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What 4 important women taught us!

31 Aug

During our August Vacation Church School, we learned about 4 really important women:

St. Olympias the Deaconess

St. Olympias the Deaconess of Constantinople

St. Olympias of Constantinople (4th century), was a deaconess who carried Holy Communion to sick women when they could not come to church services. She was a good friend of the holy bishop, St. John Chrysostom.

St.-Juliana-of-Lazarevo

St. Juliana of Lazarevo, Russia

St. Juliana of Lazarevo, Russia (17th century), fed poor and starving people during a severe famine, by baking bread made from pig-weed and elm bark!

St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris (20th century), lived in France during World War II, and rescued Jewish children by hiding them in trash cans and having the garbage collectors carry them to safety.

Mother Maria Skobtsova

Mother Maria Skobtsova of Paris

St. Elizabeth, Grand Duchess of Russia (20th Century),

St. Elizabeth, New Martyr of Moscow

St. Elizabeth, New Martyr of Moscow

was a member of the royal family, but she gave away her jewelry and money, and became a nun and helped all the poor people of Moscow, Russia.

Besides learning about the extraordinary lives of these 4 brave, strong, and faithful women, we also had fun!

Making crafts, playing outdoor games, and visiting a dairy farm (with ice cream!) and a miniature golf course made the week extra special. Here are some photos of us, up at Holy Ghost Park, where Vacation Church School was held.

We want to thank Fr. Steven, Miss Carol, Miss Vera, Miss Audrey, and our moms for helping put the program together. Sincerely, The Kids from Holy Ghost Churchimage image(1)HGBPT_Summer_School_2015_birdhouseHGBPT_Summer_School_2015_garbagecanHGBPT_Summer_School_2015_games2HGBPT_Summer_School_2015_games1HGBPT_Summer_School_2015_deaconess2HGBPT_Summer_School_2015_deaconessHGBPT_Summer_School_2015_garbagecan2HGBPT_Summer_School_2015_lectureHGBPT_Summer_School_2015_crafts

Feast of the Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Virgin Mary

15 Aug

Icon of the Dormition Feast

Today, August 15th,  is the Feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, our Mother.

Every time we celebrate this feast day, I’m reminded of the little nursery rhyme, Frère Jacques, which many of us sang as children.

In French, we sang:

Frère Jacques, frère Jacques, Dormez-vous ? Dormez-vous ?

And, in English, we sang:

Are you sleeping, are you sleeping, BrotherJohn, Brother John?

Just as “dormez-vous?” means “are you sleeping?” the word “Dormition” has the word “sleep” in its root.

Blessing of Flowers for the Dormition Feast

On this day, we remember the “falling asleep” of the Virgin Mary, that is, her death. We also rejoice in her resurrection, body and soul.

Today, as I preached during the Divine Liturgy about the Virgin Mary’s dormition, I reminded worshippers of her purity not only in body but also in soul. You can listen here. 

I also recommend the wonderful sermon by St. John of Kronstadt (below) which describes the circumstances of her death and burial, and the meaning of her life and resurrection from the dead for us.

Joyous Feast! Your Pastor, Father Steven

St. John of Kronstadt, Sermon on the Falling Asleep (Dormition) of the Mother of God

Today the Holy Church solemnly glorifies the honorable Dormition or translation of the Mother of God from earth to heaven. A wonderful translation – she died without serious illness, peacefully. Her soul is taken up in the divine hands of Her Son and carried up into the heavenly abode, accompanied by the sweet singing of angels. And then, her most pure body is transferred by the apostles to Gethsemane where it is honorably buried, and on the third day it is resurrected and taken up to heaven. You see this on the icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos. On it is represented the life-bearing body of the Theotokos laying on a bier, surrounded by the apostles and hierarchs, and in the center of the icon the Lord holding in His hands the most pure soul of the Theotokos. The translation of the Mother of God is a paradigm of the translation in general of the souls of Christians to the other world.

We say that our dead have “fallen asleep” or “passed away.” What does this mean? This means that for the true Christian there is no death. Death was conquered by Christ on the cross. But there is a translation, i.e, a rearrangement of his condition, i.e. his soul is in another place, in another age, in another world beyond the grave, eternal, without end, that is what is meant by “falling asleep”. It is as if it were a temporary dream after which, by the voice of the Lord and the fearful yet wonderful trumpet of the Archangel, all the dead shall live and come forth each to his place: either to the resurrection of life or to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:29). This is what the Christian means by translation. We should be ready for this translation, for the day of the general resurrection and judgment, for this indescribable world event, recorded in the Holy Scriptures.

