1st Annual Golf Tournament: playing for charity Tuesday, October 18th

25 Sep

hgroc-golf-tournament-flier
At Holy Ghost Church, we’re committed not only to supporting our own parish, but also to supporting the wider Church and our local community.

Last year, we gave 1% of our operations budget to the three seminaries of the Orthodox Church in America: St. Vladimir’s, St. Tikhon’s, and St. Herman’s. Additionally we gave 2% of our operations budget to the poor: Habitat for Humanity, Bridgeport Rescue Mission, and to the Orthodox Christian Mission Center in support of “Juana” a Mayan woman studying to become a medical doctor in her homeland of Guatemala, where there is a dearth of medical clinics and health care.

We also have our ongoing program to feed the poor and homeless under John Street Bridge, and we’ll be sponsoring a free health care screening Saturday, October 15th, and a neighborhood Christmas Concert in December.

Most often our giving comes right out of our pockets and pocketbooks, but we also give through fundraisers throughout the year: our “Talent Project” and our “Annual Picnic,” for example.

This year, we’re adding a special fundraiser coordinated by three avid links lovers: Bridget, Patrick, and yours truly.

On Tuesday, October 18, 2016, we’ll be putting on the 1st Annual Golf Tournament for Holy Ghost Church at the Connecticut Golf Club in Easton. Registration and Continental Breakfast are at 8 am, Tournament Play begins 9:30 am, and lunch concludes the day at 1:30 pm. The fee is $225 per golfer, and includes 18 holes of golf, cart, meals and refreshments, and gratuity.

Would you like to help out? There are 4 ways to do so (make checks payable to Holy Ghost Church):

  1. Register to golf: email holyghostchurchgolf@gmail.com or call 203.290.4023.
  2. Act as a sponsor or ask a friend or business you frequent to act as a sponsor: view/print sponsorship categories: hgroc_golf_tournament_sponsors and email holyghostchurchgolf@gmail.com or call 917.597.3920.
  3. Donate to the tournament, either $20 for a friend listing in the ad book or $50 for a half-page ad: email holyghostchurchgolf@gmail.com or call 917.597.3920.
  4. Download the flier: hgroc-golf-tournament-flier and post it on your social media sites or in the businesses you frequent:

Whether you’re a duffer or master of the “A Game,” I hope to see you there! Remember…you’ll be having fun for a good cause.

We’ve learned that the more we give, the better we feel. And the more we give, it seems, the more healthy our own budget becomes! Truly the words of our Lord Jesus Christ can be applied to our parish:

“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” (Luke 6:38)

Your Pastor, Fr. Steven

 

 

 

 

“God’s Good Creation”: Update!

17 Jul

Be sure to view our parish’s Facebook Page for a day-by-day report on Vacation Church School 2016! Look here!

Holy Ghost Church at the Maritime Aquarium, Norwalk

Holy Ghost Church at the Maritime Aquarium, Norwalk

One of my favorite times of the year is Vacation Church School during the month of August. That’s because I get to spend time with some marvelous human beings: the children of our parish.

My conversation and interaction with them during that week always brings to my mind the words of our Lord Jesus: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).

I know why Jesus said that. It’s because children are without guile, innocent, curious, and always expecting something positive—always anticipating the best in a situation. They are also always willing to give the benefit of the doubt to someone, to forgive someone, and to express love to other people.

The theme of this year’s Vacation Church School—”God’s Good Creation”— and the activities our teaching team have planned are especially suited for curious, positive kids! From Monday, August 15 through Thursday, August 18, in the beautiful setting of Holy Ghost Park in Shelton, CT, we will explore highly interesting and significant animals and plants that are mentioned in the Holy Bible.

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Studying the “hyssop” plant mentioned in Psalm 50/51: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean”!

Supporting our studies will be two intriguing activities. We’ll visit The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT. And, we’ll have a special guest, “Gardener Dennis” from Pivot Ministries in Bridgeport, CT, teach us basic gardening techniques and the value of urban gardening. (“Gardener Dennis” is known throughout the Bridgeport school system for bringing student groups to the Pivot Greenhouse and involving them in learning to grow plants—from seedling, to flower, to fruit. What an experience for urban kids!)

I’m so looking forward to that week. If you know of anyone who would like to be part of our Vacation Church School, please contact me for a registration form: belonick@svots.edu or 914-274-1151.

Your Pastor, Father Steven

P.S. Oh, that we could ALL become like little children, as our Lord admonishes: “Unless you turn from your sins and become like a little child, you can by no means enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 18:3).

 

Good Neighbor BBQ Sunday, July 10, 2016

27 Jun

Our Holy Ghost Church has been blessed this past year with a special partnership with Pivot Ministries, a local faith-based non-profit that since 1970 has assisted men challenged by drug and alcohol abuse. (Click here to watch a new short film about Pivot Ministries.)

How do we partner with them?

Well, we allow four of Pivot’s graduates, some of

Great partnership!

whom now serve on Pivot’s staff, to live in one of the homes on our church campus. In return, these men take care of the seasonal landscaping and snowplowing on our church grounds.

So far, it’s been a “win-win”:  the church grounds look GREAT and Pivot staff members really enjoy having their own space and some breathing room away from their day-to-day duties at Pivot’s headquarters on Jane Street.

And, on Sunday, July 10th, our parish will be in for even a bigger perk in this partnership. Do you like a good cook-out? I hope so, because the Pivot staff is going to prepare and serve our parish community lunch on that Sunday after Divine Liturgy. It’s their way of saying “Thank You” for our hospitality to them.

And—even better—the Pivot choir will entertain us after Divine Liturgy (either in the church hall or outside, depending on the weather).

PIvot_Pembroke_OpenHouse_Choir_June2016

Pivot Ministries Choir (photo: Rich Kendall)

And—best of all—the whole Pivot Ministries group, both staff and clients, will be praying with us at Divine Liturgy that day, again, in appreciation for our willingness to support their ministry and mission. This is the first time many of them will have ever witnessed an Orthodox Christian liturgical service.

On that day, let’s offer our hospitality, as we receive theirs.

Your Pastor, Father Steven Belonick

PIvot_OpenHouse_Parishioners_2016

Our visit to Pivot Ministries Open House in June (photo: Rich Kendall)

P.S. Let me tell you about one more example of our partnership. Pivot Ministries recently was featured in the CT Post because of their new venture in hydroponics farming (read about it here). They held an Open House in early June to show off their hydroponics set-up in their greenhouse and to cut the ribbon on a new half-way house they had renovated and opened near their headquarters on Jane Street. Seven of us from Holy Ghost Church took time off mid-afternoon to attend the Open House (and yes, we ate the chili, hot dogs, hamburgers at their cook-out!). Just this week, I received from Pivot Ministries a donation to Holy Ghost for $1,000. What an awesome partnership, as we support each other’s mission and goals. May our Lord continue to bless it!

 

Save the Date! Parish Picnic Sunday, June 26, 2016

26 May

Save the date! Annual Parish Picnic, Sunday, June 26, 2016, noon–4 p.m.

Remember: Divine Liturgy will be celebrated at Holy Ghost Park, 10 a.m.

Family, friends, and foodies are welcome!

Get directions to the park!
Picnic_2016

Christ is risen!

2 May

Christ is risen! Our journey through Great Lent and Holy Week has again brought us to Pascha, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Pascha” translated means “Passover,” and indeed we Christians believe we pass from death to life by putting our faith  in Jesus Christ and becoming His disciples.

Throughout the Holy Week especially, we prayed with intensity during the liturgical services, listening to powerful, penetrating words that explained not only the drama of Christ’s Passion but also our own human drama—the story of our estrangement from God and the path to life He opened for us by His death on the Cross. (Listen to the Choir sing the beautiful Ode 9 from the Canon for Matins of Holy Saturday, sung on Holy Friday night:)

One of my favorite texts from all the services comes from the so-called  “Catechetical Sermon of St. John Chrysostom,” a fourth-century bishop and preacher, which is read Pascha night, during Matins:

“Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen”

In gratitude for Christ’s great gift, let us invite Him to live in us, to give us His new nature, His new life. Let us die to our own egotistical and selfish tendencies, and follow Him in obedience and humility.

Then, indeed He will be risen in us!

Your Pastor, Father Steven

Journey to Pascha! Schedule of Holy Week Services

24 Apr

Dear Friends,

CrucifixionDuring the coming Holy Week services, we will recall our Lord Jesus Christ’s Passion: His suffering, death, and resurrection. As we recall it, we will (hopefully) undergo our own Passion: dying to ego and sin, and rising to new life in Christ.

The Lord is calling us to walk with Him on this journey, to experience kinship with Him.

Come! Let the words and melodies of the Holy Week  services wash over us, softening our hearts and cleansing our minds. Come! Experience the new life, the new nature that Jesus Christ freely offers us.

Listed below are all the opportunities to journey with Jesus this week.

Or, you may click twice on this link to download a PDF of the Holy Week services, and post it on your home bulletin board as a daily reminder.

Your Pastor, Father Steven

SCHEDULE OF SERVICES: HOLY WEEK 2016

Monday, April 25, 7:00 am    

Pre-sanctified Liturgy of HOLY MONDAY

Monday, April 25, 6:00 pm  

Bridegroom Matins of HOLY TUESDAY

Tuesday, April 26, 6:00 pm    

Bridegroom Matins of HOLY WEDNESDAY

Wednesday, April 27, 9:00 am  

Pre-sanctified Liturgy of HOLY WEDNESDAY

Wednesday, April 27, 6:00 pm  

Bridegroom Matins of HOLY THURSDAY with The Rite of the Washing of Feet

Thursday, April 28, 9:00 am

Vesperal Liturgy of HOLY FRIDAY with the Commemoration of the Last Supper

Thursday, April 28, 6:00 pm

Matins of HOLY FRIDAY with the Reading of the 12 Gospels (please note the time change from previous years)

Friday, April 29, 2:00 pm

HOLY FRIDAY Vespers of the Burial of Christ

Friday, April 29, 7:00 pm

Matins of HOLY SATURDAY Procession

Saturday, April 30, 10:00 am 

GREAT AND HOLY SATURDAY Vesperal Liturgy with the Blessing of Baskets after Liturgy

Saturday, April 30, 11:30 pm 

GREAT AND HOLY PASCHA Nocturnes, Resurrection Matins, Paschal Liturgy, and the Blessing of Baskets after Liturgy

SUNDAY, MAY 1, noon

GREAT AND HOLY PASCHA Paschal Vespers

 

Almsgiving in Action

9 Apr

During the season of Great Lent, we need to include almsgiving—that is, the distribution of our wealth and the sharing of our blessings with those in need—as one of the “pillars” of our spiritual journey. Giving alms is right up there with prayer, fasting, and confession!

According to St. John Chrysostom, a 4th century bishop in the great city of Constantinople (now Istanbul):

“To do alms is a work greater than miracles. . . . To feed the hungry in the name of Christ is a work greater than raising the dead in Christ’s name. …When you work miracles, you are God’s debtor; when you give alms, God is your debtor.”

BethEl_2016_2

Dave and crew at Beth-El Center

It brings me great comfort as a pastor to note that our parishioners at Holy Ghost Church have for decades made almsgiving a priority:

  • Twice monthly without fail, our parishioner Frank Kaputa and his crew feed the homeless who gather under John Street Bridge in Bridgeport;
  • Our Outreach Committee headed up by parishioner Dave Lepesko recently made a return trip to Beth-el Center, Inc. in Milford to prepare a meal for the hungry (they were joined by friends who lent extra helping hands); and
  • Every month, I gather up the dollars our parishioners have placed in a special “charity” basket as they exit the church after services, and anonymously distribute the collected money to folks in need (ranging from parishioners experiencing hard times, to Orthodox Christian non-profits,  to a private nursery school caring for low-income children on the East Side of Bridgeport).

As I witness such almsgiving, Jesus’ words come back to me: “The poor you will always have with you and you can help them anytime you want.” (Mark 14:7).

So…if you want to help Frank with feeding our John Street Bridge friends, or feel like pitching in on a project that Dave cooks up, please see them at coffee hour and express your interest. Or, if you simply want to drop a dollar or two into the charity basket, please know that your charity will bring relief to sad eyes and encouragement to a weary heart.

I have another favorite quote about almsgiving I wish to share, this time by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow:

“Through the cheap price of doing good to men, we can acquire the priceless Kingdom of God.”

God bless you as you strive to complete your lenten journey.

Your Pastor, Father Steven

 

 

 

Fishing for Men (and Women and Children!)

3 Apr

Dear Friends of Holy Ghost Church,

FullSizeRender copyJust as I finished posting my “Pastor’s Corner” about our annual Lenten Retreat, which focused on mission and evangelism, I was delighted to receive the following photos of our church school children. IMG_1355 copy

Their lesson today was from Luke 6:12–15 and Matthew 4:19. In those Bible stories, Jesus prays all night, and in the morning He chooses His 12 disciples. Some of Jesus’ new disciples had formerly been fishermen, but Jesus now promises to make them “Fishers of Men.”

During their lesson, each one of our church school children assumed the identity of one of Jesus’ disciples, and then they all had a wonderful time going “fishing.”

It’s encouraging that our children are learning early on how to be Jesus’ disciples themselves and how to “fish” for men—and women and children!—in hopes of bringing everyone they meet the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

IMG_1361 copyI want to thank our faithful church school teachers Deborah Rapoport and Carol Kaputa for always guiding our parish’s children and teaching them such valuable lessons. And, for making it lots of fun!

Your (grateful) Pastor, Father Steven Belonick

P.S. Please do read the post about our Lenten Retreat with Archpriest Michael Oleksa of Anchorage, Alaska, and learn how we all can become “Fishers of Men!”IMG_1354 copy

How Alaskan Saints Can Inspire Urban Ministry

3 Apr
Archpriest Michael Oleksa displaying an icon of Mother Olga

Archpriest Michael Oleksa displaying an image of Mother Olga Michael

On Saturday, April 2, 2016, Archpriest Michael Oleksa of Anchorage, Alaska, led our Annual Lenten Retreat here at Holy Ghost Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Using the theme “That All May Be Saved,” Father Michael spellbound retreat goers with stories of Orthodox Christian missionaries to Alaska during the 18th–19th centuries—including Ss. Herman, Innocent, Jacob Netsvetov, and Juvenaly—and demonstrated how their missionary efforts might serve as examples for urban ministry in the 21st century. He also spoke about the life of Matushka (Mother) Olga Michael, a 20th century Y’upik native, and her popular veneration among the faithful of Alaska.

