Ninety-nine years ago, the "war to end all wars", World War I, ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. A few years later, the United States resolved that the 11th of November should be "commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer . . . designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations".
World War I did not end war as the patriots proclaimed a century ago. Another world war - even more destructive that the "Great War" - was soon to follow, and shortly thereafter the war in Korea. So, in 1954 Armistice Day, as it had been known previously, was renamed Veterans Day, so that all American veterans of all wars would be honored. Sadly, war continued to mark the twentieth century and continues into the twenty-first. Honoring our veterans is as important as ever, if only to remind us that we have not found a way for peace to prevail.
Men and women who love America have served in the five branches of the military: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard. They have served throughout the world on many missions, facing danger and risking their lives. At the end of their service, they often returned home with little fanfare, except to the embrace of their families, which were grateful for their safe return. Yet, many also bore tremendous scars and wounds - physical and emotional. As a member of a team that took care many veterans who were battling many psychological traumas caused by their experience of the violence and horrors of warfare, I came to a new respect and admiration for those who were willing to take up arms and serve in the military.
On November 11, our nation honors the men and women who served. As the poet Maya Angelou once said, "How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes!" As a Church we too should honor publicly our brothers and sisters who served in the Armed Forces. In all of our parishes, we will find veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, down to today's conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also those who served elsewhere around the world. Included among our veterans are clergy and military chaplains. We must express our thanks to those who served because they risked all to defend the highest principles of our nation.
As we gratefully remember those who valiantly served our country on this Veteran's Day, let us pray to our Lord that He may keep them safe and always under His watchful care.
With Love in Christ,
+ Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco
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
“Instantly, grief was turned to joy.”
— Kontakion for the Resurrection by Saint Romanos the Melodist
Beloved in the Lord,
The witness of the Holy Scriptures is clear. The women disciples went to the tomb expecting to anoint the body of their Teacher. Their despair was obvious. They had followed their beloved Master for three years, accepted His message of God’s love, and witnessed His miracles and compassion for all. After His arrest and trial they saw Him carry His cross to Golgotha to His execution. They grieved at His burial. And now, three days later, they find an empty tomb. They learn that their Teacher has risen from the dead and instantly their grief turns to joy.
This was not a spiritual resurrection or some kind of imaginary event. It was real; it was physical. Christ’s body was gone. “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, He is not here; see the place where they laid Him” (Mark 16:6), the angel proclaimed to the women. Soon all His disciples would see Him, talk with Him, and eat with Him. Thomas would touch Him. But even in this physical reality, the resurrected Christ was transformed. He showed the marks of His Passion, but He was no longer subject to the ordinary laws of nature, to the human limitations of time and space. His identity as the Son of God was now evident to all with the eyes of their belief. And when we consider this reality, we will repeat the words of Thomas to the Risen Christ, “My Lord and my God.”
Even though we know the story, we gather in our parishes the night of Pascha with anticipation. We are tired at the lateness of the hour. Attending the many services of Holy Week has added to our fatigue. We have heightened our observance of the fast these last few days, also contributing to our weariness. Yet, even as we sit in the darkness, hearing the hymns of lament, there is excitement in the air. Then, all the lights are extinguished. Suddenly a lit candle comes forth and the priest proclaims “Come receive the light ... (Δεῦτε λάβετε φῶς ...).” Darkness and despair have been overcome by the Resurrection of Christ. In an instant, our fatigue is gone and joy fills the church.
Theological arguments cannot explain this joy. Only the impossible, unprecedented proclamation, “Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs He has granted life.” has the power to convert us and fill our hearts with such happiness. All the social media posts of red eggs, candle-filled churches, or Paschal flowers cannot substitute for the experience of witnessing light triumph over darkness, of the Son of God defeating death. One must be there – rather one must be here – in the community of faith to experience this moment.
While this joy will fill our parishes and our family celebrations, the power of the Resurrection becomes more evident when we allow the light of Christ to overcome any darkness in our lives. As we sung throughout Holy Week, “O Giver of light, make radiant the vesture of my soul and save me (λάμπρυνόν μου τὴν στολὴν τῆς ψυχῆς, Φωτοδότα καὶ σῶσον με). Sharing the light of the Resurrection with our neighbors through our acts of philanthropy, charity, kindness, justice, and service is more convincing than even the beauty of our lit candles. When we tell and retell the story of the experience of the women disciples’ grief turning to joy to our children, our grandchildren, and to all we encounter, we, like them so many centuries ago, can rejoice and worship the Resurrected Christ.
May the Joy of the Resurrection be with you and your beloved families today and always.
Christ Is Risen! Truly He Is Risen!
With Paternal Love in the Resurrected Lord,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco