+ Archimandrite Alexander.

Fr. Alexander and myself having a conversation at the Archdiocesan Assembly in Victoria in 2010

Fr. Alexander and myself having a conversation at the Archdiocesan Assembly in Victoria in 2010

On Saturday night I usually pack my pipe and go for a walk to fine-tune and shape my sermon, in an attempt to avoid rambling on and on (as I am prone to do). That morning I had been informed about the sudden repose of Archimandrite Alexander (Dennis Pihach), and it had weighed heavily on my heart throughout the day. I was working on my sermon about St. Tikhon (whose feast day of glorification it was this past Sunday), yet every time I would go over my sermon, I would get lost in thoughts of Fr. Alexander. I would re-focus and get back to my sermon only to slip back into thoughts about Fr. Alexander.

This went on for a bit (well, two hours) as I considered the many humble works St. Tikhon did in this country and province: serving immigrants from Ukraine, preaching the Good News, building churches, babysitting children while their families were in the fields, or helping push wagons out of the mud – all for the Glory a God. then it dawned on me that Fr. Alexander not only continued this work, but also was transition between the world of St. Tikhon and our 21st century Canadian culture; between a culture steeped in a millennium of Christianity, and a world thirsting for meaning; between a cultural Orthodox tradition, and the convert experience.

He always gave honour to the blessed gift of Orthodoxy, the inheritance of those saints and pioneers who brought with them the “Faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Whether it was taking young converts with him to bless homes in rural Manitoba for Old Calendar Theophany, immersing them in the festive life of the Church as lived out in the homes of the faithful, or giving a feast for the servers of the Cathedral in Ottawa on the occasion of his Namesday, and serving at the OCA representation Church in Moscow (a Bukovinian boy from the prairies in Moscow, -how is that for irony); or whether it was his willingness to be “all things to all men that some might be saved” (1 Cor. 9:22 ) applying the fluidity of the Gospel that witnessed the saving love of Christ, and not simply moral piety: he worked to help others find a their way as Orthodox Christians within a culture that gave no room for either tradition, or conversion.

This was truly his witness and his suffering. To some he was  a traitor, and to others a one-track- minded traditionalist, but to myself and to many in the Archdiocese of Canada, he was a voice of reason and clarity.

It was not that Fr. Alexander re-invented Orthodoxy, or that he  made it a new, purer expression of Christianity, or that he crystalized the life of the Church into some relic of distant lands and ages. What he did was continually to bear witness to the living Faith: the love of God the Father, in His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, made real in the Church, regardless if it was expressed in Slavonic, Ukrainian, English or French, served on the old or new Calendar, or in full or abbreviated services.

His legacy will not simply be the men, women and families that he brought closer to Christ, or the men he inspired to serve at Christ’s Altar (myself included); or the churches he built, and the parishes he healed. Rather, like St. Tikhon’s legacy, the seal of his legacy is that he cultivated the hearts of the faithful that they might hear the voice of the Shepherd, Christ our God, calling each of us to peace, mercy and grace in a very turbulent and trying time.

The question now for us is  what do we do? how do we serve? What do we proclaim? Do we cultivate the world around us to hear our own voices, or the voice of the one Shepherd who calls us by name? Is it our own word that we bear witness to, or the divine Word, who breathed the Holy Spirit upon all creation?

If we are true to the work of St. Tikhon and holy men and women who have served the Lord in Canada (like our beloved Archbishop Arseny); and if we are true to the memory of Fr. Alexander, our proclamation will be of the Lord’s saving mercy poured out onto a new land, a proclamation that cutting through the noise of sin so that the hear voice of God calling us to life eternal.

May His memory be eternal.

Thanksgiving, being thankful and being Eucharistic.

We thank you O Lord.

Everything has a value and price, especially our actions and relationships. But when the worth of those elements becomes a commodity,  there is the temptation to lose the distinction between gifts and transactions, between personal relationships and legal agreements. Even in the context of this holiday, we can some times fail to differentiate between being thankful, Eucharistic or being selfish.