This preparation for the meeting of the heavenly King before the dread judgment seat, after death, is essentially the person’s preparation throughout the whole of his life. This preparation means a change in all his thoughts, and the moral change of all his being, so that the whole man would be pure and white as snow, washing clean everything that defiles the body and spirit, so that he is adorned with every virtue: repentance, meekness, humility, gentleness, simplicity, chastity, mercifulness, abstention, spiritual contemplation, and burning love for God and neighbor.

Our preparation for meeting the heavenly King, and for the inheritance of eternal life in heaven, should consist of these things. The heavenly King desires souls adorned with immutable virtue, souls prepared so that the Very Lord Himself could abide in them. Do not marvel that the Very Lord wants to live in us. In fact the human soul is more spacious than the heavens and the earth, for it exists in the image of God. And if one removes sins from the soul, the Lord of all will settle in it and will fill it with Himself. “We will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (John 14:23), says the Lord about the souls who love Him.

And so, ye participants in the Christian feasts, and especially the present feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, ye who are brightly adorned with every virtue and translated to the heavenly kingdom, to Her Son and God, proclaim to each and every one about preparing their souls to be the dwelling place of the Lord, about continual repentance, and about the incorruptible adornment of Christian virtue. Let your death also be unashamed and peaceful, serving as the pledge of a good answer at the dread judgment seat of Christ. Amen.

Book Lovers, Bargain Hunters, & Book Dealers Wanted Saturday August 1st!

26 Jul

On Saturday, August 1, 2015, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Holy Ghost Park, 70 Nells Rock Road, Shelton, a group from our parish will host a “Vintage Book & Tag Sale.” 

If you’re a book lover, you’ll find an excellent and HUGE selection of vintage books—from gardening to WWII heroes. If you’re a Tag Sale aficionado, make this sale your one-stop shop on Saturday. And, enjoy a sweet from our bake goods table while you bargain hunt or browse.

Are you a Book Dealer, or do you have any questions? Send a query through the “Ask Father” section of our website, and he’ll contact event coordinators Audrey, Myra, or Kathy for you.

This sale is only one of the many projects going on at Holy Ghost Church related to our “Ten Talents Challenge.” Here’s the deal: in June our parish gave out $10 to any willing church member who thought he or she could use their God-given talent to increase that sum of money, and to donate the profit to the church.

The challenge was based on the on Gospel story of the “Ten Talents”  (Matt 25:14–30), in which good stewards, by using their strength and ingenuity, increased the golden talent (coin) that their Master had given to them.

What a time our parishioners have had since then, using their creative minds and busy hands to put their $10 to work! Using her crocheting ability, Dorothy’s already sold $90 worth of handmade kitchen hand towels and still is taking orders. Rich is making wood-carved receptacles for funeral memorial cards. Yours truly (Fr. Steven, with wife Deb) sold his secret chili hot dog sauce at the church picnic in July and gleaned $50 profit. Mark and Love Ann are counting the profits from their brick oven pizzas, and Vera was the first to turn in a 1,000% profit from her baked goods!

We’ll be posting all the results of all projects after the deadline for the challenge, August 22nd. Meanwhile, you can help make Audrey, Myra, and Kathy (and all their bakers and helpers) increase their talents by supporting them for the Vintage Sale this Saturday.

Your Pastor, Fr. Steven

P.S. My favorite category of books is military history, and I’d love to chat about yours at the sale! See you there.

My Reflections on the 18th All-American Council

26 Jul

Dear Friends of Holy Ghost Parish,

I just returned from Atlanta, Georgia, where I represented our parish—along with Marion Gulash—at the 18th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), from July 20–24. The council is a church-wide gathering of all OCA parishes in North America (including Canada and Mexico), which occurs every three years. At every one of these councils, we gather to discuss and vote on major church business on a national level, hold elections, attend workshops presented by various departments of the OCA, worship together at liturgical services, and greet long-time friends.

As I flew home on the plane, so many positive impressions about this year’s gathering ran through my mind and heart. I want to share them with you, to give you an inside look at what’s happening in the OCA in 2015.

What a multi-cultural Church we have!

  • I met people not only from the “Lower 48” states, but also from Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, Canada—and how exhilarating it was to witness our Alaskan priests serving the Akathist to the “Sitka Mother of God” icon!