Icon of North American saints

An icon of North American saints

By using detailed, mesmerizing descriptions of the saints’ lives, Father Michael illustrated key principles for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, among them:

  • Evangelize with prayer and in faith;
  • Truly love and advocate for the people with whom you are sharing the gospel;
  • Before drawing up a “evangelization plan,” determine the needs of the people with whom you are sharing the gospel, via face-to-face conversations;
  • Build bridges between cultures: listen to each others’ stories and  identify commonalities between your culture and the people with whom you are sharing the gospel;
  • Continually educate laity within the Church, so they are able to share the gospel;
  • Continually educate hearers of the gospel, so they remain anchored in the Church;
  • Invite seekers to “come and see” church worship, instead of arguing with them about doctrinal, historical, and moral issues; and
  • Be a walking witness to the joy of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Listen to one of the talks in Father Michael’s retreat, regarding how Alaskan  saints can inspire urban ministry.

 

Listen to Father Michael’s Sunday homily titled: “Lessons from the Sundays of Great Lent.”

IMG_3727

Father Michael Oleksa with Father Steven Belonick, pastor of Holy Ghost Church

Our community thanks Father Michael for sharing his superior insights into the lives of the Alaska saints and for inspiring us to imitate their missionary efforts. And, we also thank his wife, Matushka Xenia, for being with us. May our Lord Jesus Christ bless them!

Your pastor, Father Steven Belonick

Come to Our Lenten Retreat, “That All May Be Saved,” Saturday, April 2, 2016

27 Mar
Oleksas

Matushka Xenia and Father Michael Oleksa

How can we Orthodox Christians bring the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ to all people?  Our parish’s Annual Lenten Retreat, scheduled for Saturday, April 2, 2016, is designed to show us how. The retreat will focus on missionary outreach to our neighbors, and the format will lend itself to robust discussion.

Our speaker, Archpriest Michael Oleksa, a pastor and scholar, and long-time missionary in Alaska, will speak on the topic: “That All May Be Saved: What can we learn about urban outreach from the Alaskan Mission?” Father Michael and his wife, Matushka Xenia (a native Y’upik Eskimo) have experienced first-hand how to reach out to many other cultures with the Good News.

The retreat will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will be followed by Great Vespers. The Lenten Flyer 2016cost is $15.00 and includes lunch. We ask that you pre-register by April 1, so that we can prepare to welcome you. To pre-register, just contact me, Father Steven Belonick: phone (203-290-4023) or email: belonick@svots.edu.

Father Michael is a personal friend, and I’ve always admired his dedication to our Lord and enjoyed his down-to-earth style of speaking and sense of humor. I’m looking forward to welcoming you to Holy Ghost Church to meet him.

See you there! Father Steven, Pastor

P.S. Download the flier and send to your friends and family! Tell them they can find our church on Google Maps.

 

 

Great Lent: Guidelines for Sacrament of Confession

20 Mar

Sacrament of ConfessionGreat Lent is a time to come back to Paradise, to the place where our Lord Jesus Christ dwells. We do this not by dying physically but by dying to sin.

I’ve compiled this booklet is to help you to prepare for the Sacrament of Confession, a rite that helps us to die to sin.

Just click the link to read it:

“The Sacrament of Confession”

May your lenten journey be joyful!

Your Pastor, Father Steven

Come Back to Paradise: Service Schedule for First Week of Great Lent 2016

12 Mar

“This is the acceptable time. This is the time for repentance. Let us offer our virtues to God as gifts, and set aside the works of darkness, by putting on the armor of light as the apostle Paul proclaims. As the Lord killed the enemy by fasting, so let us also come to destroy his arrows and spears, saying: get behind me, Satan! when he comes to tempt us.”

—Matins of Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Jesus bringing Adam and Eve back to Paradise

Jesus leads Adam & Eve back into Paradise

During Great Lent our Lord Jesus Christ invites us to re-enter Paradise. Join us for services during the first week of Great Lent to begin your spiritual journey into God’s Kingdom.

 

Sunday, March 13
Forgiveness Vespers, following 9 am Divine Liturgy, with the Rite of Forgiveness

Monday, March 14
Canon of St. Andrew of Crete 6:00 pm

Tuesday, March 15
Canon of St. Andrew of Crete 6:00 pm

Wednesday, March 16
Confessions 4:30–5:30 pm followed by the Liturgy of Pre-sanctified Gifts 6:00pm

Thursday, March 17
Canon of St. Andrew of Crete 6:00 pm

Friday, March 18
Confessions 8:30 am, followed by the Liturgy of Pre-sanctified Gifts 9:00 am

Saturday, March 19
Confessions 4:00 pm and also following Great Vespers 5:00 pm

Sunday, March 20
Divine Liturgy 9:00 am Sunday of Orthodoxy

Sunday, March 20
Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers 4:00 pm at St. John the Baptist Carpatho-Russian Church, 364 Mill Hill Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06610

Epiphany: Schedule for House Blessings

3 Jan

theophanyThis week we Orthodox Christians celebrate the Feast of Epiphany (January 5th–6th). On this feast, we remember when St. John the Baptist baptized our Lord Jesus Christ in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:1–17).

