Growing and blooming where you are planted, and the feast of all Saints of North America

We have often heard the sage words of wisdom that encourage us to  “grow and bloom where we are planted”. There’s something universal in this axiom,  that suggests that people have the qualities to achieve some kind of happiness, and realize their potential no matter what  situation they find themselves in. It stands to reason that something like this would  resonate within the pages of scripture: regardless of whether we have been given one or three talents (Mt. 25:14-29), or whether we are Jews or Greeks, slave or free, male or female (Gal. 3:28) or whether we are married or not (1 Cor 7:7-24), the saving work of Christ is offered to all. More to the point, the Kingdom is not dependent on our being in the perfect place, with the perfect possessions, and having the perfect social status.

These examples (and many other illustrations throughout scripture) articulate the basic message to “grow and bloom where you are planted”, as a means of realizing the goal of happiness (or more appropriately, holiness). For the Christian, it drives home the point that he/she grows and blooms by cooperating with our perfect God who helps us through the Holy Spirit.

History has shown us those men women and children who throughout the ages put on Christ, making His life theirs, growing and blooming into His divine likeness by forsaking the fallen world of sin and corruption. Regardless of whether they were Greek or Ukrainian, in monasteries, or churches, cities or farms, whether they were emperors, or beggars, in palaces or concentration camps, they have revealed the riches of God’s love and mercy that stretches into eternity. We have come to know them as holy, as saints.

This is something to consider as we commemorate the Saints of North America.

The history of Orthodoxy in North America (some 200 years old) is but a drop in the ocean when compared to the nations in which Orthodoxy was established. Those who in faith came to this new world seeking a better life, faced incredible odds and challenges that at times made life here intolerable. But this is not to say that in our short history, and despite the overwhelming challenges, there were not those who blossomed as witnesses of Christ’s saving victory.

Some are well-known like St. Herman, and St. Tikhon, and some are less known, like Matushka Olga of Alaska, or Metropolitan Leonty (who are among those who have yet to be formally recognized as saints, but nonetheless are recognized as those who built the Church). But in every case, we see them doing what Christians have been doing throughout the ages, from the day of Pentecost until now. They have proclaimed ”the Good News” of Christ’s victory and our liberation from sin and death, making real His saving work and the free gift of life in the Holy Spirit.

It might be strange to consider that this has been done in places like Brooklyn, NY through St. Raphael (Hawaweeny) and San Francisco, CA through St. John (Maximovitch), or in Dallas TX where they discovered that the body of Archbishop Dmitri (Royster)was incorrupt and even in Winnipeg  through our locally venerated saint Archbishop Arseny (Chahovtsov). Yet if we really have faith that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28  [3:1 LXX]), and the Gospel has been preached to the ends of the universe (Ps. 19:4 [Ps. 18:4 LXX]), then the presence of the saints isn’t something that is simply reserved for distant lands and traditional Christian cultures. Rather, it is a profound proclamation that the fullness of a life lived in the Holy Spirit is possible even here in North America. This is demonstrated by all  those who grew and bloomed in Christ, and like a carpet of flowers, have covered our continent.

The challenge for us is to see (even seek out) those saints who have shone forth in North America.  They took what would have been to them a strange world and culture, making  it as fertile as the richest soil.

In like manner, we are called to live as they did: loving everyone, speaking peace, being patience and kind, offering good works, remaining faithful, gentle, and selfless (see Gal. 5:22-23). We are called to grow and bloom here in Manitoba, Canada, North America, and bear the fruits of eternal life.

By the prayers of all those saints known and unknown who blossomed in North America, may we be strengthened in this.

Father Bob’s Wisdom. The Meeting of the Lord (2009)

Meeting of the Lord

This feast, celebrated on February 2, is known in the Orthodox Church as The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Another name for the feast is The Meeting of our Lord. Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians call the feast, The Purification of the Holy Virgin. About 450 AD in Jerusalem, people began the custom of holding lighted candles during the Divine Liturgy of this feast day. Therefore, some churches in the West refer to this holy day as Candlemas or the Liturgy of the Candles. The Feast of the Presentation concludes the observances related to the Nativity of Christ, a period that opened on November 15 with the beginning of the Nativity fast.