A life in Christ is primarily one of thanksgiving. Even the most important service that makes real the totality of God’s saving work, the Divine Liturgy, is called the Eucharist (this word means thanksgiving in Greek).

Yet it is so easy for us to lose sight of this, when we are distracted by the world’s workings and ways the result of which is a total independence from the divine and from the neighbour. And who could blame us for losing that perspective? In a world of so much plenty and abundance and yet so much poverty and violence, it is almost impossible to see this life of thanksgiving as being anything more than sentimental and wishful.

Yet it is precisely because of these faults, and the lie that we can live independently of God and neighbour, that our loving and patient Lord acts to eternally save us. He who fed the multitudes in the wilderness and offered thanksgiving to God, and He who offered himself on the Cross for our sakes, makes a mockery of the selfish and fearful, by giving His life to each and every one of us a priceless list.

To be thankful (through the eyes of faith) is to see the Lord’s triumph and victory over fear and selfishness, over poverty and violence, and ultimately over death in everything we do. There is more to thanksgiving than a plate of turkey and pumpkin pie, a warm house, family and friends (not that those are bad). There is the undying love of  a God who offers us the gift of eternal life, and not a trade of services and goods: a God who searches for us as the Good Shepherd, and even gives His life for us. This is and not a contract with incentives.

The scripture, our prayer, our services, all help us realize this gift. But it is a holiday like Thanksgiving that brings being thankful to the fore of our hearts and minds, and presents us with an opportunity to reclaim the perspective of what it is to be thankful, not just at this time of year, but in every aspect of our lives.

May the Holy Spirit guide our hearts to be thankful in our whole lives, to be Eucharistic, so we can offer ourselves in thanksgiving to the world around us, in Christ Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Offering gifts of love and sacrifice, as the Lord has done for each and everyone of us, may we be enabled thus to make real the saving love of God to family, friends and strangers.

Looking forward through a hundred years.

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No one comes into this world as blank slate, or is born into a vacuum. Who we are, our stories, where we live, our families, friends and works, are the fruit of history, whether good or bad.

We are given an inheritance, the witness of those men and women whose stories, homes, families, friends and works were also inherited from generations past, marking our days with anniversaries of the mundane, and the profound. Some of these  stand out like mountains in our collective consciousness, and others are like the dust that settles in the corners of our homes, but all of them become part of our stories.

It is what we do with those anniversaries that shape us, and influence the stories of our children and their children for generations to come. They are the foundations that we continue to build upon, or tragically destroy. Our history and anniversaries are those intersections that we either look forward or retreat.

This is something to consider as this month we celebrate the 100th anniversary of our diocese as the first ecclesiastical presence in all of Canada.

Although there had been Orthodox Christians from Ukraine in Canada since 1879, and Churches were established across the country (including ours in 1911), the establishment of a vicar diocese for Canada in 1916 marked the continuation of the Church’s mission of witnessing to the saving love of God, as encountered in the Church, His Body. But more profoundly, it marked the continuation of the work of the Apostles who in those early years of the Church would establish communities, and bishops (overseers) to serve them.

Now it might seem strange (even lofty) to consider the continuation of this Apostolic ministry in Winnipeg, and Canada of all places, especially considering the weighty challenges and hardships that debilitated the effectiveness of the diocese throughout its 100 years. Yet throughout it all there still remains a diocese, and communities that carry on the work of the Church, and that live its mission, proclaiming the Good News.

The witness of those immigrants who came from Galicia and Bukovina 125 years ago, who brought with them a Faith brought to them by St Vladimir, and the saints who manifested the life of Jesus Christ in Kyivan Rus, has been an inheritance that is our story. The work of the Apostles, whose “proclamation has gone out to the ends of the universe” (Ps.18:5 ) is our proclamation, and the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3 ) is what we now deliver as an inheritance to the world around us.