What a mature Church we have!

We were able to tackle serious issues, and begin to deal with them:

  • We discussed and voted on important revisions in the OCA Statutes, fleshing out sections that needed more details, such as:  governance of monasteries and seminaries; and clarification on the qualifications for the important position of Metropolitan, to ensure maturity and wisdom in that office holder.
  • We discussed and voted on a complex resolution regarding financial support for the Church. The Holy Synod of Bishops confirmed that proportionate giving is the most proper way for dioceses to support the work of the Church. As a Church, we are moving much closer to funding the Church fully through Christian stewardship.
  • We discussed the issue of “spiritual abuse,” and the Synod of Bishops accepted the responsibility to further explore this important issue to safeguard the church from damaging behavior that sometimes arises among clergy, or between clergy and laity, and that constitutes abuse of authority and power in ways unbecoming to Christians.

What a beloved Church we have!

  • Metropolitan Leo of the autocephalous Church in Finland sent a letter of encouragement to the OCA, identifying the similar journeys of the Church in America and the Church in Finland, both of which departed from their Mother Church in Russia because of historical circumstances during the Bolshevik Revolution, and both of which have faced the challenge of spreading the gospel of Christ and Orthodox Christian doctrine within Western cultures. “Look to the future,” he advised, “and not the past, and refuse to become simply a ‘folk museum’. Rather engage the society, and you will grow as we have!”
  • Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev, of the Church in Ukraine, spoke about expanding the mission in North America by being a good example of holiness within the culture.

What a generous Church we have! 

  • When a representative of International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) gave a presentation from the floor about the tragic situation of Syrian Orthodox Christian refugees who have fled their country and now are housed in woefully deficient camps, one of our parish priests, Fr. John Zdniak of St. Theodosius Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio, got up and encouraged delegates to dig into their pockets and spontaneously take up a collection for the cause. Out of the pockets of the over 550 delegates came $12,000 to help our suffering brothers and sisters overseas, especially the children among them.

What an extraordinary Metropolitan we have! 

  • A wonderful and great spirit of unity and hope surrounded this particular All-American Council, and I would have to say that the reason for this resided in one person: His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, who came across as a self-effacing, simple but profound, loving, and caring father to each one of us. All of us recognized these qualities in him as he made presentations, deliberated, playfully joked, and spoke with us personally. He emanated self-abasement not self-aggrandizement, and he was totally approachable in his attitude toward all of us.

So, my friends, although we have been a self-governing Church only since 1970 (45 years), we have accomplished much in this land of North America. We have had our times of trouble, but we also have learned valuable lessons from our past mistakes, and we have matured through our sorrows.

We have learned (as the Gospel lesson from Matt 14:14–22 today likewise reveals), that the weak and the small get God’s attention. The little boy in today’s Gospel had only 5 loaves and 2 fishes to share, but Jesus took the little this lad had and fed over 5,000 people. God can do so much, if we will continue to place ourselves in His hands!

Finally, may we at Holy Ghost Church realize that we are part of a larger whole, part of the Orthodox Church in America, and may we find more and more opportunities to connect with the greater body of the Church. Thank you for sending Marion and me to the 18th All-American Council, as part of that effort.

Kindly, in our Lord, your Pastor, Fr. Steven Belonick

P.S. I  encourage you to listen to all the plenary sessions of this extraordinary council on Ancient Faith Radio: click here.

A good time was had by all, at our Annual Church Picnic!

14 Jul
Open air Divine Liturgy

Open air Divine Liturgy

A Good Time Was Had by All was the title of a book of poems by a Miss Stevie Smith in 1937.

According to A Dictionary of Catch Phrases  Miss Smith’s book popularized the phrase, but Smith herself admitted she had simply taken it from parish magazines, where reports of church picnics would inevitably generate the comment, “A good time was had by all”!

Well, I believe Miss Smith’s use of the phrase certainly applied to our Annual Church Picnic, held Sunday, July 12th at Holy Ghost Park in Shelton. Just view some of the photos of the day by our parishioner Chris Savisky, and you’ll agree!

Have a wonderful week!

Your Pastor, Father Steven

Communing in love…

Summer joys…

New friends...

New friends…

Old friends...

Old friends…

Music, music, music...

Music, music, music…

Silliness...

Silliness…

Giant bubbles…

and dueling crochet needles!

Save the Date: Parish Picnic, Sunday, July 12th

21 Jun

Dear Friends,

A hot and hazy summer has settled in here in the greater Bridgeport area. Still, I relish the season.

