Wednesday, November 1, 2017

St. James Liturgy is this Sunday - a Simple Primer

FLYER IN PDF FOR SHARING
This Sunday, with Archbishop Peter’s blessing, we will serve the ancient Divine Liturgy of St. James the Brother of the Lord. This Liturgy has been used in and around Jerusalem since the very early time of the Church. It is significantly different than the Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great – the two Liturgies that we are most familiar with since these are the two Liturgies that are regularly served in the Orthodox Church on Sundays. The principle difference is the focus on the spoken prayers of the celebrants rather than the hymnography of the service. Therefore, the choir parts are significantly simpler than at the Liturgies of St. John or St. Basil. The St. James Liturgy does have a few similarities to the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts (of St. Gregory the Diologist) that we celebrate on Great Lenten weekdays (mostly because these are the two more ancient Liturgies, while the Liturgies of St. John and St. Basil are less ancient, but by no means modern, yet have been “developed” liturgically and hymnographically over the centuries, while the St. James Liturgy has not experienced such development). At the Liturgy of St. James the Gifts ARE consecrated, whereas at the Presanctified Liturgy the Holy Gifts are consecrated at the Liturgy on the Saturday or Sunday previous.

Although the Liturgies of the Church are named for saints, the saints themselves did not WRITE these Liturgies, rather, they WROTE DOWN and recorded the authentic liturgical expression of the Church as they found it, and thereby passed it down to us. The St. James Liturgy has essentially fallen out of use in much of the Orthodox world, but because of the academic work of Johann von Gardner (later Bishop Philip of Potsdam) the usage of the Liturgy was revived first in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and later in Russia.

We include here two videos of the St. James Liturgy in Russia filmed in the last few years. The first is from the St. Petersburg Theological Academy and is significantly shorter (it contains the highlights of the Liturgy from the year 2016). The second is from Saratov and is virtually the full Liturgy of St. James from 2015. Please note that in the videos the faithful are communed differently than at the other Liturgies of the Church. Archbishop Peter has not blessed this practice, and so we will commune as we usually do, from the chalice with a spoon, this Sunday. The rule for Confession and Communion is according to the usual practice.

St. Petersburg Theological Academy

Saratov Theological Seminary

Please do not hesitate to ask me before or after this Liturgy if you have any questions. I look forward to seeing you all at St. Vladimir’s for this unique liturgical expression of the Holy Church this Sunday!

Fr. Gregory

Monday, October 30, 2017

Recap of Parish Discussion: “How do we as Orthodox Christians Deal with those Living Lives Opposed to the Gospel?”

I would like thank everyone who participated in the parish discussion during Sunday's
lunch. The discussion itself was super, and people stayed for a good hour afterwards continuing to discuss among themselves the topic we tackled. And it was not a simple topic! And as we mentioned several times, there are significant generational differences in our approach to this topic. That is not good or bad – it is just the reality. Of course, in any such conversation there can be confusion. I am sure there was some of that. That is OK – we are not being asked to just address this once. We will circle back to this, just like we will circle back to the Matthew 25 conversation we had a few weeks ago. But to clear up one misconception that I spoke with someone about after the discussion: we are not calling you to go out and seek those who are living lives opposed to the Gospel. Those folks are out there. There are many of them. You will likely have to deal with them on some level sometime. But my intent was not to send out a mission in this regard. That being said, it is good for us to think and pray about how we will deal with these folks when we do need to. And living in this society the fact of the matter is that we will. To help in that regard I am publishing here the piece I read before we began the discussion. Again – I appreciated everyone’s input. This was meant as a discussion and not a lecture, and I think you got that. And having input from others unquestionably made this a more fruitful discussion for our parish! We’ll have another similar discussion on November 26, and of course you are welcome to ask any question you like when we have “Ask the Priest” this coming Sunday at the parish meal. Great work everyone!

Fr. Gregory

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From the Epistle of Mathetes* to Diognetus, c. 130

CHAPTER V -- THE MANNERS OF THE CHRISTIANS.
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

CHAPTER VI -- THE RELATION OF CHRISTIANS TO THE WORLD.
To sum up all in one word--what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake.

