Oftentimes we think that the season of Great Lent is about “giving up” something we love (or, rather, are addicted to!): food, drink, entertainment—you name it.
But as we now approach Great Lent, we begin hearing in the church services hymns that invite us to “come home” to our heavenly Father.
Great Lent is not about “giving up” things!
It’s about giving ourselves over into the hands of our heavenly Father and spending more time with Him: in conversation (prayer), in getting to know Him (reading Scripture and listening to the words of the church services), and in close communion (receiving the Eucharist more often).
So, during this coming Great Lent, don’t give up things. Rather, give yourself—your time, your will, your body, your mind, and heart —over to your Father.
Come, let our heavenly Father embrace you! Here are two things to help you give yourself over to Him:
Soak in this wonderful hymn, titled, “The Father’s Embrace”:
Listen to or read my sermon about the Prodigal Son being welcomed back by his father:
As we anticipate our Community Dinner on Sunday, February 19, 2017, following Divine Liturgy, the words of our Lord Jesus keep coming to my mind:
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:15–17).
An essential part of being in community is being friends to one another—loving one another. And part of loving one another is gathering together just to enjoy each other’s company. That’s why I warmly welcome everyone to our Community Dinner!
On January 13, 1984, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation designating January 22 as the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day. (January 22, 1973, was the day the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion-on-demand in all 50 states.)
Churches around the United States still use the day to celebrate God’s gift of life, commemorate the many lives lost to abortion, and commit themselves to protecting human life at every stage. Churches continue to recognize the third Sunday in January as “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.”
My sermon for “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday 2017” focuses on how to approach the painful reality of women making the decision to obtain an abortion; we who call ourselves Christians need to approach such women—and all people, for that matter—with an attitude of pastoral concern and in the spirit of Christ’s love. We need to understand the complexity of their decision, and especially the fears that reportedly drive it. (Read or listen to my sermon here: “Pastoral Care & Sanctity of Life”_January 22, 2017).
I also want to draw your attention to the Archpastoral Message for “Sanctity of Life Sunday 2017” by His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, primate of the Orthodox Church in America. (Read his message here: “Sanctity of Life 2017″_Metropolitan Tikhon.)
May this day be one of healing and hope. And, may we pray continually for our eyes and hearts to be open to the wonder of Life, granted to us by the Almighty God.
I dislike winter: the chilling cold, the depressing darkness.
One thing that does cheer me are the twinkling lights that decorate rooftops and doorways during the holiday season. In my mind, they witness to the True Light that enlivens our souls and brightens creation itself.
During this holy season of wonderful winter feasts—the Nativity of Our Lord and Holy Theophany—the church services continually offer us the theme of light penetrating the darkness and illuminating the shadows of despair that plague our earthly existence.
The hymns and scripture readings from both feasts remind us that Jesus Christ has come into the world as a great Light from God (John 8.12), a light bringing wisdom, understanding, and the fire of love into our very souls.
I want to share with you these resources from Ancient Faith Ministries that help us recognize this Light. (They are appropriate for various age groups.) Just click the links to enjoy:
Sunday afternoon, December 11, 2016, the Fairfield University Glee Club presented a sparkling Christmas Concert here at Holy Ghost Orthodox Church—an event that was 2 years in the making.
What a gift! The Glee Club’s 130 young people took time out from their busy university schedules to bring great joy to our neighbors and friends here on East Main Street in Bridgeport.
I especially want to thank Father Charles Allen, Chaplain of Fairfield University, for originally arranging this concert with me. I also want to thank Carole Ann Maxwell, the Glee Club’s Director, for her generous spirit and gracious support all along the way.
Mostly, I thank God for putting all these stellar folks in our lives, and for arranging their paths to cross ours. They truly brought to us “glad tidings of great joy!” (Luke 2.10).
Mark your calendars now for Sunday, December 11, 2016, at 3 p.m.
The 130-member Fairfield University Glee Club will be spreading the joy of the Nativity Season by presenting a free and public concert in the upstairs nave of our church. We welcome neighbors and friends to an afternoon of inspiring Christmas music, and to a reception of light refreshments afterwards in our church undercroft.
Please spread the word!
Share in the light. Share in the love. Share in the Joy of the Christ Child.
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
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.
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: email@example.com 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).
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
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 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
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!
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.
Sunday, February 19
9:00 am Divine Liturgy / Meatfare Sunday
10:45 am Community Lunch
Thursday, February 23
10:00 am Bible Study, Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 8: meet at Holy Ghost Church undercroft
6:30 pm Bible Study, Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 8: meet at 360 Second Hill Lane, Stratford CT
Saturday, February 25
4:00 pm Great Vespers
Sunday, February 26 /
9:00 am Divine Liturgy with Forgiveness Vespers immediately following / Cheesefare Sunday
NO CHURCH SCHOOL
11:15 am Coffee Hour
Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, who hast revealed the fisherman as most wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit. Through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net. O Lover of mankind, glory to Thee!