr. Igor preached a brief sermon in Russian conveying the main points of his English homily. He also made some announcements.

14th Sunday after Pentecost


On September 18, on the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, we had a beautiful celebration in our parish. 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! Today in the Holy Gospel we hear a parable of the Wedding Feast. It shows that so many people neglected the invitation of their king, and even among those who came to the banquet there were people not dressed appropriately. Our Lord finishes that parable by saying, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Mt. 22, 14)”.
That parable about the Wedding Feast may lead us to a conclusion that our human nature is so corrupt and ungrateful that God won’t allow most of us to enter into His Kingdom. Thus today we may tend to think negative and become filled with pessimism”.
If we recall the lives of the Saints commemorated today, we will also feel pessimistic. For today we honor Holy Prophet Zachariah and righteous Elizabeth, parents of St. John the Baptist. Last Sunday we celebrated the Beheading of St. John, his passing, and today is the memory of his holy parents. A week ago we were remembering the death of a just man, and today we commemorate sorrowful accounts from the life of St. Zachariah and Elizabeth. They both were persecuted because King Herod desired to destroy young St. John, so he wished to destroy his parents. They had to flee but the Forerunner’s father, St. Zachariah, was a priest, and he did not leave the Temple. He was murdered in the holy place, between the table of offerings and the altar of the Temple. So, recalling that we may feel sorrowful and negative”.
But let us try to think positive. The whole idea of the Kingdom of God where all of us are invited should overcome all kinds of pessimism. Our Lord is describing His eternal Kingdom in an image so understood to the people – as a banquet, a wedding feast. In the times of Christ and in the East weddings were celebrations of human love, and the families that made them attempted to invite as many guests as they could. So the Lord compared His Kingdom to such a feast. Everyone is welcome. It is now our own choice whether to accept that generous invitation. If we accept and do our best to get there, to enter into God’s Kingdom, to participate in His everlasting celebration of Love – we will be there. And our garment will be appropriate if we will prepare and put such garment on. That wedding garment should be understood as our pure and sanctified soul, a soul adorned with virtues and divine grace. If we take care of the soul, prepare it for God’s Kingdom, then we will be accepted there. So, the Lord won’t throw us out of His banquet hall into the outer darkness. It is totally up to us – whether to come and whether to be dressed appropriately”.
We have to note that at those times of Christ, in the East, the guests did not have to bring their special garment. The wedding garment was provided by the family holding the feast, it was given at the entrance to the banquet hall. That means that the person lacking that dress in today’s parable, person thrown out by the king, somehow did not wish to put the garment on or to receive it. That was his choice. How many people, especially nowadays, do not wish to embrace pious and godly life, to be with the faithful, to receive the divine grace! Thus, such people will be thrown out from the Kingdom of Heaven. But if we do desire to be with the Lord, we will accept His invitation and we will receive the wedding garment at the entrance. That garment is the divine grace to help us, to make our souls cleansed and pure”.
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, even if we fail to do our preparation, even if it seems difficult for us to accept God’s invitation, the Lord is always willing to help us. He provides His divine grace, He assures us that if with men it is impossible, with God everything is possible (Mt. 19, 26). And despite that only few are chosen, the Lord keeps saying, “Come to me, allyouwho are wearyand burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11, 28). And the whole Scripture is full of very optimistic and positive assurances of God’s love and willingness to save everyone. But on the other hand, of course, God won’t save us without our desire to be just. The book of Revelation says, He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still“ (Rev. 22, 11). God gives us a choice. If we are unjust or filthy, He will judge us; if we are righteous and holy He will bless us”.
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, despite some strictness and negativity of today’s Gospel lesson, let us remember that God’s love will always prevail. Let us also remember that we are all invited to share in the joy of our Lord in His eternal Kingdom. An invitation is extended and the doors of the banquet hall are wide open. The Wedding Feast is waiting for us. It is now up to us whether we will accept that invitation, do our best to come and be dressed appropriately. If not, we will join those who will be thrown out. But if we will do our best, we will join the holy ones, we will be among the Saints, in the Kingdom of Heaven, “where the sound of them that keep festival is unceasing, and the delight is endless of them who behold the ineffable beauty” of the Lord’s countenance!”

Since on the first Sunday of September the Church holds a special day of prayer for the preservation of God’s creation, during the Litany of fervent supplication the Rector offered special petitions for that cause.

The choir nicely performed Psalm 33 and a prayer to the Most Holy Mother of God during preparation for Holy Communion.

After the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector made some announcements regarding prayers offered for preservation of creation, as well as regarding the coming feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos. Fr. Igor also greeted Phoebe Ching-Huei Li on her past name day proclaiming the Polychronion on her behalf and handing to her the Theotokian prosphora.

