Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
We all love a white Christmas, but when it is expected to exceed 25 cm it can be a bit to much. So I thought it best that we cancel the service tomorrow (Dec. 26th).
The Henderson Hwy, can be a little touch and go at times, not to mention any snow fall can make a normal half hour trip feel like a journey to Steinbach.
Have a blessed feast of the Nativity of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, shovel well tomorrow, and enjoy your families.
See you on Saturday evening for Vespers and prayers for the new year.
It is very easy for us as Christians to consider the feast of Christmas as being something less than it really is. It is very easy for us to see the birth of this Child (albeit a special Child) as a singular event in history that has however more to do with gift giving, being generous and kind, and spending time with family and loved ones, than a cosmic event that changes everything eternally.
It is not that gift giving, being generous and kind, and spending time with family and friends is a bad thing (it is obviously not). But do we need a historic event to be the excuse for such demonstrations of these beatitudes? To act as if this feast is simply the remembrance of the events that happened in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago, is to reduce the profound mystery of Jesus Christ’s birth to simply a notable birthday, in the same way that we remember Queen Victoria’s birthday in May, or George Washington’s birthday in February (for our American friends).
Queen Victoria’s, birthday or George Washington’s birthday, or anyone else’s birthday is not a mystery, hidden from the Angels. Men and women throughout the ages have had babies; this is quite natural and normal. However, that the Eternal and Everlasting Son of God, “True God of True God” assumed our mortal and broken nature, “taking the form of servant” in order to save humanity, is indeed an unfathomable mystery brought forth in Love.
This is the point and the wonder: the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is the act whereby the Lord of Glory, the Creator of everything visible and invisible “emptied Himself”, becoming as helpless as a newborn child, born in poverty with nowhere to lay His head except a manger of straw. He came this way so that He might be like us in every way (for we are all born helpless, and a majority of our world is born in poverty) and that we might be like Him.
It is the mystery of this blessed event of the Nativity of the Messiah, (and not simply His birthday) that should mark our thanksgiving and praise as Christians. It is the mystery of the Incarnation, and not simply the remembrance of a historical event, that should inspire us to love like Him. It is the mystery of God acting to save humanity by assuming it completely (except for sin), and not His birthday that we should proclaim to a world in desperate need of being saved from violence, poverty, exploitation and ultimately death, the last enemy.
I won’t be singing happy birthday to Jesus at Christmas this year, for my only response to this mystery is to shout “Christ is born! Glorify Him”!
Although the roads are drivable with all the snow falling, their is low visibility, and the going is really slow. So in the best interest and safety of everyone, we are cancelling the Divine Liturgy.
Keep safe today, and go slow.
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.
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.
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.
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.