Worship with us this Christmas week!

21 Dec

Nativity_Services_HolyGhost_2014

Remembering Our Foremothers

15 Dec

This past Saturday, December 13th, we celebrated Great Vespers at Lord Chamberlain Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Stratford. We hold vespers services at our local nursing homes every four months, so that we can pray with our many parishioners who now are in residence in those facilities. At Lord Chamberlain, Peggy, Irene, and Lydia are our sisters-in-Christ who call that place home.

Lydia

Lydia

It was the eve of the “Feast of the Holy Forefathers,” that is, the commemoration of all those men in the Old Testament who pointed to the coming of Jesus Christ—either by direct prophesy or by the example of their own life. As I began to preach about these ancient fathers of the Bible—Noah, Moses, Daniel, and so forth—I also mentioned “Melchizedek,” the mysterious biblical figure whose name means “King of Shalom (Peace),” and how he, like all the other Holy Forefathers, had given a glimpse into Christ’s future birth, life, death, and resurrection.

As I preached, Lydia, who formerly was active in our parish in so many ways—expert archivist and historian, for one—exuberantly piped up and mentioned that she had seen the (now defaced) icon of Melchizedek in the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey during one of her many trips around the globe.

As she recounted her experience, I began to recall how much she, as well as Peggy and Irene, had contributed to

Peggy

Peggy

our parish: Lydia, with her meticulous care in preserving and publicizing the incredible historical wealth held in our church temple; Peggy, whose vivacious personality brought life and laughter to countless parish events and fundraisers; and Irene, who lent her beautiful soprano voice to every single church service.

Irene

Irene

Truly, I thought, these are the foremothers of our own parish!

How fitting it was that on the eve of the Feast of the Forefathers, we also were in the midst of these three ladies who always pointed the way to Jesus to all those around them. What an honor to pray with them and to enjoy once again their company as we move toward the Nativity of our Lord—Father Steven

Joining the Body of Christ

12 Oct

On Sunday, October 12, our parish welcomed two new members, Bridget and Stephen. They had been studying for many months to ready themselves to embrace the Orthodox Christian faith. Both former Roman Catholics, they eagerly soaked up the lessons I offered to them, which took place in the nave of our church building Sundays after Divine Liturgy.

Stephen and Bridget with sponsors Richard and Walter

Stephen and bridget with sponsors Richard and Walter

They fired questions at me weekly: about living the Christian life, about the Old and New Testaments, about the sacraments of the Church, about iconography, about heaven and hell, and about the importance of the Divine Liturgy. Our curriculum was not formally structured, but we touched upon every aspect of being an Orthodox Christian, especially within the Church’s rhythm of fast days and feast days, cycles of the church year that correct and guide our lives.

My sermon in honor of their becoming communicants in the Church focused on a passage from St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians called for in the lectionary that day: “He who sows sparingly, reaps sparingly” (9:6–11). I emphasized the importance for each Christian, from the time of baptism and chrismation, to give his or her life to the Lord and to “invest” in virtuous living: to pray and develop fellowship with the Lord, to fast from food and refrain from anything that would replace God with an “idol,” and to fan the flames of love for God and people. Such investing results in a holy life—the person becomes a living temple of God, a true witness to Christ Jesus. (Listen here to that sermon.)

Stephen and Bridget with their sponsors Richard and Walter.

Stephen and Bridget with their sponsors Richard and Walter.

What amazes me is the influence that Bridget and Stephen have already had on our congregation because they invested in learning about the Orthodox Christian faith. First, their mere desire to learn gave a boost to our parish—they gave us hope that others may also want to join our body of believers. Second, their enthusiasm about their lessons resulted in other parishioners requesting a monthly Q&A class open to all, entitled, “Ask Father.” Third, their willing hands to help out with various parish efforts already have strengthened our church body.

Stephen and Bridget have proven that our Lord Jesus multiplies and blesses every good-hearted effort, bringing the smallest seed of faith to fruition. Welcome home to our newest brother and sister in Christ! Our parish home is better because they’re now part of our family.

My Best Congregation Ever!

28 Sep
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My best congregation ever!

This past year, our parish made a commitment to hold a Vespers service in each local nursing home where some of our once-youthful church members now reside. On September 27th, the time to visit Hewitt Health & Rehabilitation Center had come.