The story of the Presentation is told in St. Luke’s Gospel which we just read. Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews and observed their religious customs. An important custom was for the couple to take their first-born son to the Temple. The baby was taken to the Temple forty days after his birth and was dedicated to God. In addition, if the parents were wealthy, they were to bring a lamb and a young pigeon or a turtle dove to be offered as a sacrifice at the Temple. The custom provided that if the parents were poor, they were to offer two pigeons or two turtle doves for the sacrifice.

When Jesus was forty days old, Mary and Joseph took Him to the Temple in Jerusalem. They were not wealthy, so they took two turtle doves with them to offer as a sacrifice at the Temple. As they arrived at the Temple, Mary and Joseph were met by a very old man named Simeon. He was a holy man and was noted as a very intelligent scholar. Simeon spent much time studying about the prophets of Israel. It was during his studies that he learned of the coming of the Messiah. The Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah to come and deliver Israel from their conquerors. From that time on, Simeon spent his time praying for the Messiah to come. He spent many years in prayer. Finally, while Simeon was praying he heard the voice of God. God promised Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah.

He who gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai now comes to us in the flesh and submits himself to the requirements of this law, not because He needs to, but to show that He is truly one of us in his humanity.

When Simeon saw Jesus, he took the baby in his arms and blessed the Lord and said: “Lord, now let Your servant go in peace according to Your promise, because my eyes have seen Your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory to your people Israel.” Part of the reason that Simeon can depart now is that the old covenant with its priesthood has passed away, and on this 40th day, our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who is the offerer and who is offered, who is the receiver and the received now replaces the Old Testament priesthood which is no longer in effect, no longer necessary.

Also, in the Temple was Anna the Prophetess. She had been a widow for many years. Anna was about eighty-four years old and spent her time in the Temple worshiping, fasting, and praying. When she saw the Christ Child she praised God and spoke of him to all who were awaiting the Messiah.

After Jesus was presented in the Temple, the family returned to Galilee to the town of Nazareth. The Bible tells us that Jesus grew and became strong, and was filled with wisdom.

The Holy Icon of this feast shows that the meeting takes place inside the Temple and in front of the altar. The altar has a book or a scroll on it and is covered by a canopy. The Theotokos stands to the left and is holding out her hands in a gesture of offering. She has just handed her Son to Simeon.

Christ is shown as a child, but He is not in swaddling clothes. He is clothed in a small dress and his legs are bare. Jesus appears to be giving a blessing. Simeon holds Jesus with both hands which are covered. This shows the reverence Simeon had for the Messiah. Simeon is bare headed and there is nothing to show that he is a priest. Some biblical scholars say that Simeon was probably a priest of the Temple or a Doctor of the Law.

Joseph is behind the Theotokos. He is carrying the two turtle doves for the sacrifice. Anna the Prophetess is also standing behind the Theotokos and is pointing to the Christ child.

The words Simeon spoke when he saw the Christ Child are known as “St. Simeon’s Prayer.” This prayer is sung every day at the evening Vespers services of the Church. I believe that in some western churches this prayer is sung at some funerals, where it is of course, quite appropriate.

In the Orthodox Church, both baby boys and baby girls are taken to the Church on the fortieth day after their birth. This is done in remembrance of the Theotokos and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to the Temple.

We too, bless candles before our Divine Liturgy today. They are beautiful lights. We have to be careful in handling them because we are not accustomed to using them in our daily lives. We burn candles in our churches and homes before our icons as a sign of reverence towards those depicted in the icon. The candles also signify our unending prayer going up to the Lord. It is not sufficient just to light a candle—it is the prayer behind the candle which is important. Even if we somehow had no candles available, the prayer could still be offered of course.

The faithful will take these candles home and use them on special occasions and in their prayers. Strictly speaking, it would be good if all the candles we used throughout the year were blessed in the Church. I have heard of people in other places lighting a blessed candle in their home during a storm. Again, the blessed candles are not magic—God willing, as we light a candle in our homes during a time like that, our prayers are going up to the Lord just as the smoke and light from the candle is ascending.

The candles are of course also reflections of Jesus Christ who is the Light of the world. But the light from the candles can remind us that we too must be lights to others in all our lives. The light that we show forth in our day to day living is even more powerful than the light of a candle—it has much more horsepower or candle power. How we live our daily lives in relationship to God and to our fellow human being is the greatest sermon ever preached.

