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Lessons on the Sundays of Great Lent

13 Mar

The following is from Volume II of The Orthodox Faith Series, by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko (+), entitled Worship: The Church Year. The entire series is available online on the website of the Orthodox Church in America, the jurisdiction under which our parish falls.  

As we journey through Great Lent and make our way to Pascha, may we soak in the wisdom from each of these Sundays and apply these lessons to our own lives.

And after Pascha, be sure to access and take advantage of the other volumes in Fr. Thomas’s series!—Your Pastor, Fr. Steven

The Church Year

Sundays of Lent

orthodoxy

Each of the Sundays of Great Lent has its own special theme. The first Sunday is called the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. It is a historical feast commemorating the return of the icons to the churches in the year 843 after the heresy of iconoclasm was overcome. The spiritual theme of the day is first of all the victory of the True Faith. “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5.4). Secondly, the icons of the saints bear witness that man, “created in the image and likeness of God” (Gen 1.26), becomes holy and godlike through the purification of himself as God’s living image.

palamas

The Second Sunday of Lent is the commemoration of Saint Gregory Palamas. It was Saint Gregory (d.1359) who bore living witness that men can become divine through the grace of God in the Holy Spirit; and that even in this life, by prayer and fasting, human beings can become participants of the uncreated light of God’s divine glory.

cross

The Third Sunday of Lent is that of the Veneration of the Cross. The cross stands in the midst of the church in the middle of the lenten season not merely to remind men of Christ’s redemption and to keep before them the goal of their efforts, but also to be venerated as that reality by which man must live to be saved. “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10.38). For in the Cross of Christ Crucified lies both “the power of God and the wisdom of God” for those being saved (1 Cor 1.24).

climacus

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is dedicated to Saint John of the Ladder (Climacus), the author of the work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. The abbot of Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai (6th century) stands as a witness to the violent effort needed for entrance into God’s Kingdom (Mt 10: 12). The spiritual struggle of the Christian life is a real one, “not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the rulers of the present darkness . . . the hosts of wickedness in heavenly places . . .” (Eph 6.12). St John encourages the faithful in their efforts for, according to the Lord, only “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 24.13).

mary

The Fifth Sunday recalls the memory of Saint Mary of Egypt, the repentant harlot. Mary tells us, first of all, that no amount of sin and wickedness can keep a person from God if he truly repents. Christ himself has come “to call sinners to repentance” and to save them from their sins (Lk 5.32). In addition, Saint Mary tells us that it is never too late in life—or in Lent—to repent. Christ will gladly receive all who come to him even at the eleventh hour of their lives. But their coming must be in serious and sincere repentance.

 

The week following the Sunday of Saint Mary of Egypt is called Palm or Branch Week. At the Tuesday services of this week the Church recalls that Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died and that the Lord is going to raise him from the dead (Jn 11). As the days continue toward Saturday, the Church, in its hymns and verses, continues to follow Christ towards Bethany to the tomb of Lazarus. On Friday evening, the eve of the celebration of the Resurrection of Lazarus, the “great and saving forty days” of Great Lent are formally brought to an end:

Having accomplished the forty days for the benefit of our souls, we pray to Thee, O Lover of Man, that we may see the holy week of Thy passion, that in it we may glorify Thy greatness and Thine unspeakable plan of salvation for our sake . . . (Vespers Hymn).

Lazarus

Lazarus Saturday is a paschal celebration. It is the only time in the entire Church Year that the resurrectional service of Sunday is celebrated on another day. At the liturgy of Lazarus Saturday, the Church glorifies Christ as “the Resurrection and the Life” who, by raising Lazarus, has confirmed the universal resurrection of mankind even before His own suffering and death.

By raising Lazarus from the dead before Thy passion, Thou didst confirm the universal resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with the branches of victory, we cry out to Thee, O Vanquisher of Death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! (Troparion).

Christ —the Joy, the Truth and the Light of All, the Life of the world and its Resurrection—has appeared in his goodness to those on earth. He has become the Image of our Resurrection, granting divine forgiveness to all (Kontakion).

At the Divine Liturgy of Lazarus Saturday the baptismal verse from Galatians: As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal 3.27) replaces the Thrice-holy Hymn thus indicating the resurrectional character of the celebration, and the fact that Lazarus Saturday was once among the few great baptismal days in the Orthodox Church Year.

Because of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, Christ was hailed by the masses as the long-expected Messiah-King of Israel. Thus, in fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, He entered Jerusalem, the City of the King, riding on the colt of an ass (Zech 9.9; Jn 12.12). The crowds greeted Him with branches in their hands and called out to Him with shouts of praise: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The Son of David! The King of Israel! Because of this glorification by the people, the priests and scribes were finally driven “to destroy Him, to put Him to death” (Lk 19.47; Jn 11.53, 12.10).

