Saying goodbye to a friend, and priest; but not his vision.

This past month, our dear friend Fr. Sinisa Milutinovic from St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church, was informed that he would be transferred to Saint Michael Serbian Orthodox Church, in Burnaby, BC on June 1st. (ironically on the eve of the feast of Ascension, when I met him eight years ago).  I must say that this was a bit of a shock, if only because I have truly come to love him and his family (and  by extension his parish) over the years. I don’t think it  is an exaggeration to say that Fr. Sinisa’s  pastoral vision and work, was a witness to the unity of our faith, that contrasted the inert qualities (and isolation) of being in, or serving at different Orthodox Church (and from different Orthodox jurisdictions). 

From the first time I met and served with Fr. Sinisa, I was struck by his missionary heart and vision, that saw relevance (and even the necessity) in the work of the Church in North America (regardless of what language or calendar might be used, or what bishop one might under). From taking the children of St. Sava’s to other Orthodox Churches (including St. Nicholas), to concelebrating with myself and other priests when time allowed him, to inviting other Orthodox communities to  join St. Sava’s for concerts and feasts, to being an integral part of the Heavenly King Orthodox Academy school, Fr. Sinisa always understood and worked to show that Orthodox Christianity was something greater than what happened at  580 Talbot St. 

Every time we would meet or serve together, there was always a genuine and joyful hospitality that never left anyone lacking for food, drink or laughs. Even when confronted with difficult challenges, his straightforward and honest disposition bore witness to a profound pastoral love (even if it was being ignored or ridiculed).  I  would find myself being inspired to serve with more integrity, and want to bear witness to the unity of our faith with the same kind of joy and enthusiasm he offered; if only because his work was a witness to the unchangeable love of God, who serves us eternally in His priesthood.

Fr. Sinisa’s transfer is truly a bitter pill for me to swallow, as a friend and his family are moving away (I can’t imagine what it must be like for the faithful of St. Sava’s); yet his time as the rector at St. Sava has provided a foundation on which to build upon; that this is Christ’s “Church and that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18). I only pray that both myself and the faithful of this city can honour that witness he so lovingly offered. 

We offer thanksgiving to God for the rich and beautiful  blessings we have received from our friend; and we offer our prayers for his family (Popadija Sonia and their children, Pavel, Arseny, and Irinia) as they move to a new parish, city and province. May the Lord grant them many blessed years, health and salvation!  Слава Богу!

Mothers day.

Although this is a “Halmark holiday” with no status as a civic or liturgical holiday, Mothers Day is a day that everyone offers thanksgiving and prayers for our mothers, regardless of who they are, where they came from, or what they believe. Of course this is something we should be doing everyday of our lives, yet in this, yet setting aside some time to demonstrate this, is a way of recognizing what has been set aside for each of us by our mothers in their care and love for each of us. Many. I found this wonderful article about Mothers day by Father George Shalhoub, a priest of an Antiochian Orthodox
Church in the US, that I thought I would share with you. May the Lord grant many blessed years to our mothers who are living, and the Kingdom of heaven for our mothers who have reposed in the Lord!

Who Else Will Raise the Next Generation of Orthodox Christians? A Reflection for Mother’s Day

This Sunday, people throughout the United States and many places around the world will gather to honor their mothers. Many mothers will receive flowers, breakfast in bed, dinners and other acts of affection. For those who may be away from their children, they will have to be content with a phone call or a card in the mail. But, no matter how admirable this day has become for us in today’s society, honoring one’s mother should not be reduced to a one day activity, because mothers provide the foundation upon which we build our lives.

God gives every created human being a mother here on earth because He loves us. And even after our earthy mother precede us to Heaven, we still have our eternal mother (the Virgin Mary) who always keeps us in the shelter of her wings. As the late Mikhail Naimy stated, “Love is the law of God. You live that you may learn to love. You love that you may learn to live. No other lesson is required of Man.”

It is a well-known fact that Christian scripture states that the role of instructing children belongs to their father. (Eph. 6:4) However, for many of us, especially those of us who come from the Middle East, this duty belongs to the mother. What do mothers contribute to their children? Since God is the founder of the first family and every family on the face of this earth, the family is obligated to worship, praise and honor Him and keep His commandments. Therefore, the mother and father are an image of God to their children, and each has a different function, role and duty within the life of the family. St. Paul stated in Ephesians, Chapter 5, that women are to be like the Holy Church: blameless and without reproach; and husbands are to be the image of Christ: serving and giving of his life to the Church. We do not enter into a debate of who is more important, more educated or makes more money. No one is greater than the other. Both were crowned, in the Sacrament of Marriage, with glory and honor and are, in God’s eyes, equal in creation.