Through His baptism, Jesus accomplished three important things:

  1. He identified himself with our sinful human condition, which needed to be cleansed.
  2. He made holy (or, sanctified) the waters of the River Jordan, and thereby, all of creation, when His own holy body entered the earth’s waters.
  3. He revealed the Holy Trinity: the Father, who spoke from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with Him I am well pleased.”; the Holy Spirit, who descended upon Him in the form of a dove; and He himself, the Son of the Father.

In the season of this joyous feast, it is the practice of Orthodox Christians to invite their parish priest into their homes, and have him bless their habitation with holy water that had been sanctified during the church services on the feast day. In this way, members of the church participate in the renewal of creation effected by our Lord.

So, during January I’ll be making my “house calls” to parishioners and bringing you all the blessing of the Holy Trinity, demonstrating that you too are part of a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I look forward to seeing you! To help you prepare your household for my visit, I’ve jotted down a few notes, below, and I’ve included a tentative schedule as well.

In our Lord, your pastor, Father Steven

PREPARATIONS FOR THE EPIPHANY VISITS
1. Prepare a table with a clean tablecloth, a candle, and an icon.
2. Provide a bowl with Holy Water that you brought home from church.
3. Provide a list of the LIVING — names of members of your household, along with others you wish remembered during the short service.
4. Please provide a list of the DEPARTED — names of your departed loved ones you wish remembered during the short service.
5. When the priest arrives, please gather your family in front of the table with the icon.
6. Please turn off all radios, TVs, stereos, cell phones, etc.
7. Please close off any rooms you do NOT wish Fr Steven to bless.
8. You may use the Epiphany Hymn offered below to join in with the singing.

TROPARION OF EPIPHANY:
When Thou, O Lord wast baptized in the Jordan,
The worship of the Trinity was made manifest!
For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee,
And called Thee His Beloved Son!
And the Spirit in the form of a dove,
Confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ our God, who hast revealed Thyself,
And hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee!

NOTE: I will provide an icon and/or Holy Water if you cannot provide them.

TENTATIVE BLESSING ROUTE
JANUARY 7, 9 Bridgeport
JANUARY 10, 11, 12, 13 Stratford
JANUARY 14 and 16 Trumbull
JANUARY 17 and 18 Milford , Orange
JANUARY 17 and 18 Fairfield, New Canaan, Southbury
JANUARY 19, 20, and 21 Shelton, Derby, and Monroe
JANUARY 23 and 24 Seymour, Beacon Falls, and Sandy Hook
JANUARY 25 and 26 West Haven, Woodbridge, Naugatuck
JANUARY 27 and 28 Miscellaneous

Video

View Our Christmas Concert 2015: Joy to Our Neighborhood!

27 Dec

Xmas Concert_HGROC_2015With the help of two anonymous benefactors, our parish brought joy to our neighborhood by hosting a free Christmas Concert on Sunday, December 13, 2015.  “The American Modernist Singers,” led by conductor Kevin Sherwin, sang a program of classic Christmas carols and gospel spirituals, in English and Spanish.

Additionally, the choral group included the Orthodox Christian liturgical hymn of the feast—”Thy Nativity, O Christ, Our God”—in their repertoire. One of our own parishioners, Marcia Maslo, sang in the ensemble, as did Anne  Wilkinson, parishioner at Christ the Savior Church in Southbury, and Father Walter Smith, acting rector of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Church in Waterbury.

 

Enjoy the full concert by clicking this link!

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Your Pastor, Father Steven

Bring Christmas caroling to our parishioners who are homebound or in healthcare facilities

16 Dec

join_usfor_carolingBring some joy to our parishioners who are homebound or in healthcare facilities Sunday, December 20, 2015 by joining us for Christmas caroling.

Here’s the schedule:

12:45 pm       Leave Holy Ghost Church

1:00 pm         Arrive Hewitt Convalescent Home: Sing for Sophie P. (1st floor)

1:45 pm          Arrive Lord Chamberlain: Sing for Lydia G. (2nd floor)

2:25pm           Arrive Atria: Sing for Ann S. (1st floor)

3:00pm          Arrive at home of Helen K. in Stratford: Sing for her

4:00pm          Arrive at home of Irene C. in Trumbull: Sing for her

Directions

Hewitt Convalescent Home, 45 Maltby Street, Shelton, CT: Take Route 8 to Exit 14 (Howe); at end of the Exit take a right, and then another immediate right; cross over bridge, and then take an immediate left into parking lot.

Lord Chamberlain, 7003 Main Street, Stratford, CT: From Hewitt parking lot, take a right; at the stop sign, take another right; at the end of the street, take a left to the dead-end; then take a right toward Stratford; Lord Chamberlain is across from Sikorsky Company.

Atria Stratford, 6911 Main Street, Stratford, CT: Simply exit Lord Chamberlain parking lot and enter Atria parking lot, which is directly next door.

Questions: Call Fr .Steven’s cell phone: 914.274.1151

 

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Come to our free Christmas Concert!