While it sounds awesome that this old man should hold God Incarnate in his elderly arms, it is no less awesome that we, too, receive God Incarnate and Resurrected, Christ our God in our bodies as we partake of His Holy Body and Precious Blood at Holy communion.

Blessing the Red River.

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Why would you bless the Red River?
I was asked this a few weeks ago, and my response was “because it needs it”.
This river (especially), all rivers, oceans, seas, lakes, streams and springs have for generations provided water, food and transportation; being cornerstones of civilization, and life. They sadly have also become a toilet (literally) for waste, sewage, chemicals, and even human misery. These waters, that were once sources of life, are now blights that mask and disfigure the importance of water in our lives. No one will ever confuse the a nice glass of water from your tap and the water that runs through Winnipeg. In this context it is not a far stretch to see some sort of connection between what our water has become, and the plight of humanity.
Like the water that courses through our rivers, humanity was meant to be a source of love, mercy and grace; to be life. Our humanity created to be robed in righteousness, (Isa. 61:10) has become  masked by the rags of sin. Where once it brought life and hope, it now brings decay and sickness and even death. For this reason the Lord acts to save us, becoming like us in every way (except sin) even dying on the cross that he might restore and renew our polluted and stained nature.
That as the Lord of Glory descends into our polluted and sinful humanity, and by the cross restores humanities’ vocation to be life bearing, we bless even our most polluted waters, commending their water to His saving and purifying grace.
The Red River needs to be blessed, in the same way we need to be saved. That we, like those waters that have cultivated life throughout the ages, might cultivate real life, now and in the age to come.
At 2:00 pm tomorrow (Saturday Jan 7th), we will be blessing the Red River at the end of Magnus Ave. at Prichard park. Not the Redwood boat launch (way to much snow there).
There is parking on the street, and  a few pathways down to the river, without having to scamper down a embankment.
Not to worry we won’t be venturing out to far on the ice.
This service is not for the faint at heart, or those who don’t like the cold, so please dress in layers!
As many come are invited by to the Scratches  to warm up after the service

Why I won’t sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.

Holiday Schlock.

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”!

Icon of the Nativity of our Lord

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

“Come and see.” humanity’s pitiful cry.

"Work will set you free", the main gates at Auschwitz.

For generations, the words “come and see” (Jn. 1:39, 1:46) have been for Christians the most sincere expression our encounter with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as revealed in the pages of scripture. These words are an invitation to experience in the saving work of God, not as some philosophical abstract to think about, but a relationship by which we will be comforted and confirmed, headed and restored. But with the death of Lazarus (11:1-44), we hear the words “come and see” choked with the pain of loss, and grief.

As I was considering this, I happened to catch the tail end of an amazing interview. The renowned author and philosopher, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was being interviewed on the CBC.

In the course of the interview, he was asked if he had ever had a crisis of faith. His reply was that “he certainly had, but that it was not a crisis of faith in God, but in humanity”. Sacks went on to talk about a BBC show he did at the Auschwitz death camp for the 50th anniversary of its liberation. Surrounded by the shadows and grim monuments, he was asked: “Where was God in Auschwitz”? His unscripted reply was to ask: “where was God in the words ‘Thou shalt not murder; thou shalt not oppress a stranger; and thy brother’s blood is crying from the ground,’…I do not know how a serious human being can have faith in humanity after the Holocaust.” It was as if those millions who suffered untold horrors cried out to the world “come and see”.

Humanity, for all its good intentions and desires, has for ages been unable to offer anything more than death and destruction such as the Holocaust. From the death of Able, to the broken homes, families and people that we are surrounded with (and come from), humanity has only offered pitiable solutions and visions of a better tomorrow, that ultimately leave us with only an unmarked grave to show for it all.

And it is over this that the Lord weeps. He weeps not just for Lazarus, whom He loved, but for what He sees in humanity, broken and mortal, abandoned and wasted as if discarded in unmarked graves. Yet those tears for our stormed-tossed nature become the context for His saving work.

For He acts to save humanity: breaking sin, by submitting Himself in humility and silence through His life saving passion; breaking death’s hold, by dying on the Cross, by rising on the third day, reconciling our estranged nature to Himself.