Women of faith, in Holy Scripture, are considered to be “pillars of support” (Proverbs 9:1) and “faithful”. (I Tim 3:11) This equality is well put in the mouth of St. Paul, when he said, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” (I Cor. 11:11-12) Since St. Paul gives this profound image of husbands and wives to be like Christ and the Church and the wife is to be like the Holy Church without distinction, Blessed Augustine once wrote, “He who does not have the church as his mother, does not have God as his father.”

I can only speak to what my own mother contributed to my life and the lives of my siblings. I vividly recall that by the age of two, any time the church bells rang to signal a service, my mother would take me to church with her. I confess that being so young, I didn’t understand what the worship was all about, and despite being disruptive during the service, as young children are apt to be, I still felt secure and happy within the boundaries of the church. This experience left a longstanding impression on me that caused me to learn a lifetime of lessons as a son, a young man, a husband, a father, a grandfather and of course as a priest.

The lessons instilled by a mother are those emphasized in 2 Peter that says that the seeds which are implanted in our hearts, minds and souls can produce virtues or thorns. A mother’s words can either heal or scar her children. They can encourage or defeat. They can raise up, or put down. These virtues, whether good or bad determine what a child will be like as an adult, as unique individuals. We are a reflection of our parents’ attitudes, yet we bear on ourselves God’s image and likeness. Though we inherit genetics from our parents, we are original and individual in God’s eyes. All the schooling we acquire and the careers we undertake hinge on the lessons we received from our mother. She is the scale which balances life’s experiences. We either love or hate, are generous or greedy based on lessons we learn as children. Even though my mother was illiterate, she taught me the prayers of the Church which she knew by heart. I could summarize what the gospel teaches, what St. Peter insists makes a good life, and about being dedicated as a Christian based on things I learned from my mother, not through her words, but through her actions. She personified this idea from 2 Peter 1:5 “But also, for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, godliness to brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.”

The calling of mothers is of self-giving for the sake of the family. St. John Chrysostom states, “A mother experiences more than one death, even though she herself will only die once. She fears for her husband; she fears for her children; again she fears for the women and children who belong to her children….For each of these, whether for loss of possessions, bodily illness or undesired misfortune, she mourns and grieves no less than those who suffer.” Our image of mothers in the Holy Church is the Virgin Mary. John of Damascus describes her calling to motherhood, “O Mother of God! If I place my confidence in thee, I shall be saved; if I am under thy protection, I have nothing to fear; for the fact of being thy client is a possession of a certainty of salvation which God grants only to those whom He intends to save.” This should be the mission of every mother.

The Bible, and especially Proverbs 6:20-23, advises us in this way, “My child, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light and correction and instruction are the way to life.” An old Arab proverb says that “Heaven bows before a mother’s feet. The Book of Proverbs 31:1 also states, “Who can find a virtuous mother, she is more precious than jewels.” As Henry Ward Beecher stated, “The mother’s heart is the child’s first school room.”

Today, we are in need of the Church to raise women of faith. Who would take a bullet for you? Or catch a hand grenade? Or step in front of a train for you? Or pray that God will take her instead of her child, but a mother? “A mother’s love is something that no one can explain. It is made of deep devotion and of sacrifice and pain. It is endless and unselfish and enduring come what may, for nothing can destroy it or take that love away.” (Helen Steiner Rice)

As an adult, a man learns how to love his wife and children through the way he loves his mother and the way his mother loves him. A woman learns from the sacrifices of her mother. No one can teach decency, character and dignity but a mother. As children, our bodies are nourished through our mother’s milk and as we grow, our souls are nourished in the same way through the kindness, compassion and generosity she feeds us.

We are dealing with a new reality of moms and dads both working to meet life’s demands and needs. The question to be asked, “Who can teach decency and respect, form character and dignity, but a mother? A virtuous mother is so needed to instill in her children the faith we received from the saints. As Gibran Kahlil Gibran wrote, “The mother is everything – she is our consolation in sorrow, our hope in misery, and our strength in weakness. She is the source of love, mercy, sympathy, and forgiveness. He who loses his mother loses a pure soul who blesses and guards him constantly.”

On this Mother’s Day, we salute all mothers and those who are in heaven, we ask for their intercession. For those still on earth, we pray that God gives them a long and healthy life. If your mother has blessed you much, thank her. And if your mother has failed you, the best Mother’s Day gift you can give is to forgive her.

Father George Shalhoub is priest at The Antiochian Orthodox Basilica of St. Mary in Livonia, Michigan.

“As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ!”