13th Sunday after Pentecost. Beheading of St. John the Baptist


On September 11, on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, St. George Parish held a nice celebration. In addition to the Sunday observance we celebrated feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. After the readings from the Scripture he preached the following homily in English:

“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Today we celebrate the 13th Sunday after Pentecost and the sorrowful feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. The first Gospel tells the parable of the vineyard (Mt. 21, 33-42). We heard that story of the owner who built it and was sending his servants to get the fruits in due time. And we heard how the tenants, the vinedressers treated them, them and even the owner’s son. They killed the owner’s son. The second Gospel lesson told us how the holy and righteous man, St. John the Baptist, was executed (Mk. 6, 14-30). So, both Gospel readings today are about unjust killing, about wicked people murdering the innocent”.
“Unfortunately, it is very common in our life that unjust killings and terrible crimes take place. History of mankind is full of such transgressions. And we observe such things happening today. And we should not be surprised at that because this is part of the corrupted human nature. The son of the first man, the son of Adam, called Cain, became the first murderer. Murder is old as the humanity. But, on the other hand, when we hear about such iniquities or atrocities, we become shocked. And this is also because of our human nature. The same nature that is sick because of sin, is capable of terrible things, that same nature is containing the image of God and is called for goodness. And our nature, our soul, our feelings usually react at such things being shocked. Therefore, today we may reflect upon that call and upon what we are supposed to do to make the human kind better”.
“In today’s first Gospel parable, the vineyard is Israel. The owner is God. Israel is hedged around with natural borders. The winepress is the altar, the tower is the Temple. The tenants are the Jews. The servants are those sent by God, the prophets and holy ones who reminded the Jews that Israel was not theirs but God’s. But what did the Jews do? They beat and stoned and killed first the servants. Among them, St. John the Baptist was killed; king Herod ordered him to be beheaded. Then the heir, the Son of God, Jesus Christ was killed. Why? Because the Jews wanted everything for themselves. And so they ceased to be God’s people, they ceased to be Israel of God and were cast out of their land and scattered over all the face of the earth. Israel was given to others: the New Israel, the Church, was born”.
“This is why, we should realize that this parable is also addressed today to us, Orthodox of the New Israel. The vineyard is the planet where we Orthodox Christians live. It is hedged around by the presence of the Church. The wine-press is the altar. And the tower is the Church. And the servants are the Saints or the servants of the Church. And we Orthodox should ask ourselves how do we labor in the vineyard, how do we give the owner His share of grapes and how do we treat his servants? We should ask whether we do not want everything for ourselves forgetting about the true Owner and His rights. Do we act in a manner that suits us?”
“Going back to the Beheading of St. John, we may recall the specific reason why king Herod ordered to execute him. It was because the Holy Forerunner denounced the king for his sinful behavior. He said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mk. 6, 18). Herod committed the sin against the last Commandment of God, he coveted his neighbor’s wife. He took the wife of his brother Philip. That was actually both stealing and adultery. Nowadays such a person would probably feel more protected because now we have such things as divorce, and theoretically, a woman can leave one man and marry his brother. But still, even in our days, certain things which may be viewed as normal for regular people, are not suitable for the leaders of the nations, especially the royalty. [Last week Elizabeth II, the Queen of England passed away. We may recall how strictly the society reacted to certain personal choices of the members of the British royal family]. That is because such people are held to a higher standard. And Herod did not live up to that standard. But since he wanted to continue to live a sinful life, that led him to the unjust killing of the righteous man who was so inconvenient to that king”.
“This is why, dear brothers and sisters, we should ask ourselves whether we do everything lawful, whether we do everything right and that suits us? Because if we don’t, we want this vineyard for ourselves and forget the true Owner. And if we talk about holding the kings to a higher standard, let us remember that our title, a title of a Christian person, a human being who is baptized and belongs to the Orthodox Church – that title is high enough to be held to an appropriate standard. If something is normal for faithless and adulterous generation of this world, it is not suitable for us. Otherwise, we are on the way of becoming like those wicked vinedressers who began to think that the vineyard belongs to them”.
“Dear brothers and sisters! Let us keep ourselves and our immortal souls to the higher standard. Let us worthily and diligently labor cultivating the vineyard of our life entrusted to us by God. Let us be attentive to God’s call and to His servants asking us for the share of the grapes. Let us honor the holy people, the Saints who passed from this life, people like Holy Forerunner and Baptist John. Let us also respect the servants of God sent to while we live – the priests and bishops of the Church. Let us finally honor and respect the Owner’s Son, the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified for us because of the wicked people, but Who redeemed our souls to make us good workers of His new vineyard, the New Israel and then to make us worthy of His eternal blessedness!”