I love the heavy rains that make beautiful ferns, annuals, and perennials burst into color around the church grounds. I’m awestruck by the searing rising sun that causes purple hues to streak across the sky when it sets in the evening.

Annual Picnic 2015 PosterThis indeed is a season that entices us outdoors to enjoy God’s creation, and I always look forward to one traditional summer event: our Annual Parish Picnic.

This year, on Sunday, July 12th, at our parish’s picnic grounds at 70 Nells Rock Road, Shelton, we’ll start with an outdoor Divine Liturgy at 10 a.m., and continue with fellowship, sharing food, and listening to music throughout the day.

Please come, and take the opportunity to invite a friend, or two!

Sincerely, your Pastor, Fr. Steven

Commencement & Congrats!

14 Jun
Congrats and good wishes to Jake and Melanie!

Congrats and good wishes to Jake and Melanie!

It’s late spring, and all the towns in the greater Bridgeport area are buzzing with the excitement of proms, commencement ceremonies, and graduation parties.

Two of our own high school parishioners, Jake and Melanie, are leaving us soon to start their next phase in life: college!

Today, our church community held a special Coffee Hour in their honor.

“It’s time to read today’s Epistle and Gospel”

We presented each of them with a blessed icon for their dorm room, a daily Scripture APP for their iPhone, a submission form to contact their local Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF), and scholarship money for all those “extras” college life demands. We also recognized Melanie’s efforts as a church school assistant, and Jake’s expertise as an altar server for many years.

Icons for your dorm rooms

Icons for your dorm rooms

Melanie and Jake, we’ll be praying for you and lighting candles for you each Sunday…and, we’ll miss you!

May God go with you, guiding your steps and keeping you in His Light (John 1:5).

Your Pastor, Fr. Steven

P.S. Our youngest members also received certificates of completion of their Church School year, and an illustrated Bible, so that they can continue to enjoy the Old Testament “heroes” they studied this year!

Youngest children complete Church School year

Only the Holy Spirit Can Make Us “Spiritual”

31 May

0530151630How often do you hear someone say, “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual” ?

Nowadays, being “spiritual” can mean many things. Perhaps a person believes in another realm, ruled by a Higher Being. Perhaps a person practices a form of meditative silence or mindfulness, or some other discipline that requires focusing thoughts and harnessing emotions. Or perhaps a person simply claims to be non-materialistic and sensitive to the needs of others.

However, did you know that the word “spiritual” is Christian in its origin? The English word derives from Old French (spirituel, esperituel, 12th century) or directly from a Medieval Latin ecclesiastical (i.e., churchly) use of Latin spiritualis, which pertained to breath, breathing, wind, or air. Essentially, the term “spiritual” referred back to the Holy Spirit, Who is the Breath of God that gives life to every living 0530151631ccreature. In fact, the name for the Spirit in Hebrew is ruach, or “wind.”

Today, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Christ’s Apostles and the Church. The services remind us of this mighty Breath of God, Who from the moment of creation has enlivened the world but Who now comes to dwell personally in those who believe in and who follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ.

At the vesperal service for this Feast we read from the Book of Joel 2:23–32, which predicted the day when God would pour out His Spirit onto all flesh. And, during Divine Liturgy, we read from the Book of Acts 2:1–11, which reported how Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of fire on the Apostles, the Virgin Mary, and the young Church that had believed in the Crucified and Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

0530151632bWhen the Apostles and young Church had received the gift of the Holy Spirit, they were so filled with joy that those witnessing the event thought they were “drunk with wine”! The joy, peace, and love that characterized the nature of our Lord Jesus was flowing from their innermost being, and the crowd could not help but notice that something was different about these people.

So, today is a good day for us Orthodox Christians to ask ourselves: Are we “spiritual” in the original sense of the word? Do we have the Spirit of God dwelling within us? Have we Divine Life inside of us, which trumps any other “high” humankind has ever experienced?

0530151629

If not, we need only surrender our will and life to our King and Lord Jesus Christ, and He will fill us with the Breath of God, and make us one with Himself and His Father in Heaven (John 20:21–24). Then, people around us will notice that we too “have been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

O Holy Spirit, come and live in us!

Your Pastor, Father Steven

Walk into a 3rd-century Church at Yale Art Museum!

10 May

Saturday, May 4, 2015 * Yale Museum of Art

CIMG0160 copy

Dn. Evan Freeman explaining the icons on the walls of the house church in Dura-Europos

What was the Christian Church like in the mid-3rd century?

