Monday, January 23, 2023

Communication Strategy at STV

Fr. Colin suggested that I read the book “The Shallows – What the Internet is Doing to our Brains” by Nicholas Carr. I’m just getting started with it, and I’m not reading it, but rather listening to it (probably not the best approach given the topic of the book). It has already had a big impact on the way I think of communicating with our parishioners. And it is answering some questions that I’ve had too. 

Not pertinent to this post, but humorous.

Interestingly, interacting with the Internet has changed the way the most educated folks in our society, like professors, scientists, Ph.D. students, etc., engage with books. To keep this brief: they don’t. They don’t interact with books anymore. In fact, they can’t. The Internet has trained even those with the most robust brains to digest knowledge in a sort of networked way, rather than a linear way. Networked = Internet. Linear = Book.

I’m purposely writing this in a very “networked” way. Short sentences. Short paragraphs. And for those who know me, you know that this is absolutely antithetical to the way that I write. Even the way I talk. And the way I think. I’ll have to fix that part too I guess. “Sermons in the Internet Age” might be a book I write. Or, more likely I’ll be a case study in such a book of how those trained in one information age struggle to succeed in the next information age. Or maybe it won’t be a book, but a series of short videos. Or something like that...

I’ve often wondered: why does it happen that we send out super high quality, solidly written pieces with proof, support, investigation, citations – and folks don’t react? We spend a lot of time on this stuff, but it has little impact. According to Carr it is probably because folks don’t read past the first few sentences. Or they jump around on the page looking for key words. But folks don’t sit down, as a rule, and read things from start to end. And that is a pretty big paradigm shift for me, at least. I mean, I do, but I’m thinking I’m more of a dinosaur in this regard in these days. And I’m just figuring that out now.

So going forward we will try to communicate in succinct, impactful, focused clips (words, videos, etc.). That will be the first layer. Then there will be a link to get to the second level, which will have all the usual materials that us dinosaurs know and love and embrace. Hypothetically, this will make it possible to get all the information that is needed for everyone to everyone. We’ll see. :) But we will try. And we will keep trying. And we will ask you to keep telling us how we can do it better.

Because there are unlimited GREAT ideas in our parish, but most of those traditionally stay in the head’s of our parishioners. Let’s stop that keeping good ideas to ourselves. We WELCOME your input. Write us a letter if you are a dinosaur like me. For the non-dinosaurs, click here and fill out the form. Help us make our parish the best it can be by sharing your ideas with us!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory 

Monday, December 26, 2022

Why is A2OCA so Important?

Why is A2OCA so Important? This is question that we need to answer, and an answer that we need to strive to share together as a parish family.

There are various ways to answer the question posed above. There are positive ways, and as Orthodox Christians we should always see things from a positive point of view. For us the glass is ALWAYS half full, even if it only has a few drops in it, because we trust that the Lord can fill what is lacking in any sort of situation. But there are negative ways to answer this question too, and although we do not prefer to look at the world from this perspective, we also cannot deny reality. We are not called to live in a fantasy, but to live in the fallen world, struggling to raise the world to a higher place by our lives as Christians. 

Positive Ways to Answer the Question Posed Above:

  • Our School Mission
    • The mission of Ann Arbor Orthodox Classical Academy is to provide a classical education in an Orthodox Christian environment, allowing our students to grow to their full human and spiritual potential, with the ability to engage society as mature followers of Jesus Christ.

  • Our School Vision
    • The vision of Ann Arbor Orthodox Classical Academy is to foster the next generation of leaders for the Church and society with fully developed minds, bodies, and souls.
  • Our School Goals
    • At A2OCA, we support our students to:
      • strive for academic success
      • develop a love of learning
      • appreciate the value of classical languages, math, science, the arts, and music
      • be creative and responsible
      • engage in a traditional learning atmosphere
  • Our school children, teachers, staff, and parents will share the same foundational values, those eternal values taught by the Holy Church. Consistency in this regard is important for our children and all those involved in their education.