This is the challenge we consider as we give thanks to God for the past 100 years of our diocese: that we look toward to the future, building upon what has been given to us. In the same way that an astronaut, as he/she rockets upwards, doesn’t look back at the distant earth, marveling on what he/she has accomplished or where they started, but rather looks in wonder towards the heavens and magnificent,  splendor; we in the Church now look to the world around us, to our families, friends, and even strangers, considering not simply where we started but rather  humanitie’s vocation to be in communion with Him, the Lord God.

Regardless if we are Ukrainian, Russian, Romanian, Serbian, Greek, Syrian, or converts or the children of converts, this anniversary is our story, a precious one that should inspire us to continue the work offered by the Apostles, by those great missionaries, who preached the Word in foreign lands, by St. Tikhon who ministered in North America, by the blessed Archbishop Arseny whose words brought consolation and peace to his flock in Canada, and all the saints known and unknown who offered thanksgiving and praise to God for His mercy and love.

May we, like those blessed founders of this diocese, continue to look towards the heavens, as we live out our service of witnessing to the Faith within the Church the Body of Christ.

Change of Plans, services for this coming week.

Dearest all. 

We had been working with the Mission of the Theotokos of the Live Giving Springs this summer alternating our weekend vespers, but as there will be no services at the Mission this weekend, Great Vespers will be held at St. Nicholas tomorrow evening (Saturday Aug. 13th) at 5:00 pm. Not at the Mission as was noted on our calendar. 
 
Sorry for any confusion.
On Sunday we will be serving Divine Liturgy at 9:30 am and that evening at 6:00 pm we will be serving Great Vespers for the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos.
On Monday morning (Aug. 15th) we will be serving the festal Liturgy for the Dormition of the Theotokos at 10:00 am.
On Monday evening at 6:00 pm the patronal feast (The Icon of Christ not made by hands)  for the Winkler Mission will be held, followed by a feast.
On Tuesday morning the festal divine Liturgy of the Icon not made by hands, will be held at St. Nicholas in Narol at 10:00 am.
A busy first part of the week, but one that is full of blessings and mercy.
By your prayers.
PG.

 

Alternating Vespers services.

Given how precious and short our Manitoba summers are, it is not unusual that people take advantage of season and get away on holiday, or to a cottage. Understandably Church attendance suffers, in particular attendance at Saturday evening Vespers.

Although it serving Vespers with two or three people isn’t the end of the world, it makes no sense that other parishes are hobbling along serving the same service with the same kind of numbers at the same time.  Some parishes justifiably cancel Vespers, but thankfully we are in a situation where we can provide an alternative.

Given the relationship we have with the Theotokos of the Life Giving Springs Mission, we decided to combine our efforts for the Summer Vespers services, alternating each week between our parishes.

Sat. July 16th – Theotokos of the Life giving Springs, 240 Tache.

Sat. July 23rd – St. Nicholas, Narol.

Sat. July 30th – Theotokos of the Life giving Springs, 240 Tache.

Aug. 6th – St. Nicholas, Narol.

Aug. 13th – Theotokos of the Life giving Springs, 240 Tache.

Aug. 20th – St. Nicholas, Narol.

Aug. 27th – Theotokos of the Life giving Springs, 240 Tache.

All services are at 5:00 pm

Enjoy the beautiful weather, and time with family and friends. See you at some Vespers services.

 

Funeral arrangements for Sophie Barchyn

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
By God’s mercy and grace we will be serving Prayers for Sophie at Cropo Funeral Home (1442 Main St.) on Sunday May 29th at 6:30 pm.
The following morning (Monday May 30th) at St. Nicholas in Narol, we will be serving a memorial Liturgy at 9:30 am followed immediately by the funeral and interment (the funeral should start around 10:30 am).
There will be a memorial meal at St. Nicholas following the service, all are welcomed.
May her memory be eternal.
PG.

 

Photos from Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Pascha.

We had an incredibly busy week leading to Pascha. This is just a small sampling of photos from our beautiful services.