1 Nov

On Sunday, December 13, 2015, at 2 p.m., Holy Ghost Russian Orthodox Church, 1510 East Main St., Bridgeport, Christmas Concert 8.5 x 11 4c 1CT, will bring holiday joy to its neighborhood by hosting a free and public concert, featuring classic Christmas Carols in English and Spanish, and seasonal Gospel music.

The American Modernist Singers (AMS), an ensemble currently based at Yale University, will present the festive concert, titled, “Christmas,” with Kevin Sherwin, founder of the ensemble, conducting.

“AMS strives to make new connections for audiences and performers alike,” said Mr. Sherwin. “The ensemble explores a wide range of musical traditions and performance practices, with a particular emphasis on the late 19th and early 20th century.

“AMS shares its work through performance, education, and outreach,” he continued, “in a way reaches into the composer’s mind and touches the audience’s heart.”

Mr. Sherwin, who is also Assistant Conductor of the renowned Yale Russian Chorus, has conducted throughout the United States, including Boston, New York, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and New Haven, to name a few. In addition, he has guest conducted The American Baroque Orchestra, The Nashua Chamber Orchestra, The Roslyn Chamber Orchestra, The Jonathan Edwards Chamber Players, and the new music ensemble, Black is the Color.

Christmas Concert 8.5 x 11 4c 2Holy Ghost Church is  pleased to sponsor AMS at Holy Ghost Church. And, we are especially looking forward to sharing the joy of the Birth of Christ with all of our neighbors and friends.

Doors open for the concert at 1:00 p.m., with non-ticketed seating. Light refreshments, also free-of-charge, will be offered in the church hall after the concert. Free parking in the church’s two lots, located on Spring and Brooks Streets, is available.  Find our Church on Google Maps.

The snow date for the concert is December 20, also at 2 p.m.

Our Talents, God’s Glory: What happened when our Parish gave out money!

20 Sep

Our parish just finished a first-hand experiment using Jesus’ “Parable of the Talents,” found in Matthew 25:14–30.

You’re probably familiar with the story: The lord of a great estate goes away on a far journey, but before he leaves, he entrusts his servants with ‘talents’ (bags of gold) to invest. When the lord returns, he calls his servants to himself, to assess how they invested his money. The majority of servants increased the talents given to them; only one fearful and lazy servant did not. The lord of the estate richly rewarded his ‘worthy’ servants, but cast out the ‘unworthy’ servant from his estate.

In June 2015, using this parable as our guide, we launched our parish “Talent Project.” Fifty-four parishioners accepted the challenge to take a $10 loan from the Parish treasurer and to think of ways to bring forth interest over the summer months. (Lottery tickets were excluded!)

Dot's dishtowels

Dot’s dish towels

And, lo, just like the talents of the servants in the biblical parable, our parishioners’  ‘bags of gold’ multiplied.  At the beginning of summer we had distributed $540, and (at last count), that sum had multiplied to $3,800.

Besides the financial boon to the parish, the project gave us the chance  to witness each other’s ingenuity and abilities, like…

Rich's memorial card holder

Rich’s memorial card holder

Dot’s amazing output of dozens of crocheted-topped dish towels.

Rich’s ingenious design of wooden holders for those memorial cards we all collect from the funerals of family and friends.

Jerry’s construction of birdhouses, made even more cheery by his wife’s winsome hand-painted motifs.

Jerry's birdhouses

Jerry’s birdhouses

And, Myra’s knack for pulling together—with the help of her daughter and friends—the huge and famous rare and vintage book sale, which was broadcast in a multitude of media outlets and which drew collectors and book-lovers countywide.

And, there were so many others!

This experiment helped us all to wrap our minds around Jesus’ Parable, as we experienced being co-workers with God in multiplying the talents He has given to us, by using our skills: teaching, organizing, building, cooking, performing public relations, understanding finances, and so forth. Clearly, when we applied these gifts to glorify God, He made them effective and brought about a blessed result.

Myra's amazing booksale

Myra’s amazing book sale!When we apply these gifts to glorify God, He makes them effective and brings about a blessed result.

But, there is a deeper meanings to Jesus’ story, on which we also can reflect. I just spoke about this in today’s sermon: how increasing our talents for the Glory of God entails using our God-given virtues. (Read or listen to the sermon.)

Our virtue might be hospitality, being able to draw people to us with a warm and a generous spirit. Or our talent might be patience, with the ability to truly listen to others and to empathize.

Or it might be having a soft heart and helping those who are troubled, conflicted, or addicted, without being judgmental or treating them with contempt.

Or we might have the gift of being a peacemaker, with the ability to bring resolution to problems among people. Or we might have the talent to share God’s Word with others, so that they may receive counsel, direction, and solace. Or we may have the gift of being  joyful in the midst of tribulations or being faithful in the middle of the worldly temptations, so that others might witness the virtues of fortitude and integrity.

For sure, our ‘Talent Project’ provided us with fun and healthy competition. But more importantly, it helped us dig deeper into God’s Word.

May He multiply every effort we make for His glory.

Your pastor, Father Steven

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

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.”

