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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?

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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

Christ is risen! And He has given us new life!

12 Apr

imgresChrist is risen! Indeed He is risen!

I greet you on the Feast of Feasts of the Orthodox Christian Church, Great and Holy Pascha, or Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We sing a hymn during this feast that encompasses the whole purpose of the Resurrection: “Unto us He has given eternal life, let us worship His resurrection on the third day.”

But we need to ask, and to understand: What is “eternal life”? 

Often we think of eternal life as the life to come after our physical death, that is, life in heaven. But the Gospels make clear that eternal life does not mean “afterlife” but rather “new life.” Jesus came to give us “new life.” He came to give us the opportunity to have His divine nature within us. That is why He, the Son of God, came, died, and rose again!

Eternal life is not a future gift from God. It is the gift of God Himself, living within us.

Jesus was able to give us this gift, the gift we had lost when our fore-bearers Adam and Eve, disobeyed God and disconnected themselves from God. Jesus Christ, the sinless One, the perfect Human Being, reversed their wrongdoing and restored our communion with God our Father.

How? By exhibiting His perfect obedience to His Father.

On our behalf, Jesus became the “New Adam,” that is, the human being who would obey His Father perfectly, giving up His own will, even to the point of death on a Cross.

Reversing the sins of all humanity—past, present, and future—would demand a huge act of obedience. It would demand extreme humility. But Jesus was willing to take up this task. He was willing to take upon His own shoulders every sin of humanity, every disobedience to God, and to make it null and void by His own obedience.

His obedience to His Father led Him  to a death of utter humility and shame, the death of a criminal. There was no other path for Him to follow, no other way for Him to reverse or to atone for all of humanity’s disobedience. The weight of our sins demanded His extreme and tortuous death. All our acts of disobedience had to be wiped away by a final, ultimate act of obedience by the Son of God. He had always been obedient to His Father, but His death on the Cross was the consummate act of self-denial and obedience…for our sake.

By dying upon the Cross, He reversed the curse of humanity and opened up the path to eternal life, new life…the path of obedience. 

The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (Romans 6: 9–11) states this perfectly: “Death no longer has dominion over Him…the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise, you also reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God.”

Let us embrace the message of the Risen Lord during this Bright Season. Let us continue to put to death all sin in us, in obedience to our Heavenly Father, and we will experience new life, eternal life!

Wishing you the joy of new life, Father Steven, Pastor

Pray with us during Holy Week

8 Apr

images-1Dear Parish Family and Friends,

This week we will increase our intensity of worship as we draw near to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You are welcome to come to the services, listed below, which will help you draw near to your heavenly King and Lord. Why not download HOLY WEEK 2015, and post it in a prominent place in your home, as a reminder?

SCHEDULE OF HOLY WEEK SERVICES

Sunday, April 5 Bridegroom Matins of HOLY FRIDAY 4:00pm

Holy Transfiguration Church, New Haven

Monday, April 6 Presanctified Liturgy of HOLY MONDAY 7:00am

Bridegroom Matins of

HOLY TUESDAY 6:00pm

Tuesday, April 7 Bridegroom Matins of

HOLY WEDNESDAY 6:00pm

Wednesday, April 8 Bridegroom Matins of

HOLY THURSDAY 6:00pm

Washing of Feet

Thursday, April 9 Vesperal Liturgy of

HOLY FRIDAY 9:00am

Commemoration of the Last Supper

Matins of HOLY FRIDAY

Reading of the 12 Gospels 7:00pm

Friday, April 10 HOLY FRIDAY

Vespers of the Burial of Christ 2:00pm

Matins of HOLY SATURDAY 7:00pm

Procession

Saturday, April 11 GREAT AND HOLY SATURDAY

Vesperal Liturgy 10:00am

Blessing of Baskets after Liturgy

Nocturnes, Resurrection Matins, 11:30pm

Paschal Liturgy, and Blessing of Baskets

SUNDAY, APRIL 12 HOLY PASCHA

Paschal Vespers 12 noon

We’re Still Chanting the Earliest Known Prayer to the Virgin Mary

22 Mar

theotokos papyrus

During this Great Lent many of us Orthodox Christians throughout Connecticut have been visiting each others’ churches on Sunday evenings to celebrate lenten Vespers together. Every time we gather for this service, we chant a wonderful prayer to the Mother of God:

“Beneath your compassion, we take refuge, O Theotokos. Despise not our supplication in our adversities, but deliver us from perils and sorrow, O only-blessed one.”