Negative Ways to Answer the Question Posed Above:

  • We are not going to change your child’s gender
  • We are not going to normalize deviant sexuality (in fact, we are not going to actively purse discussions on sexuality at all – we feel that is squarely in the parents’ locus of influence)
  • We are not going to invite drag queens in to read to your children
  • We are not going to carry pornography in the library
  • We are not going to do anything to or with your child without your knowledge
    • You will never hear any adult associated with A2OCA say: “you can’t tell your parents about this”, rather, parents will know everything about their child and his/her experience at A2OCA and be the closest associates, assistants, and partners to the teachers and staff in the education of their children
  • We are not going to do any of the crazy, immoral, or evil things that are being perpetrated on children in public schools in our days. Period.

It is very easy for us to deny the reality of the things on the negative list. We know that such things can’t happen in a society which values things that are good and true and beautiful. But these things are happening in our society, which shows us what the society DOES value. Probably in some places these things happen more than others, but even somewhat rural and more conservative areas are beginning to see these sorts of shenanigans. We do not live in a rural or conservative area. :) Obviously as a society we have lost our way. That is not a radical new statement. It is not meant to invoke despondency. This is simply a statement of fact. We have written here previously about how as Christians we are not, and never have been, and never can be, consumed by society. We have talked about this many times in sermons and lectures in church. Society will always have another agenda that is more or less opposed to Christianity. For instance, the desire for religious toleration and societal political peace and continuity (all good things in the abstract) in the Byzantine Empire brought us… Iconoclasm – a terrible heresy. Those espousing this evil doctrine viciously persecuted those who refused to reject icons. Not persecutions like “you can’t join this fancy country club because you are not cool”, but persecutions like: we torture you, exile you, imprison you, kill you. 

It is not good for us to have a persecution complex. It is not good for us to overly focus on the evils of society – past or present. We are called to live in the world but not be consumed by the world. We are called to be a light to the world and to try to raise it to a higher place – towards the Heavenly Kingdom – by having the love of Christ shining so brightly in our hearts that it enlightens those around us. But it is also not good for us to live in denial. The simple fact of the matter is that as Orthodox Christians the safest path for us to deal with the educating of our children in our days is to home school them or enroll them in an Orthodox school. 

This is coming from someone who had a GREAT experience in the public schools. My public school education was excellent! Incredible really. But those days are long gone, and we have to be honest about that reality. That does not mean there are no good public schools. Many charter schools are solid. Charter school have become a kind of retreat position that many have assumed in fleeing from public education. All parents have to do what they feel is best for their children regarding education, and whatever decision you make I will do my best to support you and your children in your striving for the Heavenly Kingdom. And we are not saying that children in public schools are doomed. But as a priest, who will answer for the souls of all the children in our parish, I have to say that I cannot recommend public schools as a suitable and safe place for our children. That is not because I want to guilt you into participating in our parish school. That is because my #1 job is to do everything I can to help you and your family save your souls. And because I WILL ANSWER FOR YOUR SALVATION BEFORE THE LORD. That is a rather big deal for me as you might expect, and thus I’m going to do everything I can to to help you – even if sometimes what I say in service to this goal is a challenge to you. Spiritual challenges are good – they help us grow. 

My job is not to pat you on the hand and tell you everything is OK. My job is to take you by the hand, look you in the eye, and let you know when there is a problem. And right now there is a problem in our society – a big problem that is potentially (and almost certainly) harming our children in the public schools. This is why we are building a parish school. This is why we undertook the school project before the new church project. Not because we don’t want to build a new church. WE DO! But building a school is MORE important! Because if we don’t do this now we will not have a next generation to worship in that new church. Sure – some of our kids will make it through somehow. But take a look at the last few generations. How many made it? How many of our kids who were born in the 90s and 00s are with us every Sunday in church? If we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results we are embodying the definition of insanity. We have to do something to save our children – something other than what we have done before. Bringing them to church every Sunday and hoping that is going to overcome 5 days a week of indoctrination against everything that the Church teaches us is not sufficient. We have to make a change. And this is why we are building our school.