It is only in Him, that the horrors of war and poverty, violence and injustice are vanquished, and the pitiful visions of a better tomorrow are blown away like cobwebs. It is only in Him that those heavy words “come and see” become the promise for those who desire life eternal where there is no weeping, sighing and sorrow. And it is only in Him that our sorrowful lament can become a new song (Rev. 14:13).

“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life”!

Raising of Lazarus Icon (Sinai 13th century)

 

 

 

We are nothing without the Cross.

cross

The whole of our life, is to actualize the image of God, and achieving the divine likeness that humanity was created in. Every day should be a movement towards this; yet we find that the cares of our daily lives, and the concerns for this and that, slowly mask and cover who we are in the eyes of God.

The Church gives us the tools of increased fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and good works during this season of Great Lent, to help peel away those masks of security and comfort from our lives, revealing our blessed nature. Yet these elements are not automatic guarantees of this happening. We don’t engage in these struggles to gain favor by checking off one task or the other; we engage in these struggles to identify with a God who identifies with our broken humanity.

He is a God who empties Himself “and being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross”. (Phil 2:7-9). And this is the point: that by the Cross, the Lord breaks down the division between humanity and God, not as some act of payment or punishment on our behalf, but out of love. The Lord perfects our nature, and shares it with us in His Resurrection.

As we enter into the middle of the fast, the Church presents for consideration this Cross of Christ, to remind us of the centrality of the Cross in our life. This must be the beginning of our journey and the destination of our journey-to be truly alive. This Cross of our Lord reminds us that our fasting is not simply a labour independent of God, but a labour that shows the love of Jesus Christ who out of love surrender even His will to the Father, for our sake.

We can go through our whole life fasting, serving, reading, working for the good of others. But unless we, like our gracious Lord, surrender our will, our passions, our security, our life on the Cross out of love for God and neighbour, nothing we could ever do (however good it might be) would help us see that it is God upon the Cross, and not some mortal victim. And sadly we would not see the love poured out for us, and live the life offered to us.

Cause and effect.

annunciationMost of us are acquainted with the concept of  “cause and effect”, the notion that one action inevitably changes the state, context, or condition of something independent of itself.

We see this in everything: sports, politics, relationships, science, and the daily routines of life. And to one degree or another, these causes will all leave their mark, even if the “effect” is lost in history. We, as Orthodox Christians, see our whole existence affected by the divine cause, the love of the Father for humanity, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit: a life in the Holy Trinity.

The Lord acts to save us, and no matter how broken and sinful we might be, His love breaks through time and space to heal, and reclaim us from evil and death. This is the divine act; the ultimate “cause” meant to “affect” a humanity that having turned its back on God chose death and not life. It is the Incarnation of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ,  “the beginning of our Salvation, the revelation of the eternal mystery…” (Troparion of the Annunciation)

By the Lord’s saving Incarnation, He becomes like us in every way, except sin. And by this profound demonstration of love, the divine “cause”, He affects every aspect of life: love, relationships, and work. Jesus Christ takes that mortal and finite matter of our nature and creation, assumes it totally without confusion, and makes it and creation holy as the Lord is holy. At His glorious Ascension, He brings it into eternity to reign at the right hand of the Father, and He pours out His Spirit on all flesh at His Pentecost.

Yet, despite the profound ramifications of the blessed event of the Incarnation, we find ourselves inclined to make inert and limited the totality of this event. We tend to do this  the moment it interferes with what we think the “effect” should be (or more to the point, what we want to be affected).

It is a blessing that as we consider the Incarnation in the feast of the Annunciation of Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, we find ourselves in the midst of Great Lent, preparing for the Lord’s saving passion, death, and resurrection on the third day.

Great Lent is a season during which, through increased fasting, praying, reading of the scriptures, almsgiving and good works, we strive to put our trust in God. Commending to Him our brokenness, passions, fears, and anxieties. All those things that inhibit our relationship with the Lord of Glory, so that we can realize the divine effect of a life in Christ.

The effect of that love is real, divine and eternal, changing our body and soul together. This love is offered eternally by a God who loved us first. This is the divine cause for which on bended knee we offer thanksgiving.