On Palm Sunday Aaron Seraphim, Tina Sophia, and Isabel Wiebe, were baptized before the Liturgy. This was followed by the visit of Archbishop Irenee of Ottawa and Canada to St. Nicholas. Vladika served with us on Great and Holy Thursday for the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil, and the Matins of Great and Holy Friday (12 Passion Gospels).

At this service Vladika consecrated our newly renovated Altar table, and ordained to the diaconate Stephen Sharman. Concelebrating with us that blessed day was the Priest Anthony Esterbrooks, and Deacon Matthew Beynon from the Theotokos of the Life giving Springs Mission in Winnipeg. Vladika also joined us for the Vesperal Liturgy of Great and Holy Saturday.

In fine Galician fashioned we served Nocturnes, Matins and Liturgy at the sunrise on Pascha with the newly ordained Dn. Stephen, and the priest Symeon Rodger visiting with his wife from Ottawa.

 

Our journey to the tomb with the Myrrh bearing women, our repentance.

The Myrrh bearing women

Maybe one of the most misunderstood aspects of Christian life is repentance. In our day and age, repentance has been understood as shame and embarrassment, and the promise of reconciliation has been replaced with the fear of disappointing God, and being judged and rejected by Him.

This, in part, might have something to do with the situation in which the sacrament of confession is something that is either never done, or the person in confession declares no sins were ever committed (I have had people say to me “really I not that bad of a person”). Regardless of whether anyone is really a “bad person” or not, or whether they never take advantage of the blessing that confession offers, the Orthodox Church has never seen the act of repentance as being shameful, something that is repulsive to God and His mercy, (in the same way that a doctor would never reject a sick person for coming to be healed).

For the Orthodox Church, repentance implies a “change of mind or heart” μετάνοια (metanoia). It is the return to God from the selfish desires that separate us from Him. And far from being something that is a stench to God, true repentance is like the sweet smelling oil poured over the Lord by the sinful woman at the Pharisee’s house (Lk 7:36-50), and profoundly, it is like the myrrh brought to the tomb of Christ by the Myrrh-bearing women on that blessed third day (Mk. 15:43-16:8).

The Myrrh bearing women.We can only imagine the shame of the sinful woman at the Pharisee’s house, surrounded by the pious and noble priests and scribes, and the humiliation that weighed heavy on Joseph of Arimathea when he went and asked for the body of Christ. We can barely conceive the fear and disappointment of the Myrrh-bearing women, who with heavy hearts, having lost everything in the death of Christ, went at the break of dawn to anoint the body of their Lord and teacher. But instead of meeting the broken and dead body of a man, they were met with the angelic proclamation that He had Risen!

When we offer our repentance, however great or small, to our family and friends, and profoundly to God, we follow those brave women, and Joseph and Nicodemus, who despite shame and fear, came to Him. And like them we do not encounter the horrible reality of death and decay, but the Risen Christ who calls out to us by name (Jn. 20:16).

And this is the miracle: that our repentance, that change of mind and heart, is the movement from the darkness of a life without God to the light in Christ that is a radiant as any city on a hill (Mt 5:14). Our offering of sin and failure to our loving God, is sweeter, more profound and redemptive than building Churches, attending services, preaching, and serving the world around us.

“For You (Lord) do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—
these, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 50 [51]:16-17)

May we have the courage of those Myrrh-bearing women, of Joseph and Nicodemus, and come to Christ with the myrrh and sweet smelling spices of our repentance. May we desire to be forgiven and healed, and by that proclaim like those first witnesses of the Resurrection that Christ is Risen!

News and Notes for the weekend of May 13-15th

St. Thekla Orthodox Young Adults Group

Tonight, this Friday May 13th, the St. Thekla Orthodox Young Adults group is hosting a night at YFC (33 King St. Winnipeg), between 6-9:00 pm

The St. Thekla Orthodox Young Adults Group is dedicated to building the community of Orthodox young adults in Winnipeg and the surrounding area. Though it is a group which is focused on Orthodox young adults, all those who are curious about the Orthodox Church and those wanting to deepen their faith in Christ are very welcome.