And this is why we need everyone – EVERYONE – to take this seriously. We need everyone on board and rowing in the same direction. To support this undertaking however you can. If you have children too old for the school right now please remember that one day you will have grandchildren. You want our parish school to be there for them. If you have no children we still need you – because you are a Christian and care about seeing the next generation of Christians in the church on Sunday – not pursuing some secular humanist fantasies or just sleeping in on Sunday mornings. You want our parish school to be there for this generation so the next has a better chance to be grounded in their faith. Is attendance at the school a guarantee that all children will live exemplary Christian lives? Of course not. Most know that Stalin was a seminarian. Orthodox education is not magic. There are no guarantees in this life except we must struggle diligently for our salvation and that we will die. But the more we can do to strengthen ourselves and our next generations in the faith while we live and struggle the better. And the school will be a GREAT aid to our children. The school is the beginning – the foundation – of training our children in Love for God and man. There is much work to do beyond providing a school for our children. But you cannot build anything without a firm foundation – and the school will provide this firm foundation. The school will be a haven from the insanity of the world for our children – and this will allow them to get their Christian bearings before they are faced with the difficult choices our world forces them to make.

Now we are raising funds to finish our school. This school is for you. If you are a parishioner of St. Vladimir’s we need your help. If you are an Orthodox Christian in Washtenaw County we need your help. If you are an Orthodox Christian who wants to help ensure the proper Christian education of the next generation of Orthodox children in Michigan we need your help. Because our school is the FIRST in Michigan, but it cannot be the last. We envision a whole series of Orthodox school across our state, educating the children of future generations and preparing them to be the future leaders of the Church. 

We ask the time, talent, and treasure of those who can support this worthy cause. In the ancient world cathedrals were built from pennies – pennies of thousands of the faithful. We invite everyone to throw in their mite, because if we all give what we can from our time, talent, and treasure then we will reach our important goal: the first Orthodox school in our Michigan. May God inspire you to support this crucial project!

To learn more about our parish school and how you can help the school succeed, please VISIT THE SCHOOL WEB SITE.

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory 

P.S. May people ask us why are we charging tuition in our school. If it is so important, should we not give away the education to everyone who asks for it? Honestly the answer is yes: we should give it away. We want to give it away. But we cannot afford to give it away unless our teachers are willing to work for no pay, DTE is willing to give us gas and electric for no cost, and we can find contractors to build and maintain our facilities for free. Unfortunately the way the education funding system works in the United States, property taxes go to the public schools. A child is welcome to leave the public schools to pursue home schooling or private education, but the child does not take his property tax funding with him. If he leaves the public schools that money stays in the public school system. Thus, the public schools have a financial monopoly, and it is not legal to provide any public funds to private schools in Michigan (or pretty much any other state, with a few exceptions). Therefore, perhaps providentially, we are forced to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. At Ann Arbor Orthodox Classical Academy we are committed to make sure that EVERY CHILD, no matter his or her family financial reality, can attend our school. What that means, given the education funding system in our country, is that not only do we need to raise funds to build our school and to pay our teachers, but we need to also raise scholarship funds for those students whose families cannot afford to pay full (or any) tuition. We believe that we are doing the Lord’s work in our school, so we trust that He will also help us raise those funds. EVERY CHILD who wants to join our school will be able to do so, but we need to build that school first, and that is principally what this note is about. However, we promise to return later and have a nice, long discussion about how and why we need to find a way to provide scholarship funds to help us make our school available to EVERY CHILD!

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Orthopraxis (Correct Practice) Corner: When Shall We Arrive at Liturgy?

This is an interesting question, actually. One can find in the fathers the admonition to not leave Liturgy early. Even that it is better to come late and stay to the end than to arrive on time and leave early. However, one can not find in the fathers the admonition NOT to come early or that it is GOOD to come late. :) And in fact, at our Diocesan Assembly in October Archbishop Peter specifically instructed the gathered delegates to spread the word that it is best to come to Liturgy early, arrange one’s prospohora, candles, etc., and be standing in one’s place when the Hours begin. On a Sunday at STV that would mean standing in place by 9:30 a.m. Not arriving by 9:30 a.m. - but arriving in time to arrange everything that needs to be arranged and be standing in one’s place by 9:30 a.m. That is a challenge – but a good one. 

As we round the corner on the Nativity Lent and our preparation for the Lord’s Nativity let us consider how we can take up this challenge and put it to use in our own spiritual lives. Ideally we grow in our faith every day, but certainly we want to focus on such growth during each of the extended Lenten periods. Putting into place an earlier arrival at the Divine Liturgy for yourself and your family would certainly be quite beneficial in your spiritual growth. This would allow you to fully participate in the Divine Liturgy, the center of our week as Orthodox Christians and the most important of the Divine Services that are all given to us for our salvation by the Holy Church! 