During preparation for Holy Communion the choir nicely performed the hymns of the feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.

After the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector and the altar server performed glorification in the middle of the church singing the troparion, kontakion and magnification of the feast before the icon stand.

Following that the Rector congratulated Moses Dunetz on his past name day. Traditional Polychronion (“Mnogaia leta!”) was proclaimed and the Theotokian prosphora was handed to that parishioner.

Following that the Rector performed the blessing of the students who begin the school year. He had a brief speech in Russian greeting the parishioners on the celebrated feast and expressing his wish that our Orthodox students will really embrace knowledge and wisdom through their school studies.

11th Sunday after Pentecost. Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God


On August 28, on the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, as well as feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God, our parish family had a beautiful celebration at St. George Church. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our temple. Abbot Eutychius (Dovganyuk) was present and prayed at the sanctuary. After the readings from the Sacred Scripture the Rector addressed the faithful with the following homily:

Dear Father, dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Today is the 11th Sunday after Pentecost. And the Gospel lesson is telling us a parable about a merciful king and an unmerciful lender (Mt. 18, 23-35). It is about the sad situation in the humanity – that someone may be kind and compassionate, but some happen to be cruel and ungrateful. Thinking about that Gospel story we see how imperfect people are. But today, celebrating the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God, we may be shown that the Blessed Virgin Mary was, in fact, a perfect human being. So, let us speak about Her”.
The name of today’s feast suggests that we do not celebrate the death of the Mother of God. She did not die, but fell asleep. Thus the feast is called the Dormition, Falling Asleep. Being Orthodox Christians, at every Liturgy we pray that we may also have a falling asleep, a similar end of our earthly life. We ask the Lord that a Christian ending to our lives may be “painless, blameless and peaceful,” and that we may have a “good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ””.
Speaking of the Most Holy Mother of God, we have to remember that She is the first Christian Saint. In Her we can see a perfect Christian. And we can see our own vocation as a reality, being accomplished in Her life and death. She is an example for us, but at the same time, we know that because She is the Mother of Christ, She prays for us, and we can ask in our prayers to Her to be with us now and also at the time of our death. And we believe very strongly that She will be there because, as it was said, She became the first Saint of the Church”.
But speaking about the Blessed Virgin, we have to remember that She was also the first Saint before the Dormition. And the life of the Mother of God can be for us an example of a Christian life”.
Today’s Gospel lesson which is read for all feasts of the Theotokos, tells us that some woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You”. But the Lord said to her: “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk. 11, 27-28). If Jesus agreed only with the words of that woman, He would confirm the blessedness of His Holy Mother. And it would be right. But our Lord always wishes us to do more than just right. He does not tell that the woman is wrong, but He adds: “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” It is good to be the Mother of the Savior, but it is better to hear the word of God and obey it”.
The Most Holy Mother of God is an example of a human being who obeys the word of God. She did obey when She received that Annunciation that She will bear the Son of God. She was obedient all other days of Her life. That is very important for us. We are Orthodox Christians, and that means that we also have to accept and to be obedient to the word of God. And what is the word of God to us? It is the Sacred Scripture, first of all, the Holy Gospel. The Gospel is like a constitution for us, the main law”.
Secondly, the Mother of God was a human being who prayed, who was always with Christ, not only physically but spiritually – at the first miracle of Christ, She takes the initiative: She was there. And that is also something for us – we are Christians, so we have to stay in the Church. The life of the Church is necessary for us to be saved – not only the Gospel, the word of Christ, but the work of Christ in the community of the Church”.
And the third thing – this is very important – the Mother of God is an example of obedience to Her own Son. And that is also important for us, because we have the Gospel – the word of the Lord; we have the life of the Church; and then we have our Church hierarchy, the bishops. It is important and necessary for us to be obedient also to the hierarchy. The bishops represent Christ, so we have to be obedient to them”.
Dear brothers and sisters! We cannot separate the Gospel, Church life and our obedience to Christ. If we accept those three points, and if we have a life in that spirit, then the end of our life here in this world will be also not a death but a dormition, a falling asleep – a holy dormition – and we will receive from Christ the Kingdom of Heaven”.

The choir prayerfully performed festal hymns of the Dormition during preparation for Holy Communion.

Following the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector and the altar server performed the glorification in front of the festal icon singing the troparion, kontakion and magnification of the Dormition.

After the service the Rector had a brief sermon in Russian and made some announcements.