Blessing my favorite icon

8 Feb

On Sunday, February 1st, I was very pleased to have the opportunity after Divine Liturgy to bestow a blessing on one of my favorite icons. This icon is known as “Christ the Pantocrator,” which means “Christ the Ruler,” or more literally “Christ the Almighty.”George receives the blessed icon

The icon had been brought to Holy Ghost Church by Jorge, a young man interested in Orthodox Christianity and seeking to learn more about it. Jorge already had attended many services at our parish, and I couldn’t have been more joyous that he had now chosen a replica of this famous icon to help him in his personal prayer life at home.

The original of this icon is the oldest known image of Jesus Christ in existence. It is believed to have been painted about AD 550 and has been held at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai in Egypt for nearly 1500 years.

Christ the AlmightyBut, the icon is unique in another way, and its singularity may be discovered in the haunting gaze of Jesus Christ depicted on it. A careful look reveals that Jesus’ eyes in this image, and the two sides of his face, are painted with totally different expressions.

Looking straight on at the icon, you’ll notice that the right side of His face (that is, to your left) reveals a softer, gentler, expression, while the left side of His face (that is, to your right), with its arched eyebrow, conveys a sterner, piercing expression. In fact, if you could split the icon in half and re-paint it with the two different sides of His face symmetrically aligned, you’d actually end up with two very different-looking images of Jesus!Composite_christ_pantocrator

“Christ the Almighty” was painted in this way for a reason: the icon depicts the two natures of Christ, that is, His humanity and His divinity. This is appropriate, for not only is Jesus our Brother who has experienced all our pain and suffering, but He also is our Judge and King.

I have a replica of this icon hanging in my own office, and it reminds me each day of an amazing reality: Jesus is my Friend, but He also is my Lord. When I need His compassion, I gaze at this icon; when I need His reprimand, I gaze at this icon.

May our friend Jorge enjoy the richness of this image, receiving from Jesus daily exactly what he needs. I know that every time I look at this icon, I do.

In Him, Father Steven, Pastor

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

2 Feb

Dear Parish Family and Friends,

On February 2 the Orthodox Church celebrates one of the 12 major feasts of the year: “The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple.” The feast recalls both an historical event and also reveals the significance of that event for us humans.

Icon by Andrei Rublev

Icon by Andrei Rublev

You may read about the biblical basis for today’s feast by clicking here: Luke 2:22-40. The Scripture recounts how the parents of the Child Jesus presented their 40-day-old son in the Temple in Jerusalem. They were required to do so by the Old Testament law, which commanded that “every male child that opens the womb will be called ‘holy to God'” (Exodus 13:12). In other words, Jewish parents were to offer and dedicate their first-born male child to God. In order to “redeem” (that is, to symbolically buy back) their child, they were to offer a sacrifice of two turtle doves or a young lamb in exchange for him.

When the Child Jesus was brought to the Temple, he was among dozens of other first-born sons being dedicated to God. However, two righteous older people in the Temple that day recognized that this baby boy was special, unique, among all the others. One, Simeon the elder, and the other, Anna the prophetess, recognized Him as the the Messiah, the King of Israel, who would redeem all people from sin.

The main hymn for this feast reveals its significance:

“Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, full of grace,
from you rose the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God,
enlightening those who sat in darkness.
Rejoice and be glad, O righteous elder,
for you accepted in your arms the Redeemer of our souls,
Who grants us the Resurrection.”Troparion of the Feast, Tone 1

One of my favorite liturgical texts occurs in the Matins service of this feast. In this poetic text, Jesus, the Christ Child, speaks to the old man, Simeon, in the Temple, and says:

“It is not you who hold me, but I uphold you!”

As we celebrate this feast, let us remember to accept the Child Jesus with open arms, but also let us remember that God holds us in His arms!

May our Lord be with you all, Fr. Steven, Pastor

Water and Holy Water: Paradise lost and regained

5 Jan
Baptism of Our Lord Jesus

Baptism of Our Lord Jesus

On January 5th and 6th we celebrated services for the Feast of Epiphany (also called “Theophany”) which commemorates the baptism of our Lord Jesus in the Jordan River. The feast also recalls the revelation of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–23), which occurred at Jesus’ baptism.

Following the tradition of the Orthodox Church, we blessed water on the eve of the feast and the feast itself, in a huge font. We will take jars of this holy water home to drink, and I’ll come around to parishioners’ homes to sprinkle the interiors of them with this blessed water. Why?

Water = Life, Death, & Cleansing

Water = Life, Death, & Cleansing

In my homily on the eve of the feast I mentioned that water does three things for humankind:

  1. It gives life…the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31% (According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158). Each day humans must consume a certain amount of water to survive.
  2. It causes death…just think of the devastating hurricanes, floods, and mudslides wrought by water.
  3. And it cleanses…we remove dirt from our skin on the outside when we wash with it, and we detox our cells on the inside when we drink it.

Water is an essential and powerful element in our natural life!