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Orthopraxis (Correct Practice) Corner: Transition to Audio Stream Only for 2023

At the onset of the pandemic, with the blessing of Archbishop Peter, we instituted a video live stream to better serve those who were unable to come to church. As the pandemic wore on, it was more possible to come to church, but as an exception the video live stream served those who stayed home due to medical issues. We were thankful to have this technology to support our parishioners in their spiritual lives.

As the pandemic has faded, many things associated with the pandemic have also gone away: masking, social distancing, etc. This is normal – this is how these things work. At the end of this year the video live stream will also go away.

The good news is that our high-fidelity audio live stream will continue, as it did before, during, and after the pandemic. We feel that this is a much more appropriate way for those who can not join us in person to join us in prayer. Video facilitates sitting and watching services as one watches a sporting event. Audio facilitates standing in prayer before one’s icons and praying along with the parish family. And this is how we should be when we are participating from afar: standing before the icons, lampada or candle lit, dressed in church clothes, participating prayerfully in the Divine Services; follow Divine Liturgy with a special family meal. Since the eyes are not involved there is no need to see anything – one can see all that is needed with the mind’s eye, or with the soul. And this is how we should be whether we are listening, or even more authentically and traditionally, when we are executing a Reader Service at home.

A Reader Service sounds rather daunting at first blush, but it really is not. In fact, our last lecture of the Nativity Lecture Series this year, on January 1, 2023, will be dedicated to explaining how to do a Reader Service at home. In the mean time, you can prepare for this lecture by visiting the link below, which explains this in some detail:

READER SERVICES

We hope that all our parishioners can always come to church! But we know that is not reality. So we want to arm you with options that are authentic, traditional, and accessible. Because when the parish family is at prayer we should all be at prayer – whether we are together at church or somewhere else for whatever reason.

All audio live streams will be posted on our Facebook page when they begin – just as we do the video live stream now. So if your practice is to rely on Facebook notifications do not fear – this will continue. There will be a link to click, and the audio live stream will open.

The audio live stream can be accessed during Divine Services here:

AUDIO LIVE STREAM

Please do not hesitate to contact me or Fr. Colin with questions in this regard.

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

O Lord I Have Loved the Beauty of Thy House – Let us Love it Again!

“O Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth.”
(Psalm 25:8-9)

There are few things that are quite as invigorating as as a full church, a wonderful Liturgy, communing from two chalices, etc. What a great day we had on December 4 when the feast of the Entry of the Theotokos coincided with a Sunday! It reminded one of how things were before the pandemic! Since the pandemic we have slowly been getting back to our average number of folks kissing the cross. We’ve long since surpassed pre-pandemic numbers of people partaking of Holy Communion every Sunday, but not the numbers attending. Of course, some folks fell out of the habit of going to church every Sunday during the pandemic. That is understandable, of course, but it is time for us to start working hard to reacquire that good habit. We encourage everyone to push themselves in this regard, especially during the Lenten period we are now working through as we prepare ourselves for the great feast of the Nativity of the Lord.

When Metropolitan Nicholas visited the Cincinnati parish a few weeks ago for a Wednesday Divine Liturgy the church also was full, communion took place from two chalices, the choir sang wonderfully, etc. Just like what we experienced at STV on Sunday, December 4. And Vladyka mentioned this several time during his sermon and after the Liturgy too: Orthodox Christians should strive to be in God’s House every day – not just on Sundays. But we should especially strive to be in church on Sunday, as this is the day of the Lord’s Resurrection. Every Sunday is a small Pascha. Every Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Feasts and Day of Days. And this has been the Christian practice for time immemorial. 

Let us not think that the pandemic we just experienced was the first of the Christian Era. Or the worst of the Christian Era. There have been MANY pandemics since the time our Lord walked the earth, and it is well known that the first two pandemics of the Christian Era were in fact hemorrhagic fever pandemics. That is, the disease that spread in those times killed its victims in horribly bloody and gory ways. Of course, in the end, whether killed one way or another the outcome is the same. But the Christians in those early pandemics distinguished themselves by not only caring for their own dead, but even the pagan dead. Yes – those same pagans that were seeking to wipe out Christianity. And there is an interesting correspondence between the two Roman Emperors (one in the east and one in the west) that notes this, and further notes that surely this spells the death of paganism, for the pagans run from those who die, while the Christians care for them – even at great risk to themselves.