I anticipated a small crowd. After all, only one of our church members was in residence there, and I was unaware of any other Orthodox Christian person who called Hewitt “home.”

I grabbed my cassock, music books, and liturgical items from the car and headed to a multi-purpose room, which I was supposed  to turn into a “church.” I couldn’t have been more surprised when I passed the threshold.

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Current parishioner Elaine, with her mom, Sophie, who lives at Hewitt.

Inside, in neat rows of wheelchairs, were at least a dozen residents who had arrived early and were patiently waiting for the service to begin. As I finished laying out vestments, setting up the cross, and organizing music stands, my “congregation” swelled to 25.

I took a few minutes before the scheduled start of Vespers to chat with the residents, only one of whom was truly my parishioner.

I found out my  “congregation” were enthusiastic and rather ecumenical:  “Don’t worry, Father, we show up no matter who’s preaching or what kind of service it is.”

I found out that although unhappy circumstances had resulted in their Hewitt residency—early stroke, accident, immobility from aging—they still carried the joy of the Lord in their hearts:  “We have to be grateful to God everyday, He’s most important.”

I found out they were “up” for trying new things:  They followed the words to the unfamiliar Orthodox Christian hymns on the handouts with reverent curiosity.

And, I found out they knew the Bible, especially the Psalms: “The Lord is my Shepherd,” many of them sang with us at the conclusion.

Psalm 90:10 tells us that our days are numbered:  “Our years are threescore years and ten (70); and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years (80).”

But they pass so quickly, and no one ever wants to leave home, family, or the church they’ve attended, perhaps for decades. However, sometimes, as with our guests at Hewitt, it’s inevitable.

I just hope, if or when my time comes to move into a residence for care of the elderly, that I will be as charming, congenial, open, and intellectually acute as the folks I met at Hewitt. They were my best congregation ever!

Photos: parishioners Richard Kendall and Chris Savisky

Archbishop Nikon’s Visit

21 Sep
Archbishop Nikon giving the homily

Archbishop Nikon giving the homily

Great Entrance with Sub-deacons Nektary Lukianov and Paul Tvardzik

The weekend of September 20–21, we had the honor and pleasure of welcoming our bishop to our parish. His Eminence, The Most Reverend Nikon, archbishop of Boston, New England, and the Albanian Archdiocese
(Orthodox Church in America) not only celebrated both the services of Vespers and Divine Liturgy with

Visiting with church school children

Visiting with church school children

us but also cordially conversed with the Parish Council, church school children, and many parishioners.

His visit brought to my mind the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch [AD 110]:

Follow your bishop, every one of you, as obediently as Jesus Christ followed the Father. Obey your clergy too as you would the apostles; give your deacons the same reverence that you would to a command of God. Make sure that no step affecting the Church is ever taken by anyone without the bishop’s sanction. The sole Eucharist you should consider valid is one that is celebrated by the bishop himself, or by some person authorized by him. Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as, wherever Jesus Christ is present, there is the Catholic Church (Letter to the Smyrneans 8:2).

Indeed, when His Eminence visited, and especially when he served

Dn. Gregory Curran reading the Gospel

Dn. Gregory Curran reading the Gospel

the Divine Liturgy, I witnessed the

Vladyka Nikon and Fr. Steven Belonick, Rector

Vladyka Nikon and Fr. Steven Belonick, Rector

fulness of the Church before my eyes: bishop, priest, deacons, sub-deacons, and the laity formed a cohesive body, reflecting the image of the Great Shepherd, with His apostles, ministers, and sheep. The presence of Archbishop Nikon among us truly reminded us of how our Church was meant to be structured, from the time of the apostles.

Many Years!

Many Years!

We thank him for being in our midst—serving, preaching, listening, counseling, and caring. And, we wish him, as our Shepherd and Master, “Many Years!” or “Eis Polla Eti Dhespota!” as the original Greek phrase proclaims.

Photos: Richard Kendall and Chris Savisky, parishioners

 

Being a kid again at Vacation Church School

28 Jul

Vacation Church School 2014One of my greatest pleasures as a pastor is teaching at Vacation Church School.

This year, with the help of co-teachers Debbie Rappaport and SubDn. Chris Savisky, I had a great time with 7 energetic kids, ages 4–14.