When we are baptized in holy water in the Orthodox Church (that is, water over which the priest has prayed and has asked the Holy Spirit of God to enter), we believe that God works through the sanctified water to wash away our sins, putting to death the “Old Adam”—or old human nature—within us, and giving us a renewed nature—the nature of the “New Adam,” Jesus Christ.

Water is an essential and powerful element in our spiritual life!

Blessing of the water

Blessing of the water

In ancient times, the Jordan River was believed to be in the center of the universe and was believed to provide water for all the ends of the earth. Therefore, when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, He was indicating (through His own bodily entrance into the water)  that He came to sanctify not just the waters of the Jordan River, but the whole world, the whole universe. Jesus came to renew all of humankind and the whole earth, and He signified this by His baptism in the Jordan.

So…we Orthodox Christians use holy water in baptism, we drink it for healing purposes, and we bless our homes (and other things, like animals, cars, gardens, and so forth) with it. In doing so, we proclaim that our natural world, through Jesus Christ, has been and continues to be renewed through His Holy Spirit.

But here’s the important point: Holy water is simply water, but the way water was originally meant to be by God. In the beginning, all of creation was to be filled with the Spirit of God, all of creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31), or holy. Blessing water annually simply reminds us of the goodness of Paradise—once lost but now regained through Jesus Christ.

You may learn more by listening to my homily the eve of the feast,  Water = Life, Death, & Cleansing; and my homily on the feast day: Drinking the Water of Life.

Please check our church bulletin to view the schedule of home blessings that I will be following in January: January 4, 2015_BULLETIN. And, please welcome the water of life into your homes.

A blessed Feast of Epiphany to you!

Father Steven

Vespers cancelled Saturday, January 3, 2015 due to snowstorm! See you Sunday for important meeting!

3 Jan

Dear Friends,KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

We’re canceling vespers for Saturday, January 3rd at 4 p.m. due to the snowstorm, but we will see you all for Divine Liturgy Sunday, January 4th, at 9:00 a.m.!

Remember that after Divine Liturgy and during coffee hour on Sunday, January 4, from 11 a.m. to noon, we also are having a special presentation by the firm that has completed an architectural and engineering study on our church: TLB Architecture, LLC, of Chester, CT.

Parishioners, please stay for this very important informational meeting. Tim Brewer and Roger Williams, architects from TLB Architecture, will make a special, personal presentation about their recent study completed November 2014, and then they will answer your questions.

It is crucial that all parish members have a forthright, complete, realistic understanding of the current condition of our building and the costs associated with rectifying issues that need repair or remedy. This will be your only opportunity to question the architects directly, so please do take advantage of their being present with you.

Thank you, Fr. Steven

Our 2014 website stats in review: Happy New Year!

30 Dec

Ever wonder if anyone reads our website at Holy Ghost Church? They do!

We use an outfit called “WordPress” for our website’s content management system, and WordPress’s helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report about Fr. Steven’s “Pastor’s Corner” blog and our website and sent the statistics to us. What a surprise! See below and then click to read more!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,700 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report. Give it a few seconds to load up, then scroll down!

Twelve Days of Christmas: Christ is born! Glorify Him!

28 Dec

We welcome visitors!On December 25th we celebrated the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and now we are greeting each other with the traditional words used by Orthodox Christians: “Christ is born! Glorify Him!”

These words come from the Christmas canon, a long set of hymns composed by St. John of Damascus, a great musician of the 8th century. But St. John actually took them from a theological oration written by St. Gregory of Nazianzus, a bishop of the fourth century. These words from St. Gregory’s 38th Theological Oration are now so familiar to us Orthodox Christians, as we sing and proclaim them annually:

Christ is born; glorify Him.

Christ from heaven; go out to meet Him.

Christ on earth; be exalted.

The Nativity Season itself lasts 12 days, until the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany on January 5th, and during this time we neither fast nor kneel. Instead, we rejoice greatly!Decorated for Christmas

I hope that your Twelve Days of Christmas has contained the peace and joy given by the Christ Child. I know that mine has.

The Nativity services were rich with Old Testament prophecies and New Testament hope. I’ve enjoyed celebrating the Holy Days following the Nativity: The Synaxis of the Theotokos; The Feast of Protomartyr Stephen (for whom I am named); The Righteous Joseph the Betrothed, David the King and James the Brother of the Lord.

This past week God has given me the privilege of a wonderful, and wondrous time spent with my family: my wife, two sons, and two new daughters-in-law, as well as extended family at a 98th birthday party for my father! And, I was able to take in a fascinating exhibit at the Yale University Art Museum, which featured artifacts and art from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD from pagan, Jewish, and Christian buildings in a region called Dura-Europos, including the most ancient Christian church known to humankind.

The whole week, I’ve sensed, not only during church services but also during special outings (and even mundane tasks) that Christ is with me, with us, in every little detail. “God is with us!” as we proclaim on Nativity Eve. He is real in His humanity, and He has come to make our life divine. Let’s rejoice in this glorious wonder and surrender to this great privilege.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

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
photo 1

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.

photo 2

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.

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