In many ways as Orthodox Christians we strive to embody the best of those that came before us. In externals no, of course. We don’t wear Roman garb from the first century, for instance. But in the most important things, that is, things of faith and virtue, we do strive to emulate them because they point us the way to the Heavenly Kingdom.

It is time now for us to re-adjust our paradigm regarding our participation in the Church. During the pandemic this changed for many, and understandably so, but now we have to fight those demons who are suggesting to us that it is OK: we can just come to Church once in a while at our convenience, perhaps following this cadence for the rest of our lives. We survived the pandemic without going to Church every day after all. Maybe we don’t need that. Maybe just once in a while is good enough...

Those are not MY suggestions, but no doubt we struggle with those suggestions from the demons who do not have our best interest at heart. When will we finally understand and truly accept that the world does not love us as much as God does? That those that suggest that we not put God first in our lives do not care for our comfort, but use this “temptation to comfort” as a weapon to drag us down to share in their eternal destruction? Somehow those thoughts seem so logical though. After all, we have many things to do, and sleeping in and doing chores on Sunday is much more comfortable than pushing ourselves to get up and go to church EVERY WEEK. On December 4 it was hot in the church too. But it is better to be hot in the church for a short time rather than hot for eternity! :) And the Metropolitan did not call us, in his first sermon in our diocese, to seek comfort. He called us to be in church MORE often – not just on Sundays!

The pandemic paradigm of inactivity and self-indulgence has had its time. And its time has past. Like most sins it began with something good and reasonable, and over time deviated into something that is not only inappropriate for a Christian, but something that truly “misses the mark”, as the Greek word for sin can be translated. Is the expectation that every Orthodox Christian come to every Divine Service every time? Of course not – that is just not reasonable, and is perhaps also a temptation from the source of temptations that drives us towards the opposite extreme. Extremes are never conducive to salvation. But should most of us be at most services most of the time? Indeed we should. And that is not unreasonable – that should be a welcome challenge for those of us who are striving for the Heavenly Kingdom. The Lord said “...the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12). We do not take it from the couch. Or doing chores in the yard on the Lord’s Day. Or by any other way than by force – forcing ourselves to do the right thing. Forcing ourselves to peel ourselves out of bed in the morning. Forcing ourselves to the realization that this life is a time of spiritual war, as St. Paul said: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12). This metaphor of war is not symbol, an allegory, or anything else but the absolute reality of our spiritual lives. If war is the right reality, then sloth is not the right strategy for victory. We must FIGHT – and fighting to get to God’s House more often, for the renewal of our ammunition, supplies, intelligence, and other important resources towards our victory is a crucial tactic in our struggle.

Again I ask: when will we finally understand and accept that the world does not love us as much as God does? That those that suggest we not put God first in our lives do not care for our comfort, but use this temptation to comfort to drag us down to share in their eternal destruction? I would suggest that the time is NOW to embrace this understanding. Now is the time to push ourselves. Now is the time to reestablish good habits of regular churchgoing. And this too: now is the time to push ourselves not just back to our pre-pandemic status quo, but beyond that! If you were a regular Sunday morning attendee before the pandemic, since you are pushing yourself now anyway, why not push right into being a regular attendee of Saturday night Vigil too? And if you were pretty good at Saturday night and Sunday morning, then push yourself right into at least one weekday Divine Service per week. The big effort is not so much to attain to what you had, but to move yourself off the status quo. Once you’ve established momentum by moving from the status quo, the sky is the limit. 

And so, in the end, since everything that the Lord sends to us is good, we see too that the pandemic, in the end, has opportunities for good as well. Without the pandemic would we ever have changed our churchgoing habits? I mean for the better? If we are honest, the answer is: probably not. But now that we see it is time to break those pandemic habits and get back to church? In fact we can rather easily exceed our pre-pandemic practices and end up in a better place than we were when we started back in 2020!

One more word about December 4 before we close this piece. Sts. Joachim and Anna are front and center in the feast of the Entry of the Theotokos. This is because the feast is, in a nutshell, them fulfilling their vow to God to dedicate the child to Him that they prayed He send them for so many years. They followed through on their promise. They put God first not just hypothetically, but in ACTION. This is what I am suggesting to us all here: to practice our faith in action. To do what we know we need to do, and to exceed the cadence of visiting the Lord’s House that we had before the pandemic.