Focusing our lessons and crafts around the Feasts of the Virgin Mary, here’s what we did:

We made decorated icons to take home…

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some kids even added extra sparkles to themselves!

 

We learned about our “Father’s House” by exploring the inside of the Church, finding icons of the Virgin Mary in so many places, smelling beautiful incense, and touching drops of fragrant oils used to heal the sick.

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We made paper likenesses of the Angel Gabriel, to remember the angel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary that she would bear the child Jesus, our Savior.

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And, of course, we ate all the great lunches prepared by Mrs. Alesevich and Mrs. Stabler…yum!

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We took time to play as well as pray!

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In short, for awhile, we all became “children” of our Father in Heaven…and it was joyous!

 

Matthew 18:3

And he said, “Truly I say to you, unless you will be converted and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Vacation Church School: Feasts of the Virgin Mary

13 Jul

Theotokos_of_VladimirDid you ever pause to ponder the words of the Virgin named Mary in the Bible: “For behold, from henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48)?

Here at Holy Ghost Church, we will remember and celebrate the life of this remarkable woman, during our summer Vacation Church School, from Wednesday, July 23 through Saturday, July 26, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with lunch included. Children ages 5–8 and ages 9–14 will comprise two groups, with lessons and activities designed for each age cluster.

Each day, we will focus on an event in the life of the Virgin Mary, known to Orthodox Christians as the “Mother of God,” or “Birthgiver of God (Greek = Theotokos). Primarily, we will learn about:

  1. Her birth and the story of her aged parents Joachim and Anna
  2. The angel Gabriel’s announcement that she would give birth to a son, Jesus
  3. Her death, resurrection, and glorification

However, besides learning about the Virgin Mary, we will also learn about ourselves and our Christian walk with God. For, in celebrating the life of the Mother of God, we Orthodox Christians celebrate our own lives in Christ and the Holy Spirit. What happened to Mary will happen to all of us who imitate her holy life of humility, obedience, and love: we too will have Jesus Christ born in within our hearts, and we too will die and rise again to new and eternal life.

The Virgin Mary, our Mother, leads us lovingly and courageously on our Christian journeys. If you would like your children to join us, please contact me, Fr. Steven Belonick: belonick@svots.edu or 203-290-4023.

 

 

 

 

 

Read Any Good Books Lately? “Come, Holy Spirit!”

19 Jun
Serving on Green Sunday

Serving on Green Sunday

We recently celebrated the Feast of Pentecost, which occurs 50 days after Pascha, that is, our Lord Jesus’ Resurrection. In my younger years, I would hear my mother refer to this day as “Green Sunday,” because the priest and the church were vested in green, and most people in the congregation sported a green tie or dress.

This is still true at Holy Ghost Church in Bridgeport. I delighted in seeing the shades of green transform our worship space and worshippers. Everything and everyone looked fresh, alive, bursting with potential as we celebrated this joyous feast.

Just as Easter, or Pascha, is the fulfillment of an Old Testament event, the Jewish Passover (for Jesus passed over from death unto life), Pentecost is the fulfillment of another Old Testament event: when God gave the Prophet Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. The first time around, God inscribed His law, His commandments, on two tablets of stone. But the next time around, God inscribed His Spirit on human hearts.

Subdeacon Chris, our chanter, wearing his green belt!

Subdeacon Chris, our chanter, wearing his green belt!

St. Paul puts it this way: “You [Christians] yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Cor 2:2–3).

What a powerful statement!

During this season of Spring, which floats into Summer and during which our world becomes more green, more lush, more fruitful, let us take stock of our own spiritual growth. Are God’s words from Scripture always inscribed our on hearts? Is the Holy Spirit active in us? When people see us, do they see the image of Christ?

We can become like letters from God, open books, read by everyone we meet, if only we would ask, “O, Heavenly King, come, abide in us, cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O, Good One.”

“Come, Holy Spirit!”

 

 

 

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

1 May

Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!

We had a glorious Paschal midnight service to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we continue to celebrate the 40-day Bright Season that follows the remembrance of His death and resurrection.

We thank parishioner Bettie Guggenheim for capturing, in these photos, our service on “Bright Monday,” the procession around the church that proclaimed to our neighborhood the risen Lord, and the annual egg hunt by children in our community.

