Beloved in the Lord,
The Feast of the Indiction is upon us, the beginning of the New Ecclesiastical Year. Along with this Feast we also celebrate the American Labor Day holiday. Families and friends will gather one more time in order to mark the end of summer and inaugurate the activities of autumn. Created in the late nineteenth century, the intent of Labor Day was to honor the American worker. We should remember that dimension of this holiday.
The Ecclesiastical year provides us with a new opportunity to renew our labors as individuals, families, and communities of faith. When the Lord began His ministry, He read from the Prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release of the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19, cf Isaiah 61:1). The Lord has given us a “to do list” to guide our labor. His words should inspire us as we begin this New Year.
Labor is honorable and part of God’s plan for humanity. In the Book of Genesis (2:15) we read, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” The Lord made us responsible for the planet on which we live. Through our labor, Earth sustains us. Through our labor, we have used many natural resources to build and to create amazing cities and cultures, to cure and heal many illnesses and diseases, and to lift up humanity overall. In the Divine Liturgy we offer the natural gifts of God, transformed by human labor, back to God. That is the meaning of the exclamation in the Liturgy, “Thine own of Thine own, we offer to Thee...”
In our quest to improve life, we may have forgotten the honorable and potentially divine intent of our labors. We have been overtaken by greed and desires that have led us to misuse our planet’s resources and gifts, forgetting that they are gifts from God. A consequence of the fall of Adam, sin, has infected our good and natural desires. As His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has taught us for nearly three decades, committing a crime against the natural world is a sin. Our Patriarch states, “If human beings were to treat one another's personal property the way they treat the natural environment, we would view that behavior as anti-social and illegal. We would expect legal sanctions and even compensation. When will we learn that to commit a crime against the natural world is also a sin?” This connection means that we must labor to protect the natural world and to restore any damage that human activity and our footprint has caused. But we must also reflect on our labor, how our misdirected desires, have led to these sins against the natural world, resulting in pollution, extinction of God-created flora and fauna and more, and as a result the degradation of human life.
We must also extent our reflections into the other environments in which we live, but especially our life in this society. We must consider the pollution of our contemporary civil discourse. It is not very “civil” at all. It too has been polluted and thus has degraded our lives. As the Assembly of Bishops recently stated, “The Orthodox Church emphatically declares that it does not promote, protect or sanction participation in ... acts of hatred, racism, and discrimination, and proclaims that such beliefs and behaviors have no place in any community based in respect for the law and faith in a loving God.” These, too, are sins that separate us from God and divide us from one another; sins for which we must ask God's forgiveness and mercy. We, as faithful members of His Church, must also labor to protect civil discourse and to restore it to the purpose for which it was created, the edification of humanity, to build up the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12).
The time is now, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, to embrace the start of the New Ecclesiastical Year and re-purpose our labors: to become instruments of healing, reconciliation, and justice, to become better stewards of the Earth, and better citizens. This New Ecclesiastical Year offers us a new opportunity to recommit ourselves to this task in all our labors.
May the Lord guide your steps throughout this New Year, and may His abiding love grace and mercy be granted to you always.
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
On this great Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, our minds first turn to the mystery of her bodily translation to heaven. The story of her Dormition ends in an empty tomb, with her reception into the arms of her Son. As the Kontakion of the Feast relates, “Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos . . . for being the Mother of Life, she was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.”
This Feast obliges us to reflect on the entirety of her life as we would at the end of the life of any loved one. In a homily for the Dormition, Saint Andrew of Crete enumerates her entire life, reminding us of Mary's central role in our salvation. At the end of his review of her life he states, “It was a life without spot or stain, utterly filled with every pure and holy quality, a life such as the world cannot grasp, since it cannot interpret it with words or bring it to the light – a life that the world had to respect, until the end.”
In our reflections on the life of the Theotokos, we must begin with her parents, Joachim and Anna. The Fathers of the Church describe Joachim as righteous, distinguished, single-minded, and in every way pleasing to God. They say Anna lived faithfully before God, regularly attended the temple of God, and observed fully her Jewish faith with her husband. We can see how these qualities combined to create a home and family that nurtured Mary. Because of these qualities at home, Mary was secure in her identity and was willing to accept the role she would play in the life of God’s people. At Mary’s dedication in the Temple at three years old, the high priest blessed her saying, “The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel.”