Along with food and games, a short workshop will be led by Wesley Giesbrecht entitled “Help my unbelief: The role of doubt and skepticism in the Christian life”.

We are blessed to have young adults, and doubly blessed that both Yuri and Wesley are working to provide a context in which Orthodox youth can have fun with each other, and talk about Orthodoxy without skipping the hard stuff. May the Lord bless this work.

Grave Blessings.

One of the greatest things about being a priest is having the opportunity ot serve at gravesides in this season of light and joy. There is no better prayer to say than “Christ is Risen” for our departed loved ones. It is our petition that they may be  partakers in the glory of the Lord’s resurrection, and redemption.

Although we will be blessing the graves at St. Nicholas after the Liturgy on  June 5th, I can serve Panikhidas (memorials) across the city where needed. Please contact me to arrange a date.

 

Rubbermaid containers.

Recently I came in contact with a family in need of sealable Rubbermaid (or similar) containers to help with a bed bug infiltration in their apartment building. It is a terrible situation that they are patiently working through. Having sealable containers would go a long way in limiting the spread of these little monsters. Again, please contact me if you have an extra bin or two to spare.

Special parish general meeting

On May 29th after the Liturgy, we will be holding a special general meeting. At our AGM this past February it was decided that we needed some time to consider finding a replacement for the position of the vice-president on parish council. David Pensato who had diligently served as this for the past four years has moved on, wanting to dedicate his time and energy to other aspects of parish life. For that new direction he is taking and for all his hard work on parish council, we are genuinely thankful to God. May the Lord grant him many years!  

If anyone is interested in serving on the parish council or knows someone who might like to serve on council, please let either a current council member or myself know.

One of the other items to be discussed is what options and alternatives are available to help us engage the members of our parish, and the community at large, from the bigger tasks like fundraising, to the seemingly minor tasks like cleaning up after lunch on Sunday morning. This is your parish, and you have a say in how we can best function given our resources, in directing the work of the Church to bear witness to the saving work of Christ.

If you have any questions or comments, please talk to a current council member or myself.

 

The Crowning of Aaron and Tina Wiebe.

The one element that defines so much of the Orthodox Church’s understanding of itself , is the sacramental presence of God in our lives. There are no symbols here, but the real and abiding presence of a God who acts to save humanity through the stuff that surrounds us (matter).

Whether it be water, oil, bread and wine, or ourselves, we offer something to God. He confirms and changes it, and offers it back to us, and by it unites Himself to us in the process.

Although in western culture marriage is primarily seen as a contract (either divine or secular), the Orthodox Rite of  Crowning (marriage) is understood as a sacrament. A couple comes together, and they offer their lives to each other and to the Lord. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, their union is consecrated, to rise above the primordial animal necessity to procreate, and the desires of self-fulfillment, they begin to process of becoming holy in the Lord’s holiness, and become divinized to be divine in the unending love of the Holy Trinity.

This Sunday after the Liturgy, after having to have a well needed cup of coffee, we will crown in marriage our newly-received parishioners Aaron and Tina. It is not as if Aaron and Tina were never really married before they became Orthodox, and now the Church has to fix it.

Obviously they are married with a  beautiful family, and their journey to Orthodoxy underlines this. But in the same way that an Orthodox priest doesn’t start acting like a priest the moment he is ordained (rather his ordination is the confirmation of his offering and service), the lives of Aaron and Tina (and little Isabel) have demonstrated the importance of Christ in their lives. Why not offer that to God in thanksgiving for His mercy and love and by it establish Christ as the cornerstone of their household eternally.

It won’t be a fairy-tale wedding necessarily, with lots of guests; and there might not be a crazy reception afterwards (although who knows). But it will be a chance for those of us who share in their Christian struggle to join them, and pray with them in this blessing.

If some can stay after Church, they are welcomed; if not,  please remember them in your prayers.

May the Lord continue to bless and keep Aaron Seraphim, Tina Sophia, and Isabel for many years.