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

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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.

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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

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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.”

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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

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