Mary’s life was no stranger to heavenly ways, as Saint Germanos of Constantinople says. We must assume that those heavenly ways filled the home she created for her son Jesus. Although the New
Testament is silent about the early years of Christ’s life, we must remember that Mary nurtured Him, saw to His physical needs, and guided His upbringing, as does any mother. And, although He was fully God, His mother taught Him the ways of His people and into maturity. In short, as the Gospel of Luke states, she saw her son increase “in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52)
When Jesus began His ministry to the people of Israel, Mary was present from the wedding at Cana, all the way to the foot of the Cross at Golgotha. After the resurrection of Christ, Mary shared her stories, all those things that she had “kept in her heart” (Luke 2:51), with the Apostles and the first Christians.
When it was time for her to depart her earthly life, she prepared herself with prayer, faith, and resolve. She comforted those around her, but urged them not to be sad or weep. The Apostles gathered around her and at the moment of her death, Jesus Himself appeared. After embracing Mary, took her soul, wrapped it and handed it to the Archangel Michael, who carried it to heaven.
Beloved, the Theotokos, the Mother of God, is our example, We can learn so much from her when we open our hearts and minds to her life on this Feast of her Dormition, but in all the Feasts that commemorate her role in our salvation. In this brief recollection, we see Mary the child of devout and loving parents, with a secure and strong personal identity. We see the adult Mary, the faithful and nurturing Mother of God, and we see Mary, resolute and strong, facing the end of her earthly life. In so doing, there are examples for each of us to imitate in each stage of our lives, in our families, and in our communities.
Wishing to all who celebrate their Name Day on this Feast, the blessings of our Lord through the intercessions of His Mother the Theotokos, I remain,
With Love in Christ,
GERASIMOS Metropolitan of San Francisco
The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco is pleased to announce that Thomaida Hudanish is now serving as the Director of the Commission for Orthodox Missions and Evangelism. She previously served as Assistant Director of COME for the past three years until she was offered the leadership of this thriving ministry of our Metropolis as of June 1, 2017.
“Thomaida has proven herself to be a devoted worker, especially committed to growing Orthodoxy in America through innovative and thoughtful programs offered at both the Metropolis and parish levels,” stated His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco. “I am confident she will continue the good works of those who previously led this ministry and take it to even greater accomplishments in the future.”
Thomaida was born in Portland, Oregon into an Orthodox Christian family. During college, she had the opportunity to visit religious sites in Greece, Romania and Russia. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Portland State University in Russian Language and Literature, Thomaida worked as Parish Administrator at Saint John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Beaverton, Oregon. During this time Thomaida served on short-term mission trips with Project Mexico and OCMC, chaired her parish Missions and Evangelism Ministry, and was involved in several other aspects of parish life.
From 2013 to 2014, Thomaida embarked on an independent mission pilgrimage, working three months at the Theotokos Girls’ Orphanage near Kolkata, India, and three months at the Orthodox School of Bethany near Jerusalem, in addition to visiting Orthodox sites in Europe.
In 2015, Thomaida earned a certificate in Professional Fundraising through Portland State University and the Willamette Valley Development Officers organization.
Thomaida brings to this position enthusiasm and commitment to spreading the Orthodox faith. Her years of experience at both the parish and Metropolis levels make her an excellent candidate to elevate the Missions and Evangelism ministry in the western United States. For more information on COME please visit come-sf.org or contact Thomaida directly at email@example.com.
“Happiness depends upon ourselves.”
“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
How would you define happiness? Everyone has an opinion: the famous and the infamous, the wealthy and the destitute, ancient philosophers and contemporary self-help gurus. It is a subject that touches every man, woman and child the world over.
The founding fathers of our nation list the “pursuit of happiness” as one of the “inalienable” rights in the Declaration of Independence. Helen Keller offers a thoughtful reflection: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us,” and others like Oscar Wilde use a bit of sarcasm: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”
There is a wide variety of things that bring joy and happiness, and can put a smile on a person’s face: a dazzling sunset, the laughter from children playing, humor that is in good taste, ice cream that tastes good, and even enjoying the happiness of others. But a smile can quickly fade; the enjoyable moment comes and goes. There is a difference between things that makes us feel happy for a while and finding something that offers true, long-lasting joy.
