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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
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
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
the Divine Liturgy, I witnessed the
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.
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
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…
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.
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.
And, of course, we ate all the great lunches prepared by Mrs. Alesevich and Mrs. Stabler…yum!
We took time to play as well as pray!
In short, for awhile, we all became “children” of our Father in Heaven…and it was joyous!
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.”
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:
- Her birth and the story of her aged parents Joachim and Anna
- The angel Gabriel’s announcement that she would give birth to a son, Jesus
- 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: email@example.com or 203-290-4023.
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.
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! 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.