*Mathetes = “A Disciple”, almost certainly a disciple of St. John the Theologian

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Greatest Generation is Slipping Away – Our Response

Yesterday I had the honor to visit and pray with an 89 year old World War II veteran in Lansing. She fought against Nazi Germany on the Soviet side. Her name is Yelena, she is an Orthodox Christian, and she is dying. Like the rest of this generation, for whom heroism was not something remarkable but something obvious and unquestionable, she did not assume that someone else would do what needed to be done. She did what needed to be done. This is true of those who fought on the American side and the Soviet side as well – heroism was not rare – it was the order of the day. Please pray for the handmaiden of God Yelena. She has lived a good, long life. But that life is ending. It is our responsibility to pray for those who are dying and those who have died. In the few days she has left on this earth let us be sure to fulfill this Christian obligation for her.

While we are praying for Yelena there is something else we should pray about too, and that is peace on this earth. We have been given this place by the merciful Lord so that we can work out our salvation here. Peace helps to facilitate the working out of that salvation. Conflict makes working out our salvation more difficult. And this is why we pray for peace at each Divine Service – so that we can better work out our salvation. It seems to me that we sometimes are quite good at critiquing the media, the government, and everything else that we have very little control over and which is external to us. But we seem to forget that prayer is something very powerful, and something that we, as Orthodox Christians, are not only supposed to do, but something we WANT to do. Something that is HELPFUL both for ourselves and for those for whom we pray. Prayer is powerful - but we often forget to invoke God's help in our daily struggle. We forget about the power of prayer...

We live in a free country where we can critique politicians, the media, and just about anyone and anything else. That is our right as citizens of this republic. But as Orthodox Christians we have to ask
ourselves a more important question: is this helpful for our salvation? Especially if we engage in this immoderately? Just because we CAN do this, SHOULD we? St. Seraphim of Sarov said that at the last judgment there will be few who will repent for having spoken too little. Although few of us are likely to be in that camp, perhaps this is something we should strive for? Less talk and more prayer? That is not to say we should not speak out against evil. Of course we should. And I am hardly saying here that we are not allowed to critique our politicians and/or political institutions (including the media). Of course we are. I am just asking the question: is this continual critique helpful for our salvation? Or would it be better to critique less and pray more? Are we being distracted by the craziness of the world to such an extent that we are letting our Christian duties slip? I think this is a good and frankly essential question to consider – and I hope you will spend some time doing that over the upcoming long holiday weekend. And praying for Yelena. May God help her leave this life peacefully and find a place in His Heavenly Kingdom!

Fr. Gregory

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Today is Independence Day

Today marks Independence Day in the United States of America. From time to time we have disagreements with our government. As Orthodox Christians it is crucial that we be patriots of our nation – whether that be the nation of our birth or the nation to which we have immigrated. A patriot is not a senseless sheep – a patriot is someone who loves his country enough to be willing to critique it, but who at the same time prays for his country, its civil authorities, and armed forces, and supports them to the greatest extent his Christian conscience allows. This is our duty, and St. Paul called us to this in the nascent years of Christianity. At that time the civil authorities actively sought to destroy Christianity, yet St. Paul demanded of the Christians that they pray for the civil authorities. Why would he do such a thing? We pray that the Lord will give us a peaceful place in which to work out our salvation. Of course, this has not always been the case in the history of the Church, yet these prayers have never stopped – and they never will. We can agree with our government's policies – or we can disagree with them. It is best if we care enough about our country that we be willing to critique its policies and call it to a higher place if it begins to slip in this regard. But no matter what, we are called to pray for our civil authorities and armed forces. Many in this world do not have the luxury of critiquing their government. We are guaranteed this right in our Constitution and for this we should be thankful. There are many, many other things that we can be thankful for living here in the United States. Perhaps on this day – when we celebrate the birth of our country – it is best to stress those things for which we can give thanks. The Lord has placed us here in this place and this time for a reason – let us then work for Him diligently – and let us entreat Him that he protect and save the United States of America! Happy Independence Day to all!

Fr. Gregory

Friday, June 30, 2017

Planned Stewardship at St. Vladimir Church - Making a Conscious Choice about Supporting our Parish Family

This is a pamphlet that we have posted on our parish web site and which is available at the parish church, but it is important that we challenge ourselves in this regard, and that we have a continuing conversation in this regard, so I am including this here in the hopes that more people will have the opportunity to read it by doing so. You can find this in PDF format on our web site in English and Russian.

A more in-depth treatment of this subject can be found here, also in English and Russian.

Please share your thoughts here, by sending us an email, or by using our feedback form. And if you have questions and don't want to ask them publicly please send us an email - we are happy to discuss this with any of our parish family any time!