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Join us for Holy Week and Paschal Services

13 Apr

20140418_154555During this week before the Great and Holy Feast of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, we welcome you to Holy Ghost Orthodox Church for services.

See all of our Holy Week and Paschal Services in the right hand column on our Home Page.

(Holy Friday photo: Francis Nettle)

 

Church at Lord Chamberlain

1 Feb

IMG_2068In the days just after Jesus died, rose, and ascended into heaven, His followers continued to worship in the Jewish Temple, but they also met in each other’s homes to pray, read Scripture, and remember the death and resurrection of their Lord by celebrating the Eucharist and partaking of His Body and Blood. Holy Scripture records this common practice (Acts 20:20, Rom 16:3-5a, 1 Cor 16:19, Col 4:15, Phlm 1-2b, James 2:3).

Indeed, up until the mid to late third century (and, especially before the early fourth century when IMG_2072 Christianity became recognized as an official religion by the Emperor Constantine the Great), it was common for Christians to meet not in magnificent temples, but in each others’ homes or in secret places like the catacombs (that is,  underground caves that served as burial places).

Our parish usually gathers for services at 1510 East Main Street in Bridgeport, but on Saturday, January 18th, we went to another “house” to worship—Lord Chamberlain Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Stratford—where some of our brothers and sisters in Christ now reside and recuperate. It was such a joyous occasion for us to be with them and their families to celebrate the service of Vespers, and we thank the staff of Lord Chamberlain for allowing us to worship there.

IMG_2059In fact, the experience was so gratifying that we have decided to hold a Vespers service there each quarter of the year. Please check our parish calendar to see when and where we will be back with these brothers and sisters, who remain very much part of our parish family. And, come, worship with us in their “house church.”

Building Our Community & Our Community’s Building

18 Jan
Award Ceremony Holy Ghost Church_CTHP_2014

Receiving the $20,000 check (from left), Fr. Steven, pastor, Helen Higgins, executive director of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation; Sophie Rogers, Parish Council member; and Peter Hristov, Parish Council president.

Our parish community has been around since 1894, and our church building was dedicated in 1937. Now, more 100 years since our founding, both these realities are coming to the forefront as we begin this New Year.

First, our Parish Council is seeking to “build community” by initiating a Strategic Plan, that is, creating a roadmap for our future. Council members are going to take part in a brainstorming retreat together, prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit for inspiring ideas that will make our community one that is “being knit together in love,” and is  “growing with the increase that is from God,” as St. Paul says in his letter to the Colossians ( 2: 2, 19 ). Then, council members will be inviting everyone in the parish to submit their own ideas to this Strategic Plan, marking them down on a public “White Board” that will be set up in the church’s undercroft. Through prayerful communal thought, we hope to create a like minded community that will move forward with fresh ideas in courage and love.

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Other Parish Council members and State Representative Christina Ayala (center) join in the celebratory check presentation.

At the same time that we are “building community,” we will be focusing on our community’s building. Holy Ghost Church has recently been awarded a $20,000 Historic Preservation Technical Assistance Grant (HPTAG),* which will fund a condition assessment and restoration plan for our church structure. The grant, given by the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, has been equally matched by funds from a bequest to the parish from Alexander and Astrid Samus (upon the encouragement of Sophie Rogers, sister of Mr. Samus and current member of the Parish Council). Our Parish Council has contracted with TLB Architecture, a firm in Chester, CT, to do the top-to-bottom assessment of the building, beginning in February and ending in June.

As I travel in January and February to all the homes of my parishioners for the traditional House Blessing that occurs during the Epiphany season, I’ll be thinking a lot about these two major things: “building our community” and “our community’s building.” Come, take the journey with me, for I need you all as my fellow travelers.

*HPTAG is a collaborative historic preservation technical assistance program of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation (CTHP), in partnership with and funding from the State Historic Preservation Office, Department of Economic and Community Development, through the Community Investment Act.

Yolka! A Christmas Tradition

24 Dec

photo 5Many members of Holy Ghost parish are of Rus’ ethnic background, and they bring to our parish community Rusyn (Russian, Slavic, Ukrainian) customs and traditions that accompany church feast days. One of these—and one that can be the most fun to attend—is “Yolka,” or the Christmas play that typically falls near the feast of St. Nicholas.