For Christians, there should be no confusion between the two: many simple things in life can bring us temporary joy and happiness; true happiness, however, comes from a loving relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ that continues to deepen throughout life.
While there is no need to belittle the former (be thankful for every moment that brings happiness, if even for a little while), too many of us neglect the source of all goodness and joy in the world: our loving Savior, Helper, and Redeemer. He knows our needs and our desires, our weaknesses and strengths, our passions and our problems.
As we read from the Epistle to the Hebrews (4:14-16), “let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
It takes that confidence in Christ, as well as faith and persistence, to progress from learning about Jesus, to learning from Him; from reading His words in the Bible, to applying them to our lives; from seeing Jesus as a historical figure, to loving and following Him as Lord and Savior of our lives.
From the moment of our baptism, when we receive the Holy Spirit and have become part of the very Body of Christ (the Church), we have within us the divine resources to pursue that loving relationship with Christ, so important to finding true happiness.
By becoming aware of our identity as servants of God, blessed with gifts of the Holy Spirit, we begin to see a divine purpose of life. Our gifts and talents from God are given to us, but they are not for us: they are rightly used for the benefit of others, which glorifies God, and also fills us with joy.
Our good and loving God gives us the means to live a happy, joyous and fulfilling life; but the foundation of that life comes from loving, following and serving Christ, the source of all good things, and true happiness.
~ Rev. Fr. Michael Pallad,
Saint Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church - Peoria, AZ
It would be a gross understatement to say that much has been written about the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God). Yet very little has been written about the fast that precedes it.
Every Orthodox Christian is aware and generally knows the reason behind the fasts for Pascha and Christmas. But while they may know of the Dormition Fast, it is notable that some do not observe the fast, and more than a few question why it is there, not understanding its purpose.
Given the pervasive misunderstanding of the purpose of fasting itself, a refresher on its purpose is always a good idea. There is a perception that we should fast when we want something, as though the act of fasting somehow appeases God, and seeing us “suffer” gets Him to grant our request. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Fasting Pleases God?
It is not our fasting that pleases God, it is the fruits of our fast (provided we fast in the proper mind set, with alms and prayer, and do not merely diet) that please Him.
1) We fast, not to get what we want, but to prepare ourselves to receive what God wants to give us.
2) The purpose of fasting is to bring us more in line with another Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and away from their sister Martha, who in the famous passage was “anxious and troubled about many things.”
3) Fasting is intended to bring us to the realization of “the one thing needful.” It is to help us put God first and our own desires second, if not last. As such it serves to prepare us to be instruments of God’s will, as with Moses in his flight from Egypt and on Mt. Sinai, as well as our Lord’s fast in the wilderness. Fasting turns us away from ourselves and toward God.
4) Fasting during the Dormition Fast helps us become like the Theotokos, an obedient servant of God, who heard His word and kept it better than anyone else has or could.
So why do we fast before Dormition?
In a close-knit family, word that its matriarch is on her deathbed brings normal life to a halt. Otherwise important things (parties, TV, luxuries, personal desires) become unimportant; life comes to revolve around the dying matriarch. It is the same with the Orthodox family; word that our matriarch is on her deathbed, could not (or at least should not) have any different effect than the one just mentioned.
The Church, through the Paraklesis Service, gives us the opportunity to come to that deathbed and eulogize and entreat the woman who bore God, the vessel of our salvation and our chief advocate at His divine throne.
The Paraclesis Service
The Service of the Paraclesis to the Theotokos consists of hymns of supplication to obtain consolation and courage. It should be recited in times of temptation, discouragement or sickness. It is used more particularly during the two weeks before the Dormition, or Assumption, of the Theotokos, from August 1 to August 14. The theme of these Paraclesis Services centers around the petition. . “Most Holy Mother of God, save us”.
If you have a problem or if something is burdening your soul, if you feel spiritually uneasy and if you are not at peace with yourself and with those around you, then, you should come to the Church during the first fifteen days of August and ask for the intercessions of the Mother of God. Even if you are fortunate enough to be one of those very few who are at peace with themselves and with God, then those blessed ones should come to these services and thank God and His Blessed Mother for the blessings that they have bestowed upon you and your family.