Fr. Gregory
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For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:21)

St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Church has always, throughout its 35+ year history, been well supported by its parishioners.  This is something that we can be proud of and thankful for.  However, this is also something that we often do not think very much about.  We know that when we are in church on Sunday there will be some sort of collection, but we don’t usually think very much about this, either before the collection or afterwards.  We see this as just a part of going to church. However, stewardship, how we use what God has given us, is something that we should consider and something that we should plan. 

The reasons for stewardship are numerous, and no doubt, you have heard many, if not all of them. Sometimes we are told that we should give because the parish needs more money for next year’s budget. Other times we are told we should give at least as we pay for a newspaper subscription or our cable bill – as if God's Church is equivalent to other “entertainment” choices we make.  Finally, we are sometimes told that we should give because the parish needs something (a new church, vestments for the clergy, a new hall, etc.).  None of these reasons are illegitimate, for in many parishes, sometimes including ours, these things are true.  However, stewardship is a spiritual question, and not a material one. We should give to God out of love, and for no other reason. In the beginning God created man out of love, He gave us our personal existence out of love, He sent His only-begotten Son to us out of love so that we could again gain the paradise that we threw away by the actions of our first forefather Adam.  Love is the reason that God created us all, and this is the reason that we should give back to God. “God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) Thus we see that our reason WHY (love of God) we give helps us to determine HOW MUCH we give, for if God gave us so much, can we not give Him back just a little of the bounty with which He has blessed us?  The purest motive for our stewardship is to give to God because we have been given to by Him.  That is, in gratitude for His great love towards us.

We urge you to make stewardship part of your family budget – to actively plan what you give to St. Vladimir's just as you plan other family expenses. We further urge you to keep in mind that we give to God out of love – and that He asks us to give to His Church just a small amount (some set percentage of our net income: ten percent according to the Old Testament – even more than this according to St. John Chrysostom) of all that He has given us. The Lord, having given us all that we have, generously allows us to keep all the rest! Perhaps starting with ten percent would impossible. That is understandable – this is a major paradigm shift for most of us. But it is spiritually helpful to set a percentage for ourselves and do our best to stick with that for a year, and then try to increase that the next year. When we tithe the Lord blesses us many times more than the amount we give (see Malachi 3:8-10)!

If you have any questions about stewardship in general at St. Vladimir’s, or questions about the best ways to give (recurring donations benefit the parish the most) please contact Fr. Gregory, our Starosta, Jack (Alexey) Mitchell, or the other member of our Parish Council Stewardship Education Team, Leta (Ksenia) Nikulshina.

info@stvladimiraami.org ~ www.stva2.org ~ 734-475-4590

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Matthew 25 – Our Parish Family Response

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:31-46)

The reading above is provided to us by the Holy Church for our edification annually on the Sunday of the Last Judgment. We know this Sunday more as Meatfare Sunday, and given that this is the last day that we are allowed to eat meat before Pascha, sadly this gospel is often not reflected upon adequately, since we are usually in a rush after the Liturgy on that day to get to the table.

Still, even if we are not as attentive to this gospel reading as we should be, it is nonetheless applicable to us. We are bound by the instructions given there. That is, as long as we desire to attain the Heavenly Kingdom. Given that this is indeed our desire, we need to find a way to fulfill the instructions our Lord gives us in this gospel.

Sometimes the scripture readings need some explanation to make them clear. Honestly – this one doesn’t need much. The Lord simply and clearly outlines for us how we will answer at the Last Judgment. This is good – we do not want to guess about such things. That being said, we tend to dismiss spiritual things that seem difficult or impossible to us, and I think we do that often in regard to this reading. The problem is that our priest has not really stressed the importance of fulfilling the Matthew 25 challenge in our parish (yes – the priest who is writing this note), but it is time for that to change. We are not a small parish. In fact, we have more members than any other parish in the diocese. Thus, we need to be leaders – and this is a very good place to start.