“Yolka” means “fir tree,” and although a decorative tree generally adorns thephoto 1 stage area for the event, the play itself may consist of any combination of spiritual songs and carols, dramatized Biblical scenes, theatrical presentations, and poetry recitations appropriate to the season. As a longtime pastor, I have been involved in dozens of “Yolka,” and each year I witness the struggle (and sometimes angst!) that church school teachers and their students experience as they try to bring fresh ideas to the event.

photo 3That’s why I want to especially congratulate our church school teachers, Debbie Rappaport and Carol Kaputa, with their assistants, Melanie and Larissa Rappaport, and all the students who performed “Yolka” this year at Holy Ghost Church. Their pure joy in song and recitation made it a pure joy for us to watch. (And, thanks to Patrick Quill for taking the photos and sharing the video.)

Click here to re-live the fun of “Yolka”!

32 Teens Said “YES”!

16 Dec
Youth with YES!

Youth with YES!

With boundless enthusiasm and energy, high school and college students spread good will and cheer in the greater Bridgeport, CT area the weekend of December 13–16, 2013, as they participated in the YES Program of FOCUS North America (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve). During that weekend, 32 young Orthodox Christians gave up their smart phones for fellowship with each other, and exchanged social networking for social action—with unbridled joy.

YES (Youth Equipped to Serve), based in Pittsburgh, PA, provides opportunities for junior high, high school, and college students to engage in social action. The program is also designed to raise self-awareness through simulated and real encounters that create a deliberate tension between egoism and sacrifice, promoting conscious reflection about what it means to see the image of Christ in each person and to do God’s work. (View a video from the YES website.)

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Katrina Bitar (center), director of YES, at Holy Ghost Church, Bridgeport, CT, with (from left) Peter Hristov, parish president; and YES leaders Michael Mayer from Orange County, CA, Jordan Kurzum from Pittsburgh, PA, Theo Smith from Boston, MA, Dylan Fahoome from Detroit, MI, Nicole Maalouf from Boston, MA, and leader not pictured Danielle Batarseh from Little Falls, NJ, and Archpriest Steven Belonick, pastor.

During their weekend in Bridgeport, YES participants took a non-conventional prayer tour of the city, and then on Saturday, quickly shifted their plans from visiting a local homeless shelter (which closed due to a New England snowstorm) to passing out small treats and holiday greetings to shoppers at the local mall.  They also surprised shoppers by paying for their coffee or lunch!

“It was actually more uncomfortable sharing kindness with the middle class and rich than with the poor!” acknowledged one participant. “Our efforts toward the poor this weekend were never rejected, but oftentimes people who were better off economically mistrusted or even snubbed us—and this was a valuable exercise in ministry, because we experienced, in a small way, the societal rejection that Jesus must have often felt.”

“The fruit of engaging our groups in service to their community is that they begin to know as friends, the people that they once perceived to be strangers,” said Katrina Bitar, director of the YES Program, and one of the supervisors accompanying the group to Bridgeport. “Students that experience a YES trip often become aware of who the Lord has created them to be—a valuable part of His workmanship—as they enter into a life of selfless love.”

The YES group was hosted by our parish, but housed at St. George Orthodox Church, Trumbull, where Archpriest Dennis Rhodes is rector. The parishes are in the New England Diocese and Albanian Archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), respectively. The group sang vespers at St. George Church on Saturday, and participated in Divine Liturgy at Holy Ghost Church on Sunday—as well as giving an impromptu and inspired sacred music concert in the church coffee hour!

View a video (taken by LoveAnn  Curran) of YES participants singing a hymn of praise to the VIrgin Mary:

Any time Orthodox teens can come together to pray with each other, support each other in their faith, create friendships, and reach out to those in need, it is a very good thing. We were blessed to host the YES Program over the weekend and we look for another opportunity to invite them back. They made a lasting impression on our parish members.

Listen to YES  participants sing “Silent Night.”

Thanksgiving and Giving Thanks

10 Dec

photo 2Every November folks across the U.S. preoccupy themselves with planning the Thanksgiving holiday: who to invite, where to gather, and how to cook the turkey. This wonderful annual celebration brings us together not only to enjoy family, friends, and food but also to give thanks to God for the abundance in our lives.