This year we had the unspeakable joy of receiving eleven people into the fullness of the faith through the sacrament of baptism. This started on The eve of Lazarus Saturday at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church (where they have a built in baptismal font), and then on Great and Holy Saturday at St. Nicholas. We were blessed by the kindness of Fr. Nikolaos Tambakis (rector of St. Demetrios) and his community to use their temple, as well as Fr. Matthew Beynon (Holy Trinity Sobor) who concelebrated. May the Lord grant the newly illumed Andrew, Alexandr, Stephen, Ryan, Stephanie, Thomas, Loa, Darwin, Arielle, Peter, Bridgette, and their sponsors many blessed years!

Christ is Risen!

After two very strange years that compelled our community (and many others) to find ways in which to serve; the joy of being able to serve Holy Week and Pascha (not to mention the baptism of twelve people) in person with the whole of the community was beyond words. This being said, we will let some pictures express what words can not. Christ is Risen, Indeed He is Risen!

Thomas Sunday

Dearest all, Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen! 

Something to consider as we hear the Lord’s reply to Thomas’ confession of faith ‘Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed.’ (Jn.20:29)

…Paul said: ‘Faith is the guarantee of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.’ (Heb. 11:1) It is clear, then, that faith is the proof of what can not be seen. What is seen gives knowledge, not faith. When Thomas saw and touched, why was he told: ‘You have believed because you have seen me?’ Because what he saw and what he believed were different things. God cannot be seen by mortal man. Thomas saw a human being, whom he acknowledged to be God, and said: ‘My Lord and my God.’ Seeing, he believed; looking at one who was true man, he cried out that this was God, the God he could not see. What follows is reason for great joy: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.’

There is here a particular reference to ourselves; we hold in our hearts One we have not seen in the flesh. We are included in these words, but only if we follow up our faith with good works. The true believer practices what he believes. But of those who pay only lip service to faith, Paul has this to say: ‘They profess to know God, but they deny him in their works. ’Therefore James says: ‘Faith without works is dead.’”

  • St. Gregory the Great

Orthodox unity, music, dreaming and a full heart.

This past Saturday evening (Apr. 9th) St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church hosted a Vespers service, and concert of spiritual music from various Orthodox choirs around the city.

The unity of our faith is vitally important to demonstrate during our Lenten journey. Although they were circumstances that canceled our annual Pan-Orthodox celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we were able to come together at St. Sava’s for Vespers and an evening of Spiritual music, as brothers and sisters to hear the theology of our Church, as expressed in the hymns from various traditions, and in various languages. Truly a blessing to share in such a witness. We were also blessed to celebrate the Slava for their choir (whose patron is St. Mary of Egypt). Truly a beautiful tradition I hope that we can incorporate at St. Nicholas in the years to come.

Following the service, St. Sava’s rector, Fr. Sinisa Milutinovic gave a beautiful and honest sermon about the unity of our faith, and our responsibility to live it. With thanksgiving to God, and Fr. Sinisa’s permission I have shared it below.

This evening is not only an opportunity to enjoy beautiful church hymns sung in different languages, and we didn’t gather just to see each other’s faces, although we have waited for a long time to do that, this evening is an opportunity to confirm our love and determination towards the unity of the Orthodox faith. St. Apostle Paul asks the faithful in Rome: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? With these words we are being reminded that love and unity in Christ have no other alternative. And that’s why our gathering brings a great joy, because today the words of the prophet David are fulfilled: Look what is good, or what is beautiful, but that the brothers live together.

Unfortunately, in the past few years, there have been few opportunities to confirm our love and our community as Orthodox Christians. Because of Covid and because of conflicts of our church hierarchy, we were separated and isolated in our small communities. Deprived of each other’s presence, we felt like cut branches of a fruitful tree longing to unite with a tree. It’s not my intention to talk about Church politics or the problem that Orthodox Church is facing today. Different opinions are a product of different life experiences. I’ll give you a small example of that: I had the blessing to begin my ministry in Serbia, where I was surrounded by Orthodox Christians, we all spoke the same language and we prayed to the same God.

In that time I did not think much about the words of the Apostle Paul from the Epistle to the Galatians. There are no more Jews or Greeks; there are no more slaves or freemen; there is no more male or female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Only when I came to Canada and met priests and believers from other local Orthodox Churches did I recognize the prophetic spirit of the Apostle Paul, who certainly saw our small divisions and quarrels ahead.

This wonderful evening is a moment to stop and think about the future of our communities. We could say that our communities are like ice cubes submerged in the ocean and the smaller the cube, the sooner it will melt, but if the ice cubes are collected in a iceberg, than the ice has some chance to survive and not melt and even maybe to last long enough for all the ocean to freeze and become ice. Dear brothers, we are called to spread the word of God, we are supposed to be the light of the world and salt to the earth.

The great Serbian saint Nikolaj Velimirović said in one place that the reason why other nations do not approach the Christian faith is that they do not want to become like us, so they do not see in us that we live the faith we preach. Is it that disturbing to think that I am the obstacle to someone’s salvation?

Of Course we all understand that things are happening in the world that are difficult to accept and explain. My wish and prayer to God is to silence the wars and the divisions, to stop diseases and suffering of the people; but I ask myself: is it realistic that something like that will happen? History is a witness that such a thing is not possible, the Lord Himself tells us that without tribulation there is no salvation for us. Our prayers for these things are necessary but more necessary is to realize that we have to forgive and to endure all the goods and bad that come towards us. I’ll remind you of Job who said to his wife when she criticized him: If we accept good things from the Lord’s hand, shall we not endure evil things? It’s
important to remember that there will always be some kind of tribulation in our lives, our goal is to overcome them and preserve our faith.

Many times I have heard comments that our Serbian Church should break the unity with another Church due to some disagreements. Every time I heard something like that, my heart was torn. I asked myself: is it possible that we are so eager to divide, that we are ready to reject our brother because of his sin? When long suffering disappeared, what happened with forgiveness? Did we forget the words we recite daily in Our Father’s prayer: and forgive my transgressions as we forgive those who transgress against us?

There is only one path in the Orthodox faith and that’s the path of love. I once talked to a monk about life in the parish and he gave me advice that no matter where I am in the parish, I should try to make the parish my little paradise. But I wonder why shouldn’t our Orthodox community in Winnipeg become a paradise?

Are we missing something in our mission, are we doing everything Christ told us to do? If we would just be able to open the doors of our hearts we would be able to do amazing things. I had the opportunity, or better to say a privilege, to be part of one amazing pan orthodox experience. I’m talking about Heavenly King Orthodox Academy (HKOA) the Orthodox School that we are going to open for all our kids. And all do we encounter numerous problems, some of them are in these moments too big to handle, the
whole experience is a blueprint for Orthodox community on how we can work together. And you know what, the best part is you don’t need us the priests to tell you what to do or to organize you. Know one needs a blessing to do good works for his brothers and sisters. So I encourage everyone, please keep working together.

If our clergy, for some reason, has a tied arms in the back you are the one to preserve the love and unity. Can you imagine an Orthodox school, a camp for all our children, can you imagine pan orthodox choir performing not only once a year for Sunday of Orthodoxy, a Bible study group for everyone, an Orthodox parade in downtown Winnipeg, I asked why not?

You will probably tell yourself this guy is a dreamer, but I don’t mind dreaming because I saw the fruits of unity and perseverance. My heart is full tonight and I’m really blessed for having the opportunity to be your host tonight. God bless you all.

Snowstorm cancelation

I was hoping that this storm might skip us, especially as there was no snow flying around midnight; but when I woke up this morning and looked out the window, the decision to cancel was obvious.
This is to say, there will be no service at St. Nicholas this evening. There are a number of people that had scheduled confessions this evening, and I will be reaching out to them today, to reschedule.

May the Lord give us patience to work through yet another snowstorm and distraction.

Silence. The beginning of true theology.

Something to consider as we commemorate the three Holy Hierarchs (Saints Basil, Gregory, and John Chrysostom), and the source of their profound teachings and witness…silence. 

“…It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one. “The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” (1 Cor. 4:20). Men “believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth,” the one “unto righteousness,” the other “unto salvation.”(Rm. 10:10). It is good to teach, if he who speaks also acts. For he who shall both “do and teach, the same shall be great in the kingdom (Mt. 5:19)…”

St. Ignatius of Antioch letter to the Ephisians chp. 15.

The Blessing of the Red River.

In the same way that we bless the homes of our faith full in this time of joy at Theophany, we also bless the waters and rivers of wherever we might be, manifesting the saving work of the Lord in creation.

As the Lord has has come to save our broken and mortal nature by humbling Himself becoming like us in every way (except sin), and submitting Himself to the hand of a servant to “fulfill all righteousness” He also redeems His creation. The wonderful tradition of blessing rivers and lakes is truly a proclamation of the saving love of the Lord, and with thanksgiving to God, we are able to continue this tradition by blessing the Red River. 

With considerations to pandemic restrictions, busy schedules and the weather (never to be underestimated)  both Fr. Matthew Beynon from Holy Trinity Sobor and Fr. Gregory, and some of the faithful St. Nicholas and the Sobor, from were able to find time to serve together for this wonderful service during a balmy break in the weather.