Let me say here that in our lives we have three ways that we can apply good:

  • Time
  • Treasure
  • Talent

At different times in our lives we have more or less of each of these things. Often when we are young we have little treasure, for instance, but we have some talent, and likely a lot of time. When we form a family and start having children the time disappears for the most part, but we likely have more talent than we did as young people, and probably more treasure too. In our later years we might not have a lot of ability to apply time or talent, but we might have more treasure. The point is this: we need to examine our lives and see how we can apply each of these to the Matthew 25 challenge. And your reality is almost certainly going to be different than the reality of your neighbor. Thus, there is no need to judge another in this regard. As long as we are all working towards the same goal, applying the time, treasure, and talent that we have available, we will, as a parish family, meet the Matthew 25 challenge to the greatest extent possible. The bottom line: EVERYONE can and should and must participate if we are going to meet this challenge, but participation might look different for you than it does for the person standing next to you in church on Sunday morning. You might only have treasure to give, while that person might only have time…

I have been thinking praying about this for a good long time now. That does not mean that I am any wiser in this regard than I was when I started, but I have at least, hopefully guided by the Lord’s merciful hand, come to a few conclusions about how we, as a parish family, can best meet the Matthew 25 challenge.

Here are the major action items from the gospel of the Last Judgment:

  • If we help others in need we give into the Hand of the Lord – thus we need to help those in need:
    • We need to feed the hungry
    • We need to give drink to the thirsty
    • We need to give housing to the homeless
    • We need to give clothes to the naked
    • We need to visit the sick
    • We need to visit those in prison
  • If we do NOT do these things we have NOT given in the Hand of the Lord when He (in the place of those made in His image) was in need

To support this point (although I am not sure support is really needed – these are the words of the Lord Himself after all) I would like to include a brief excerpt from the life of St. Martin of Tours:

“At the gates of Amiens, Martin saw a beggar shivering in the severe winter cold, so he cut his cloak in two and gave half to the beggar. That night, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to the saint wearing Martin’s cloak. He heard the Savior say to the angels surrounding Him, “Martin is only a catechumen, but he has clothed Me with this garment.” The saint was baptized soon after this...” (FULL LIFE HERE)

From this point forward I will assume that all agree that action is needed on our part in light of Matthew 25. If I haven’t – please talk to me. The Church has never interpreted the instructions in Matthew 25 to be optional or a suggestion – these are action oriented orders and we need to act, or fall in with the goats at the Last Judgment. I’m hoping to be with the sheep, and I’m hoping you all will be too. To increase our odds in that regard we need to put the Matthew 25 instructions to work in our lives as St. Martin did. But how?

I suggest we combine the need to give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty.  If we do that we get to these major action items:

  • Nourish (food and drink) those in need
  • House those in need
  • Clothe those in need
  • Visit/support the sick
  • Visit/support those in prison

That is five major points that we need to attend to as a parish family. I think this will work best if we have five volunteers to work closely with me in this regard – to help facilitate our parish family’s participation in fulfilling the Matthew 25 instructions. I would also argue that our philanthropic efforts as a parish should also be focused mostly in these areas, and volunteers will work with me to help identify local partners that can help us facilitate these efforts. We will work with local volunteer partners to allow our parishioners to apply their time, treasure, and talent to this challenge.

That is not to say that we will never work with those outside our local area. Of course we will. But we have an opportunity to help our parish family spiritually in this regard, and although a few may choose to work with IOCC nationally or internationally on relief projects – not many of us will have the opportunity to do that. But to work locally – that is a lot easier. And the point here is to make it as easy as possible for our parish family to follow the Lord’s guidance in Matthew 25.

Please contact me if you can help. I think the “Visit/Support the Sick” piece is already mostly filled, but having another volunteer coordinator there is not a bad idea. Otherwise – first come first served! :)

I would like to have all this in place, including providing opportunities for our parish family to volunteer/donate by September 1, 2017. I am confident we can do that if we begin today. Please help us by volunteering to lead one of the efforts listed above!

Fr. Gregory

Monday, May 29, 2017

Today is Memorial Day


Today in America we celebrate Memorial Day. This civil holiday was first called Decoration Day and was connected with the decoration of the graves of Civil War soldiers and others who died in that most destructive of American wars. In 1971 this unofficial holiday became law in the United States. Today is the third day of a three-day weekend in America. Such weekends are always welcome. But let us not forget WHY we have this holiday – remembrance of our veterans and decoration of their graves. We ask each of our parish family today to take a minute and reflect on the sacrifice of others that allows us to live the life we live today. Many died in hope of a better future – and for them we are that future. Let us pray for them – that the Lord will have mercy on them – and let us live righteous lives in service to others, remembering the example of those who came before us and their honorable sacrifice on our behalf. May the Lord grant them a place in His Heavenly Kingdom!

Fr. Gregory