Another striking effect of Thanksgiving Day is its ability to inspire us to give to those less fortunate, to those in need. Many communities and churches around the country sponsor special free turkey-and-all-the-fixin’s dinners for the homeless, or give away baskets of traditional holiday foods to poor families.

photo 4This generous spirit just seems to pour from us Americans, when we contemplate our relative wealth to the rest of the global population. In fact, I just read an article stating that the United States has reclaimed its place as the world’s most generous nation, according to the World Giving Index 2013, an annual global survey conducted by the Charities Aid Foundation. Based on 2012 Gallup survey data from 135 countries, the index looked at three measures of giving—the percentage of people who gave money, volunteered their time, and/or helped a stranger in need in a typical month—and found that the U.S. topped the list. How blessed we are to live in this land, where kindness and caring are part of our way of life!

We are doubly blessed at Holy Ghost Church, it seems to me. First, we have an ongoing photo 3monthly food ministry to the homeless crowd that gathers every Sunday on John Street. Second, we also have our “Myrrhbearing Women” who steadfastly remember the members of our own parish who are no longer able to attend church services because of age, illness, or disabilities. It gave me great joy to see them prepare special baskets during the Thanksgiving Holiday season, and distribute them with the help of some “Myrrhbearing Men” in our parish!

Thanks to all of you who continue to support these two ministries with your cash donations. Thanks for being part of making us “the world’s most generous nation” and a truly giving parish.

Pastor’s Corner October 2013

31 Oct

IMG_1551Our parish is enjoying the afterglow of hosting the New England Diocesan Assembly for two days, October 25th–26th, on our church campus. Fellow Orthodox Christians representing parishes from Vermont to Connecticut gathered for their annual meeting. They enjoyed worship culminating in the reception of Holy Communion together,  and warm fellowship encouraged by the incredible “comfort food” at meals prepared by our parish cooks.IMG_1594

We all were overjoyed to greet our fathers in Christ, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, primate of our Orthodox Church in America, and His Eminence Archbishop Nikon, bishop of Boston, New England, and the Albanian Archdiocese.

IMG_1859We also all were excited to re-charge our missionary spirit listening to a presentation by visiting priest Fr. John Parker III, chair of the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Evangelization and evangelist extraordinaire (While on a quick walking tour of the neighborhood, and en Español, he invited the clerk at our local bakery Pan de Cielo and a passerby named Pedro to Sunday service. Click to listen to his presentation: Bringing People to Faith).

It was great to host such a successful assembly but it was even greater to prepare for the assembly. As a pastor, I observed how much our preparation for and execution of this huge event helped us grow as a parish. Let me count the ways.

One: we built up our organizational skills. Everyone learned how important it was toIMG_1644 stick to the master plan and to follow the lead by our incredible Co-chairs Darlene and Debbie—all of which made the event run smoothly.

Two: we learned to depend on each other. Deep cleaning our parish hall required an assembly line; we dusted, swept, sponged, polished, and dried that room top to bottom until it gleamed. Some of us worked low to the ground, and some of us worked high up on ladders, but in cleaning that immense space, we realized we needed everyone, at every level.

IMG_1517Three: we learned that we collectively possess a great deal of talent. This assembly required executive assistants to plot a day-by-day and hour-by-hour plan on  Xcel sheets; techies to install wi-fi and manage sound equipment; a designer-printer to make name tags for each delegate and signage for the parking lot and church building;  an extraordinary kitchen crew to whip up everything IMG_1606from mushroom soup to gourmet mac-n-cheese to gluten-free muffins; a photographer to archive the event; seasoned altar servers for worship IMG_1537services; a translator to render from Russian to English the 1935 minutes of the first assembly of Orthodox clergy of New England, which then graced our historic display; singers who added their voices to the Diocesan Choir; greeters with ever-ready smiles and warm handshakes; and able bodies to break down and set up tables and chairs, 2 or 3 times!

Four: we learned that we collectively have a great deal of potential.  Our visitors continually expressed wonder at our  spacious church, hall, and property, and historical items, such as our six Russian bells and icons donated by Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra (Romanov), as well as our warm hospitality. Their remarks caused me to reflect on all we possess in material and spiritual assets, and all we can accomplish when we use them.IMG_1669

So…well done, good and faithful parishioners. You made me proud as a pastor, but even more, you made me remember the worth of good and honest work, especially when we work together, as Psalm 128 says: “You will enjoy the fruit of your labor. How joyful and prosperous you will be!” (v. 2).

Listen to Fr. John Parker’s special presentation on how to evangelize your neighborhood…and the world:  Bringing People to Faith

Photos on this page by Richard Kendall; view a full gallery of Rich’s photos here

View more photos of the Assembly by John Barone on the website of the Diocese of  New England, here

Pastor’s Corner September 2013

10 Sep

Happy New Year!

You’re probably wondering why I’m greeting you with an expression usually reserved for midnight on January 1st.photo 2

I’m doing so because the Church’s New Year, the “ecclesiastical New Year,” begins on September 1st.  Why? A few reasons.

0803131605aIn ancient Rome, the New Year was marked by a tax assessment by the Emperor, called an “Indication,” which occurred annually on the first day of September. In nature, the completion of each year takes place at summer’s end, with the harvest and gathering of the crops into storehouses, and we begin sowing of seed in the earth anew for the production of future crops in early fall. The Church also keeps festival on September 1st, beseeching God for fair weather, seasonable rains, and an abundance of the fruits of the earth.

In our parish, we have ended the summer liturgical feasts of Transfiguration and the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, and we have already celebrated the first major liturgical feast of the New Year, the Birth of the Theotokos. We will begin our church school program soon, and our theme this year will be “The Lord’s Parables.” We’re also beginning choir rehearsals, welcoming new members, and learning some new music.  My sermons for the next few weeks will comprise a series that will help us better understand our Sunday service, the Divine Liturgy.

photo 3Additionally, we’ll be involved in two projects totally new to our parish.  In October, we’ll be submitting a grant proposal to The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation that will enable us to assess the condition of our building from top to bottom.  A grant award from The Connecticut Trust for this assessment would then allow us to submit applications for major projects in the future,  perhaps major renovations that will help us better serve the wider community (Think: new industrial kitchen!).  In December, we’re going to welcome YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) to our parish,  a ministry of FOCUS North America that is designed to provide local parishes and youth workers with the resources necessary to involve junior and choirehearsal2013senior high students in local community service and short-term missions projects.

It’s going to be quite a year. We ask God’s guidance during it, and His blessings upon it.

Pastor’s Corner July 2013

21 Jul
Annual Parish Picnic at Holy Ghost Park July 21, 2013

Annual Parish Picnic at Holy Ghost Park July 21, 2013

NOTE: If you want to rent Holy Ghost Park for your picnic, click here.

Today we hosted our Annual Parish Picnic at Holy Ghost Park, 70 Nells Rock Road, Shelton, CT. The church has owned these 26 acres for decades now, and the park has provided the venue not only for our annual picnic, but also for several events hosted by other groups that have opted to rent the park grounds.

We held Divine Liturgy at 10 a.m. in the open air pavilion, enveloped by the beauty of the surrounding woods. Besides us human beings, God’s other creatures observed the celebration: especially en force were the butterflies with their painted wings in vibrant orange, blue, and black tones. Their presence reminded me of transformation, renewal, rebirth—all essential marks of our Christian faith.

0721131520aAfter receiving the Eucharist and concluding the service, we were treated by our parish cooks to some of the best 0721131419ahomemade food in Fairfield County, including a melange of Rus’ and American fare: pierohi and stuffed cabbage, and  liver and onion sandwiches and clam chowder, followed by at least 10 choices for dessert. As people talked and ate, and played cards and ate, and danced to the DJ’s music and ate, I noted how unusual such a gathering is in our day and age. It seems almost no one anymore takes time simply to be with friends and neighbors on a summer afternoon, to get to know something about each other until now unrecognized. (Who would have thought my Macedonian church president Peter Hristov knew the words to the bygone song sung by Doris Day,  “Que Sera, Sera, Whatever Will Be, Will Be”?” Yet, he sang it so heartily as it was played by the visiting DJ!)

Thanks to our parish community for working so hard to provide us with a picnic in an amazing space!

View a gallery of photos of our Annual Parish Picnic 2013!

NOTE: If you want to rent Holy Ghost Park for your picnic, click here.

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