Recently, fifteen of us from Holy Ghost Church took a tour of the Dura-Europos” exhibit at Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven to find out. 

Dura-Europos, now located in modern Syria, was once a Roman outpost. In the mid-3rd century it was home not only Roman soldiers but also to a fascinating mix of ancient cultures: pagans, Christians, Jews, and adherents of mystery religions and cults.

Eventually the city was overrun by Persians, abandoned by Rome, and buried in the desert sands. But it was unearthed in the 1920s and 1930s during excavations sponsored by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters.

Earliest Christian icons

Earliest Christian icons

Archeologists found astounding artifacts: a shrine to the god Mithras, a synagogue whose assembly room walls were covered with painted biblical scenes, and one of the earliest Christian house churches. The paintings and sculpture from these buildings—and the over 12,000 artifacts of daily life excavated by the archaeologists now preserved at the Yale University Art Gallery—present a vivid picture of life in a Roman city in the 3rd century A.D.

For us Orthodox Christians, the house church is an especially priceless find. What is a “house church” and why is finding it so important?

Step into ancient Rome at the Dura-Europos exhibit

Step into ancient Rome at the Dura-Europos exhibit

We know that prior to the 4th century, Christians met in homes to worship; they were not free to build churches, since their religion was not sanctioned by the Roman Empire. So, they designated sections of their homes for common worship, and they met secretly together to celebrate the Eucharist.

The Dura-Europos exhibit at Yale University Art Gallery includes whole sections of walls from a portion of a house church that was used as a place to perform baptisms. These wall sections now supply us with first-hand evidence of the earliest Christian art, and they provide us with clues as to how early Christians worshipped.

Dn. Evan Freeman also describing floor tiles from a later Byzantine Church

Dn. Evan Freeman also describing floor tiles from a later Byzantine Church

We gaped at the primitively painted but unmistakable gospel story images on these wall sections: the Samaritan woman at the well; Jesus the Good Shepherd; the healing of the Paralytic; the Apostle Peter grasping the Lord’s hand on the waters of the sea. We were gazing at some of the very first icons ever painted!

Parishioners decipher the gospel stories depicted.

Parishioners decipher the gospel stories depicted

Deacon Evan Freeman, a graduate of St. Vladimir’s Seminary and now a doctoral student in the field of Byzantine Art History at Yale University, acted as our guide. We were so impressed with the exhibit that we are planning another tour with Deacon Evan, so that more of our parishioners may step back in time into this utterly fascinating space. You’ll be hearing about an upcoming August tour soon, and I’ll let you know when a sign-up sheet is available.

In our risen Lord, Fr. Steven, Pastor

P.S. Thanks to Frank Krasowski for the photos!

Katie and Jessica complete first Confession class

10 May
Katie and Jessica cut their cake!

Katie and Jessica cut their cake!

On Palm Sunday, our church community honored Katie and Jessica, who received the sacrament of Confession for the first time on the eve of Lazarus Saturday, April 3, 2015. The church prepared a luncheon in their honor, which included a celebratory cake. They each also received a beautiful Easter egg necklace to wear during the Paschal season—and to wear during future Paschal seasons, as a reminder of the day!

Palm Sunday celebration

Palm Sunday celebration

Both girls had worked hard during Great Lent to prepare to give their first Confession. During their Sunday church school classes with me, they studied some very difficult concepts—ideas that baffle even adult minds!

We discussed perplexing questions like:

  • What is sin, and how does it affect us?
  • Why do we confess our sins?
  • How do we prepare for Confession?
  • What kinds of sins should we confess?
  • How do we actually give a Confession to a priest?
  • How do we go about asking for forgiveness from people we have hurt, and from God—and how do we forgive ourselves?

Katie and Jessica asked penetrating questions and displayed a lot of courage, astuteness, and thoughtfulness. So, they came well-prepared to give their first Confession and to receive God’s forgiveness.

Jessica and Katie with Fr. Steven

Jessica and Katie with Fr. Steven

Their first Confession is a reminder to all of us to confess the ways in which we have hurt God, each other, and ourselves. Their first Confession also reminds us to pay attention to the words of the Evangelist John, in his First Epistle:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (I John:1:9)

The whole church community congratulates Jessica and Katie in taking this enormous step in their spiritual journeys! May God grant them many years!

In our risen Lord Jesus Christ, Father Steven, Pastor

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