Palm Sunday

The feast of Christ’s triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday, is one of the twelve major feasts of the Church. The services of this Sunday follow directly from those of Lazarus Saturday. The church building continues to be vested in resurrectional splendor, filled with hymns which continually repeat the Hosanna offered to Christ as the Messiah-King who comes in the name of God the Father for the salvation of the world.

The main troparion of Palm Sunday is the same one sung on Lazarus Saturday. It is sung at all of the services, and is used at the Divine Liturgy as the third antiphon which follows the other special psalm verses which are sung as the liturgical antiphons in the place of those normally used. The second troparion of the feast, as well as the kontakion and the other verses and hymns, all continue to glorify Christ’s triumphal manifestation “six days before the Passover” when he will give himself at the Supper and on the Cross for the life of the world.

Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together. Let us all take up Thy cross and say: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest! (First Verse of Vespers).

When we were buried with Thee in baptism, O Christ God, we were made worthy of eternal life by Thy resurrection. Now we praise Thee and sing: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! (Second Troparion).

Sitting on Thy throne in heaven, and carried on a foal on earth, O Christ God, accept the praise of angels and the songs of children who sing: BIessed is he who comes to recall Adam! (Kontakion).

At the vigil of the feast of Palm Sunday the prophecies of the Old Testament about the Messiah-King are read together with the Gospel accounts of the entry of Christ into Jerusalem. At Matins branches are blessed which the people carry throughout the celebration as the sign of their own glorification of Jesus as Saviour and King. These branches are usually palms, or, in the Slavic churches, pussy willows which came to be customary because of their availability and their early blossoming in the springtime.

As the people carry their branches and sing their songs to the Lord on Palm Sunday, they are judged together with the Jerusalem crowd. For it was the very same voices which cried Hosanna to Christ, which, a few days later, cried Crucify Him! Thus in the liturgy of the Church the lives of men continue to be judged as they hail Christ with the “branches of victory” and enter together with Him into the days of His “voluntary passion.”

Schedule of Services: 1st Week of Great Lent

25 Feb

candle_lentThis 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, 1st Week of Great Lent

 

 

 

Sunday, February 26   10:45 am

Forgiveness Vespers following  Divine Liturgy, with the Rite of Forgiveness

 

Monday, February 27   6:00 pm             

Canon of St Andrew of Crete

 

Tuesday, February 28   6:00 pm              

Canon of St Andrew of Crete

 

Wednesday, March 1             

Confessions   4:30 – 5:30 pm  *  9th Hour   5:40 pm  *  Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts    6:00 pm

 

Thursday, March 2   6:00pm                     

Canon of St Andrew of Crete           

 

Friday, March 3                    

Confessions   8:15 am – 8:40 am  *  9th Hour   8:40 am  *  Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified  Gifts   9:00 am

 

Saturday, March 4                    

Confessions   3:00 pm * Great Vespers   4:00 pm  *  Confessions following Vespers   4:45 pm

 

Sunday, March 5                    

Divine Liturgy   9:00 am * Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers, at our parish   4:00 pm, with Archpriest Chad Hatfield, president of St. Vladimir’s Seminary as Guest Homilist

                                  

 

Great Lent is about coming home…

15 Feb

prodigal-son_iconOftentimes 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:

 

“The Father’s Embrace”_Sunday of the Prodigal Son_February 12, 2017

Wishing you a  joyous “homecoming,” your pastor, Fr. Steven

Welcome! Community Dinner, Sunday, February 19, 2017

5 Feb

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!

Be sure to reserve your tickets by Sunday, February 12th, so our cooking crew knows how many to prepare for! Just contact Bobby Denhup or Mark Curran to purchase tickets (Click here to view our current Bulletin under the “Media” tab on our website.)

sunday-meal

Sanctity of Life Sunday, January 22, 2107

22 Jan

sanctityoflife-visitationDear Friends in Christ,

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.

Your Pastor, Fr. Steven J. Belonick

 

Theophany: Light Shines Forth!

8 Jan

imgresI 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:

May the Light of Jesus Christ illumine us all!

 

Your Pastor, Fr. Steven J. Belonick

Fairfield Glee Club Sparkles at Church Concert

13 Dec

fullsizerender2Sunday 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).

Listen again here, to their angelic voices: “Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!”

With much gratitude, Father Steven

[photo and video credit: Richard Kendall]

 

 

Free Christmas Concert by Fairfield Glee Club, Sunday, December 11, 2016

30 Oct

news_chorusgroup_12x4_2919

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.

Your Pastor, Father Steven Belonick

“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.

IMG_6701

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!

 

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