Recently, I found an article that dates this prayer back to the middle of the third century! Isn’t it heartening to discover that early Christians honored the Mother of God and asked for her intercessory prayer, and that we Orthodox Christians in the 21st century continue this tradition?

I received permission to reprint the article and the prayer, from the blogger who posted it. I hope you enjoy its content (below), which includes as well information about the feast days dedicated to the Mother of God.

And, remember, we celebrate one of those feasts this week, March 24-25: the Annunciation, that is, the announcement by the Angel Gabriel that the Virgin Mary would give birth to the Christ Child, Jesus, the Savior of the World.

Here’s the article from the blog:

Posted by on Sep 9, 2014 in Blog

The earliest known prayer to the Theotokos (Greek, Θεοτοκος, meaning “Bearer of God”) is a prayer found on a fragment of papyrus dating back to approximately AD 250. In 1917, the John Rylands Library (1) in Manchester, England, acquired a large panel of Egyptian papyrus. The prayer is located on the fragment recorded as reference number Greek Papyrus 470. The prayer appears to be from a Coptic Christmas liturgy or vespers written in Koine Greek although the fragment in question may be a private copy of the prayer. The prayer is still chanted in the Orthodox Church to this day at the end of nearly every Vespers service during Lent. It is also found in the worship services of the Roman Catholic and Oriental Churches.

The early date of this prayer is important for a number of reasons, one of which is that it supports our understanding that the term Theotokos was not just a theological concept defended at the Third Ecumenical Council in AD 431, but was already in popular use and well-known several centuries before the Nestorian heresy.  As St. Gregory of Nazianzus stated in AD 379, “If someone does not uphold that the holy Mary is Theotokos, he is separated from divinity.” (Letter 101, PG 37, 177C)  Early Christians recognized the Theotokos as a powerful intercessor for those who are suffering and in need of protection. Christians have been seeking her intercessions from the time of the ancient Church and well over a thousand years up to this very day.

prayer

Beneath thy compassion,
 We take refuge, O Mother of God:
  do not despise our petitions in time of trouble,
but rescue us from dangers,
only pure one, only blessed one.

Hear the hymn in Greek:  Υπο την σην ευσπλαγχνιαν καταφευγομεν Θεοτοκε. τας ημων ικεσιας μη παριδης εν περιστασει, αλλ’ εκ κινδυνων λυτρωσαι ημας, μονη αγνη, μονη ευλογημενη.

See also our video on “The Icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos” and the video on “Our Pilgrimage to Where the Theotokos Fell Asleep”.

An excerpt from “The Significance of the Term Theotokos” from The Byzantine Fathers of the Fifth Century (Fr. Georges Florovsky) June, 1987.

“The term Theotokos — Θεοτοκος — does not mean the same as “Mother of God” in English or the common Latin translation. In English one must translate Theotokos as “Bearer of God.” The correct Latin would be deipara or dei genetrix, not Mater Dei. Had Nestorius been more prudent he would have realized that the term Theotokos had a comparatively long usage — it had been used by Origen, by Alexander of Alexandria, by Eusebius of Caesarea, Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Cyril. In the Latin West Tertullian had used the term Dei Mater in De patientia 3 and Ambrose also used it in his Hexaemeron V, 65 (Patrologia Latina. 14, 248A). More significant is that the Antiochene theologian Eustathius (bishop of Antioch from c.324 to 330), so often considered a forerunner of Nestorius, had some remarkably un-Antiochene tendencies in his Christology, one of which was the use of the term Theotokos.”

Sources:

1.  Image Reproduced by courtesy of the University Librarian and Director, The John Rylands University Library, The University of Manchester.  For more information on the fragment, visit: http://tinyurl.com/kh3fy5d

2.  “The Significance of the Term Theotokos” from The Byzantine Fathers of the Fifth Century (Fr. Georges Florovsky) June, 1987.

God’s House for the Homeless

23 Feb

ATT00010I’ll admit it: I’m weary of winter in Connecticut.

Mother Nature’s exceptional doses of snow, ice, and windchill have caused me to curl up at home more than usual, thus contributing to a little more girth and much less mirth!

Oddly and simultaneously, I have experienced untold gratitude that I have a home to retreat to. Daily watching the homeless on the streets of Bridgeport heightens my thanks to God for the warmth, food, shelter, clean water, and privacy afforded me through my own home. “Cabin fever, ain’t so bad,” I remind myself.