Since these Paraclesis Services to the Theotokos are primarily petition for the welfare of the living, let the whole Church pray for you during the first fifteen days of August and especially on the Great Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on August 15th. Don’t let your laziness and your apathy cause you to miss this great blessing and inspiration that the Church can bestow upon you. Let the peace and holiness that only the Mother of God can give you enter into your life. “Let us lay aside all earthly cares,” and let us truly, during these fifteen days, participate in the fasting and prayer life of the Church so that we can “taste and see that the Lord is good” and so that we may fully experience the spiritual blessings that the Church offers to us at this holy time. “Blessed is he whom He shall find watching.” Come and pray to the Theotokos with us and with the Church and by her prayers and intercessions, may our souls be saved!
Observe the Dormition Fast
Fasting, in its full sense (abstaining from food ,evil thoughts, actions and desires) accomplishes this. Less time in leisure or other pursuits leaves more time for prayer and reflection on she who gave us Christ, and became the first and greatest Christian. In reflecting on her and her incomparable life, we see a model Christian life, embodying Christ’s retort to the woman who stated that Mary was blessed because she bore Him: blessed rather are those who hear His word and keep it. Mary did this better than anyone.
Fr. Thomas Hopko has noted, she heard the word of God and kept it so well, that she of all women in history was chosen not only to hear His Word but give birth to Him. So while we fast in contemplation of her life, we are simultaneously preparing ourselves to live a life in imitation of her. That is the purpose of the Dormition Fast.
When the assumption of thine undefiled body was being prepared, the Apostles gazed on thy bed, viewing thee with trembling. Some contemplated thy body and were dazzled, but Peter cried out to thee in tears, saying, I see thee clearly, O Virgin, stretched out, O life of all, and I am astonished. O thou undefiled one, in whom the bliss of future life dwelt, beseech thy Son and God to preserve thy people unimpaired.
Source: The Voice in the Wilderness: The Parish Newsletter of St. John the Forerunner Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church
You say that you do not understand how the saints in Heaven can hear us when we pray to them. Think, then, of the rays of the sun – how they come down from heaven to us, shedding light upon everything throughout the earth. The saints in the spiritual world are like the rays of the sun in the material world. God is the eternal life-giving Sun, and the saints are the rays of this all-knowing Sun. Just as the eyes of the Lord look constantly upon the earth and its inhabitants, so also the eyes of the saints cannot but turn in the same direction...
The heart is the eye of the human being. The purer the heart is, the quicker, further, and clearer it can see. But with the saints of God this spiritual eye is refined, even during their lifetime, to the highest degree of purity possible for man, and after their death, when they have become united with God, through God's grace it becomes still clearer and wider in the limits of its vision. Therefore, the saints can see very clearly, widely, and far: they see our spiritual wants; they see and hear all those who call upon them with their whole heart... How easy it is to communicate with the saints!
St. Paisios on Praying at Home
Silence greatly helps in spiritual life. It is good for one to practice silence for about an hour a day: to test himself, to acknowledge his passions and to fight in order to cut them off and purify his heart. It is very good if there is a quiet room in the house which gives him the feeling of a monastic cell. There, “in secret,” he is able to do his spiritual maintenance, to study, and to pray. A little spiritual study done before prayer helps greatly. The soul warms up and the mind is transported to the spiritual realm. That’s why, when a person has many distractions during the day, he should rejoice if he has ten minutes for prayer, or even two minutes to read something, so as to drive away distractions.
—St. Paisios the Athonite (1924-1994), from Family Life
Remember God, that He too might always remember you; and when He has kept you in His memory and preserved you safe to the end, you will receive every blessing from Him. Do not forget Him, your mind being distracted with futile concerns, lest He forget you in the time of warfare. When you enjoy abundance, be obedient to Him, so that in the time of your afflictions you may have boldness before Him through the heart's preserving prayer to Him. Seat yourself before Him continually, keeping the memory of Him in your heart, lest having lingered outside His memory, you are unable to speak boldly when you enter before Him, because boldness comes from constant conversing with Him and from much prayer.
~ St. Isaac The Syrian