Monday, September 19, 2016

Fruits of the Festival

The last two days we executed our festival – and we executed it amazingly well! But of course, the festival has been planned and worked on so diligently by so many for so long. Really the planning for this year began during last year’s festival. And that is true this year too – we learned a lot at the festival over the last two days that we can use to make next year’s festival even better!

I want to take a second here, without naming names, to thank those that have been breaking their necks to make this festival happen for all these months. You know who you are if you are in this group. And the Lord knows who you are – which is even more important. These unsung heroes, who sometimes we don’t like at this time of year because they encourage us so strongly and consistently to participate in this incredible missionary activity, have provided an example for us of what a Christian should be: a lover of labor who desires sincerely and zealously the salvation of his or her fellow man. May the Lord reward them for their efforts!

But it isn’t just the leaders of the festival committees that deserve our praise and our thanks – all those who worked so hard these last few days deserve it too! Your heroic and inspiring Christian work ethic made it possible for thousands of our friends and neighbors in Southeast Michigan and beyond to be exposed to Orthodox Christianity in a positive, family-friendly atmosphere! Hundreds and hundreds of people had the chance to visit the church and many asked about coming back to learn more. Baptisms and marriages were planned. And more! This is it – this is why we have the festival! To expose the population around us – those who don’t know who we are and are a little concerned about what we might be doing here – to our faith in a positive, friendly atmosphere. Once fear dissipates (and the festival drives away this fear) we can connect – and people are naturally drawn to the beauty of the True Faith. With God’s help we will have new parishioners join us again this year as a direct result of the festival!

I also want to thank those who did not participate in the festival. We felt your prayers – even if you couldn’t be with us. And that is what a family does – a parish family – we support the family’s efforts in any way we can. And prayer is something – something powerful and real – and your prayers carried us when we didn’t think we could take even one more step or stand for one more minute!

One of the things that we learned from last year’s festival is this: we will have new people in church with us after the festival. Those who are inquiring – who want to learn more about our faith – who are seriously considering joining our parish family and adopting Orthodox Christianity. That is great and something we need to thank God for!

Here is another thing we learned from last year’s festival: if you treat these inquirers rudely they will leave. And they won’t come back, even if the priest sends them emails and letters begging their forgiveness for the inappropriate and unchristian behavior they experienced when visiting us. Let me be clear: it is ridiculous to expect that people who are just starting to come to church will know exactly how to dress, exactly when to stand, how to venerate an icon, and so forth. To be rude to them because of their ignorance is not “teaching” – it is a manifestation of evil. And those who drive others from their salvation will answer to the Lord for this. However, in order to make sure that this year we do not repeat last year’s inappropriate behavior towards newcomers we have instituted a new rule in the parish: if you see anyone doing anything that is not “right” - anything that bothers you so much that you feel you have to say something: STOP! You are not here to teach others. Close your mouth and report this “transgression” to one of the parish council members, or one of the Brotherhood or Sisterhood officers. These leaders will help the newcomer to understand what is expected in a way that is positive, affirming, welcoming, and loving. For the rest of us, our main task is to greet inquirers with a kind smile and a warm word. Below are the Brotherhood and Sisterhood officers for your information.

Head Brother: Konstantin Poplavsky
Treasurer: Vasiliy Golubets

Head Sister: Ksenia Nikulshina
Assistant Head Sisters: Zhanna Skalitzky, Elena Golubets, Irina Verdiyan
Treasurer: Marina Edwards
Assistant Treasurer: Justina Chwastek

If we can do this – if we can resist the temptation to “greet” others in such an unchristian way – then it is very likely they will stay. It is not a guarantee. Orthodox Christianity is a struggle – we all know this. But if we begin with love then the outcome can only be positive. From our festival experience we know that a shared struggle towards a shared goal brings the parish family closer together. The greater struggle – the struggle for our salvation – which we also all share in common can and will and does attract others – for they too want to experience Christ’s love. But if they do not first experience Christ’s love in us they are unlikely to persist long enough to feel it directly themselves. We only have one chance to make a first impression! Let’s us work doubly hard this year to make up for last year’s hiccups in this regard. If we do that, and if we repent as a parish family for our less than stellar performance in this regard last year (which is principally MY FAULT because I did not make this clear enough in the past) we can have great hope that the Lord will again bless us to welcome others to His Church - to His parish that He has entrusted to us!

Fr. Gregory

No comments:

Post a Comment