Many times this season, as I watched black ice form and blizzards blow outside my living room window, I’d wonder: “How are the homeless surviving this night?”

20150218_160429

Dave Lepesko and Outreach Ministry volunteers

So, when our Outreach Ministry Chair, Dave Lepesko, gathered his team to prepare a meal for the homeless at Beth-El Center, Inc. (a local shelter), I was all in to join them. We spent the evening there on Wednesday, February 18th. We couldn’t provide a permanent roof, but we could provide friendship and warm food for empty bellies, and good conversation and a decent hug or handshake. I sat with three “gentlemen” who told me their stories, and when I asked their greatest need, I got an answer not totally unexpected: “a job.”

IMG_1331

Preparing a meal at Beth-El

Dave’s team is not stopping with one meal at one homeless shelter. Currently, they’re putting together “emergency bags” for the homeless who live in Bridgeport. These sturdy canvas bags will contain toiletries, toilet paper, space blankets and hand warmers, fruit and bottled water, and a prayer card with contact info that will lead them to our “church home” on East Main Street if they care to visit. (The bags are screened with an image of Holy Ghost Church as well!)

I’m so touched by Dave’s leadership and his team’s concern for our brothers and sisters in need. But, they’re not even stopping there! For the future, they are beginning to develop “hand up” programs to complement their “hand out” ministry. That is, they’re researching programs that will permanently improve lives in the neighborhood: mobile health clinics, teen character-building arts/drama programs, nutrition demonstrations, a pre-school for disadvantaged children, and even possibly a home-away-from home for families whose loved ones are in the Burn Unit of Bridgeport Hospital.

Right now, they’re just exploring possibilities, and they will be approaching the Parish Council for approval once their plans begin to firm up. But I know that their careful, meticulous research and faith in God is going to result in good for our neighbors down the road.

Who knows? Someday, they may actually be able to offer one of the “gentlemen” I sat with at Beth-El what he desires most: a job.

May God help them, and us, to discern His will, Fr. Steven, Pastor

P.S. Did you know that “Beth-El” means “House of God” in Hebrew?

Praying for Those Fallen Asleep in the Lord

15 Feb
Koliva!

Koliva!

In the New Testament we find a gentle phrase referring to Christians who have died: St. Paul, in his Letter to the Thessalonians, calls them “those who have fallen asleep in the Lord.” The phrase comes from a passage describing the end of the world and foretelling what will happen to us Christians, both living and dead, when our Lord Jesus Christ returns in His glory:

“According to the Lord’s word,
we tell you that we who are still alive,
who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven,
with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel
and with the trumpet call of God,
and the dead in Christ will rise first.
After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (I Thessalonians 4:15-17)

This biblical passage is jam-packed with information about the afterlife and our future life as Christians. First of all, this passage informs us that our loved ones who have died, if they have believed in Christ Jesus, are not gone for good; they are still with the Lord, and they will awake to new life and will rise again at the Coming of Jesus. Second, this passage tells us that we Christians who are alive will be joined again with our departed loved ones. Then we all shall be with the Lord…together and forever.

What joyous news!

As we approach the season of Great Lent in anticipation of celebrating our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection, we set aside a few special days to remember and pray for our loved ones who have “fallen asleep.” On one Saturday just before Lent starts, and on three Saturdays during Lent, we sing special petitions on their behalf and we remember them all by name. These “Memorial Saturdays” remind us that our loved ones, though dead physically, are alive in Christ.

searchOn these “Memorial Saturdays,” some Orthodox Christians have another special custom. Following the end of Divine Liturgy and the reception of Holy Communion, the priest blesses a special dish called “koliva,” which contains wheat berries, nuts, and honey. The sprouted wheat is a sign of resurrected life (John 12:24), and the honey is a reminder of the sweetness of God’s Kingdom.

Many people ask us Orthodox Christians: “Why do you pray for the dead?” Our answer is simple: “We pray for them because they are not dead; they are alive in Christ and they still are part of our community. Just as we who are on earth pray for each other, so we pray for those “fallen asleep in the Lord,” and we know that the saints in the Lord are also praying for us (Revelation 5:88:4). Best of all, someday, all of us “will be with the Lord forever.”

In Him, Father Steven, pastor

P.S. You may listen to my sermon for our first Memorial Saturday, February 14th, titled, “Asleep in the Lord.”

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