Glory to God for everything, dear brothers and sisters, even for the pandemic! Yes – there were bad things which came with it to be sure. But in the end it has given us the opportunity to be more diligent Christians than we were before it came upon us. To value our faith even more than before the pandemic. The Lord, in His love for us, gives us many opportunities to draw near to Him in this life. Here is yet another – and a very good one indeed. Let us take advantage of His love for us, and repay Him by acting to fulfill His will in creating mankind: that He might share His love with us for all eternity. The more we care for our souls, the more we put God first, the more we strive to live according to the Gospel, the more we align ourselves with His will to grant us the Heavenly Kingdom!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory 

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Orthopraxis (Correct Practice): Time to Review our Meal Practices

Parish Meals are Orthopraxis!

It is important for us to review all our parish family practices from time to time, and a fasting period (such as we are in now) is a good time to review our parish meal practices. Sometimes we acquire bad habits. Such a review helps us to jettison those bad habits. So, going forward at STV:

1. Guests should ALWAYS be first. Always. And there is never a time that always is not. Before clergy. Before everyone. Before anyone. Guests always go first. We need to work on this as a parish family, so please support those who forget in a loving way. This especially includes kids. It is important spiritually for us all to learn to delay our gratification, and perhaps most important for the kids to do that. We are asking for folks to wait for 1 or 2 minutes to allow guests to go first. This is a good spiritual challenge for us. Let us support each other in this regard with Christian love!

2. Meals will no longer be self service beginning Sunday, December 4. It turns out that people throw a lot of food away every Sunday, and this is completely unacceptable from an Orthodox point of view. We can not waste the Lord’s blessing. And we need to teach our children this. If they learn to waste food at church we are teaching them the OPPOSITE of what they should do as mature Orthodox Christians. By letting people take as much food as they like much of it is thrown away, and often there is not enough for those who are at the end of the line.

3. Donation for lunch: you may not have $10 for weekly lunch or $20 for Building Fund Dinner (once per month), but you probably have something you can give. Many people have gotten into the habit of eating without giving any donation at all, and this is not fair to those ladies who work so hard to prepare a meal for everyone. Yes – we have the Christian duty to be hospitable. That is unquestionably true and this will not change. But our meals also support our parish and our many ministries. The Building Fund Dinner supports the Building Fund, as you might imagine. :) These things are not unimportant. The Lord’s knows our hearts – we aren’t going to interrogate anyone. You need to be right with the Lord in this regard, and we leave it to your conscience to put in the box what you can, and if you can’t, then to put in nothing and ask the Lord’s blessings on those who provided the meal. 

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Well Done Thou Good and Faithful Servant: Repaying our Founders

If we are normal people we often think about how we can repay those that have done good to us. By normal I mean not terribly selfish people who never think about those who made it possible for them to live in this world. The list of people we have to thank is not short: there are parents of course, likely some other relatives there, mentors, certainly some teachers or professors, professional leaders that helped and guided us, and others. But we cannot, we must not, forget the founders of our parish. The parish did not spring forth from the earth just in time for you to arrive and take advantage of a parish church, a fine choir, trained clergymen, a parish cemetery, etc. The list is long. Our founders have done MUCH for us, yet if we are honest, we think of them rarely. If we never attend memorial Saturdays or services where the reposed are commemorated we may think of them… never. And that must be rectified.

The present iteration of our parish reaches back to 1981, when a few families founded St. Vladimir’s. But the Russian Orthodox presence in Ann Arbor goes back to the 1950s, when the St. Hilarion parish was founded. After Fr. Peter Demett reposed, the bishops were not able to send another priest and the nascent mission folded. The small number of those laboring for God’s glory in the 1950s and those who followed in the 1980s (there was some overlap between these two groups, not surprisingly) invested their time, talent, and treasure not just for themselves. They did it for us. Not knowing who would come after them, they tirelessly gave of themselves to plant Russian Orthodox Christianity in Ann Arbor. In other words, they invested in us, not possibly being able to comprehend the huge influx of non-Slavs who would come into the Church, the huge influx of Orthodox Christians from the former Soviet Union, and the continuing generations that would call St. Vladimir’s home. In other words, they had no idea for whom they were working, but they knew that they were working for God’s glory, and they knew that if they gave it their all He would take care of the rest.

We now stand on their shoulders. Almost all have gone to their eternal reward. Most are buried in Forest Hill Cemetery on the University of Michigan campus, and it is good for us to visit them there, which we do every year at least on Thomas Sunday, and whenever we bring another from their ranks to join their friends and loved ones there as they wait for the Common Resurrection. Their work in the Church Militant is done. They made their investment. They labored diligently and worthily. They used the talents the Lord gave them for His glory.

It is now time for us to take full and complete ownership of what they have gifted to us. And to emulate their spiritual feat. As a parish family we try to facilitate this ownership by having a monthly work day every second Saturday of the month where everyone participates. And this is good, and important. But this is not all. If we are to honor the memory of our founders we must follow their example and invest in the future. That is, to invest in those whom we do not know, but if the Lord wills, we will meet before we too go on to our eternal reward. We hope and intend to leave for the next generation a thriving eucharistic community, a school, a new church, a social hall, and more. But here we must say: success only comes before work in the dictionary. We need to work. We need to be motivated by those who had so much less than we do (almost all of them immigrants with just a few nickles to rub together) yet gave so much more of themselves: their time, their talent, and their treasure. 

If we are to accomplish all the lofty goals listed above we need to be wise. We can’t do everything at once. We have to start one and finish one. We have started and finished our cemetery. We have started and finished our barn. We have started and finished our parking lots (more will be done as we build out future phases of our campus of course). We have started the school. Now we need to finish it too. And in finishing it we will tick another box: social space for our parish community. 

This week we began the Nativity Lent. We began to prepare ourselves in earnest for the incarnation of the Lord that will be upon us in just a few short weeks. Forty days goes by in the blink of an eye, as we have learned from past experience. And we need to consider: what will I, as the Wise Men did, bring to the newly-born Christ? Of course, the ideal answer is that we will bring what they brought, that is, spiritual gifts. Gold fit for a King, Frankincense fit for the High Priest, and Myrrh fit for His burial. In other words, we must bring our souls: spiritually shining like Gold, spiritually fragrant like Frankincense, and spiritually repentant (taking advantage of the great gift that the Lord gives to us of repentance in this life, for there is no repentance in the next) in preparation for our own burial. Much of this work is spiritual, but the Magi’s gifts were material too, and we have to think about this in the light of our founders and what they gave to us. So let us first struggle spiritually, for this is always the most important of our duties as Orthodox Christians. But let us also find a way to bring at least a small additional treasure to the King of Glory, and let us participate in the <$4/week pledge drive that will make it possible for us to bequeath to our progeny (both physical and spiritual) a school that will educate our children and grandchildren (and their peers yet to come to the faith) in all that is true, and good, and beautiful; and social space in which these children and their parents can strengthen themselves through their interactions with other Orthodox Christians. And where those adults who continue to come to Christ through us unworthy ones will also be catechized and prepared to join the Ark of Salvation that is the Holy Church.

The Lord gave the cross of founding our parish and building our first facilities to those who have gone on to the next life. He has give us the cross of continuing their work and seeking to multiply the talents they passed on to us. The Lord was very clear about how this works – let us not delude ourselves into thinking that His words do not apply to us:

“For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:14-30)

To be clear, there are none of us who have been given no talents. Perhaps we have been given five, perhaps two, or perhaps only one. The servant who was given one was not punished because he was given little. He was punished because he did not use what he was given! No matter how many talents we have been given we can, and we must, unless we want to share in the “reward” of the unwise servant who received one talent and wasted it, put our talents to use! Spiritually first – always. But materially too, according to how the Lord has blessed us. Most of us can find the <$4/week that it will take for us to build our school and our hall – assuming everyone (every adult member of the parish) pitches in. If we all do – we are done! If we don’t – perhaps read the parable above again. More slowly this time. :)

May the Lord grant us a spiritually profitable fast! And may He inspire us to zealously emulate our own selfless founders who gave us so much to us. How? By giving just as much as they gave to us and MORE to the generations that will come after us!

LEARN MORE AND PLEDGE HERE

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory