Saturday, February 10, 2018

Annual Meeting Reports and Other Documents

Friends,

Below please find the pertinent documents and reports that are presently available for tomorrow's Annual Parish Assembly (as of 1200 2/10/18). We hope that by publishing these before the meeting you will have the opportunity to read these ahead of time, thus utilizing the short time allotted to each oral report (5 minutes + 5 minutes of question and answer time) for more questions and discussion than reporting.

Annual Meeting Letter & Agenda

Annual Meeting Ballot

Annual Meeting Rector's Report

Annual Meeting Brotherhood Report

Annual Meeting Youth Group Report

Annual Meeting IOCC Parish Report

Parish Day School Proposal 1/2*

Parish Day School Proposal 2/2*

*Technical problems make it impossible to combine these into one document. We ask your forgiveness for this inconvenience.

Please note: there will be a special parish assembly in the next few months to elect representatives to the tri-annual diocesan assembly to be held in Des Plaines, IL this June. More information on that will soon be available.

Please contact me with questions.

In Christ,

Fr. Gregory

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Parish Council Information

Parish Council meetings are scheduled for the following dates for the 2017-18 year:

3/26/17 STV
4/24/17 CC
5/22/17 CC
6/18/17 STV
7/24/17 CC
8/21/17 CC
9/10/17 STV
10/30/17 CC
11/27/17 CC
12/17/17 STV
1/22/18 CC
2/11/18 AM

STV = at St. Vladimir's (during the weekly parish meal)
CC = Conference Call (generally evenings, but these times can vary - contact Fr. Gregory or Jack for exact details)
AM = Annual Meeting

St. Vladimir's Parish Family members are welcome to attend these meetings or to discuss issues they deem important with Fr. Gregory, Jack, or any Parish Council member. Deviations from this schedule are posted on the St. Vladimir home page in the "Announcements" section.

Those who would like to review Parish Council minutes are asked to contact Fr. Gregory or Jack. Minutes may be reviewed by any St. Vladimir parish member.

2017-18 Parish Council Members

Priest Gregory Joyce, Rector
Starosta: Jack (Alexey) Mitchell (1st year of 3-year term)
Treasurer: Mikhail Fisenkov
Secretary: Alexandre Alexandrov

Parish Council Trustees:

Marina Edwards
Dimitry Knysh
Nathan (Nathaniel) Longan
Igor Obertas
Natalia Veniaminova

2017-18 Auditing Committee:

Gleb Obertas
Donald Skalitzky

2017-18 Russian with Love Representatives:

Alexandre Alexandrov
Ken (Peter) Doll

Additional information regarding the Parish Council is below.

Normal Parish Bylaws

Organizational Chart - Normal Parish Bylaws

Rights and Duties of Parish Rectors

Instructions to Church Wardens

Sisterhood Statutes

Brotherhood Statutes

Monday, November 27, 2017

What is our work? What is our goal in life? What is our purpose?

“Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life...” (John 6:27)

What is our labor, that is, what is our work as Christians? This is obvious on some level: our work is our career, and we fit Christ and His Church in where there is room. Work comes first. Then family. And then God.

Although it is good that God is in the equation, of course the above statement is completely backwards. Probably that is pretty clear to most, but less so to others. To understand a concept hypothetically correctly is not the same as modeling that hypothetical understanding as a reality in our everyday lives. As Christians we are to be lovers of labor, are we not? Yes – that is true. And the Lord said in Genesis when casting Adam and Eve out of Paradise that we would eat our bread by the sweat of our brow, did He not? Yes – that is true too. The problem is not the facts – we know these. The problem is how we apply these facts to our lives – how we apply theory to practice.

I think this excerpt from the Apostolic Constitutions is helpful for us as we consider this question of applying theory to practice:

“...the occupations of the faithful are a sideline, whereas worship of God is their real work. Therefore, make your occupations a sideline, for your sustenance, but make worship of God your main business, as the Lord said: ‘Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life’ (John 6:27); and again, ‘Jesus answered and said until them, this is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent.’ (John 6:29)”

The quotations from St. John’s gospel above are the words of the Lord himself – not the commentary of the Evangelist. Interpreting these, and the piece above from the Apostolic Constitutions, St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite writes in his outstanding book Christian Morality:

“Christians should regard their occupations and handiwork … not as vocations, [but only] for the sake of earning their livelihood, and … they should regard prayer and piety as their work and occupation primarily and intrinsically.” (p. 270)

Prayer and piety are our occupation. And what then is our goal? St. Theophan the Recluse informs us here:

“True, one may know man’s final goal: communion with God. And one may describe the path to it: faith, and walking in the commandments, with the aid of divine grace. One need only say in addition: here is the path - start walking!” (St. Theophan The Recluse, The Path to Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual Transformation)

St. Theophan is talking here about salvation of course. Yes – communion with God in this life (St. Seraphim calls it the acquisition of the Holy spirit below), but a transfiguration which continues into the next life as well. This is salvation from the Orthodox understanding. Not just morality; not just being good – these are the foundations upon which is built transfiguration in this life into the sons and daughters of God, and eternity with Him in the next life. The theological term for this is theosis, and you can find an outstanding pamphlet about this here where you can learn more – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:

“Theosis: The True Pupose of Human Life” by Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios, Mount Athos (http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/theosis.aspx)

So our work is prayer and our goal is salvation. Our purpose in this life is do everything we can do to support these. All else must be secondary. We ourselves should be, at best, third place in our priorities.

1. God (that is, our work of prayer and piety, leading to our goal/purpose)
2. Our neighbor (service to others for the sake of Christ is a crucial aspect of striving for our salvation – see below)
3. Ourselves

St. Seraphim of Sarov instructs us here:

“Fasting, prayer, alms, and every other good Christian deed is good in itself, but the purpose of the Christian life consists not only in the fulfillment of one or another of them. The true purpose of our Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. But fasting, prayer, alms and every good deed done for the sake of Christ is a means to the attainment of the Holy Spirit. Note that only good deeds done for the sake of Christ bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Everything else that is not done for the sake of Christ, even if it is good, does not bring us a reward in the life to come, nor does it bring the grace of God in this life. This is why our Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Whoever gathereth not with me scattereth’ (Matt. 12:30). (St. Seraphim of Sarov, “Conversation on the Goal of the Christian Life”)

See also, of course, the list of good deeds that we are to accomplish in this life in Matthew’s 25th chapter: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, giving shelter to the stranger, visiting those in prison and who are ill.

To me this is all great news! There is no secret as to what we must do – how we must spend the precious and fleeting time gifted to us in this life. Given that struggle is part and parcel of our Orthodox lives, now all we have to do is get our priorities in order. And work. As St. Theophan says above: “here is the path – start walking!”

And perhaps we should leave it at that. But I fear if we do we are missing something rather crucial: our children. It is wonderful for us to get our own priorities straight, but if we do not actively make it clear to our children that our work is prayer and our goal is salvation and everything else is secondary we have, at best, done half the job. Certainly no one will argue with this. It is good to include the kids. Get them involved. Tell them the right things. BUT – if we are honest – we at best give this lip service. Here is an example from our parish Church School which helps to illustrate this. I have been teaching Church School since we founded our school at St. Vladimir’s about 15 years ago. It did not take long for me to realize that the absolute LAST priority that parents have during the week is to see to it that their kids do their Church School homework and come to class prepared. Last. Nothing is lower. Other school work, sports, music, everything is given a higher priority in the average home. Of course there are exceptions. But they are few. For the most part the kids do not even look at their Church School books from the moment they leave my class on Saturday until they return 167 hours later the next Saturday. Undoubtedly this is due almost exclusively to my own significant shortcomings as a teacher which lead to me not motivating the students appropriately. I am not upset at this reality. However, I am arguing here that this reality is not acceptable for us as Orthodox Christians, not matter how bad a teacher might be (in this example), but despite the shortcomings of others in any example. That we need to do more than pay lip service to making God #1 in our lives. We need to model it ourselves and we need to teach it to our children in word and deed.

Thank God, the Nativity Lent is upon us! Lenten periods are excellent times of year to assess our spiritual priorities and make needed changes. If we all sincerely reflect on our priorities I am sure – my family included – we will make changes in the way we approach our spiritual lives. For example, we will MAKE time for the Divine Services, rather than squeezing them in when there is “free time”. St. Nicodemus writes in the same Christian Morality that I quote above that it is a shame that in his time laxity has become such a problem that people no longer go to church twice per day as they are required to do. Yes – twice per day. Of course, if they miss one visit because they live too far from church or something happens on the farm they can make up for this by spending an hour, or at the very least 30 minutes, standing in front of the icons and completing 300 Jesus Prayers with prostrations. I am not suggesting we adopt this practice. If we all came to church twice per day that would be wonderful, but given our spiritual level in our days let us plan to walk before we run, and come to church every Saturday night in addition to Sunday morning during the upcoming Lenten period. Just add Saturday night to your usual Sunday morning visit to St. Vladimir’s. And if you are already a regular worshiper on Saturday nights try to add one more service to your schedule during the week during this Lent – just one more. If we can do this, we don’t just talk the talk of prayer and piety, but we begin to walk that walk. And this is what our children need from us: not words – but action. Or perhaps better put, actions that reflect our words. May God strengthen us all to undertake a sincere struggle while asking the Lord’s blessing on this struggle. If we do this we can have great hope that the upcoming fast will be one which is for us and our family truly salvific. May God grant it!

Fr. Gregory

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

===

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