Friday, September 27, 2019

2019-20 Church School is in Session

On Saturday, September 21 our Church School year began. The Church School students and instructors participated in the Divine Liturgy on this day for the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God and partook of the Holy Mysteries. After the Liturgy a birthday party for the Mother of God was sponsored by the Church School, which was a lot of fun, but which was also a Church School lesson in disguise! The children learned much about the holiday at the party, as did their parents and all who were present. Pictures from the festivities can be found at the link below:

It is still not too late to register your child for Church School! Visit this link to do so now:

Thank you to all who made the first day of Church School such a resounding success!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

We Share What We Have: Let us Fight Reverse Evangelism!

Dear Friends,

It is important for us to continue to discuss evangelism. This is something that we should be making an effort in every day. Daily we should be making a sincere attempt to live the Gospel – the law of love that our Lord gave to us and which is our rich Christian inheritance. And when we live that inheritance – when we place love first – Christian love – we are conducting evangelism. And evangelism of the best kind: evangelism by example. Not evangelism that we should find pride in, but just quietly going about our everyday lives with Christ at the center. Love first. This is a good short prayer for us and which we could pray before every encounter with another: love first! The love that our Lord came to teach to us and which He instructed us to share: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)

But in order to live the life that our Lord instructed us to live we have to know what we are to do. How can we do that? For as we have said many times: you cannot share what you do not have. The way to learn the way of life that our Lord taught us is first and foremost to read His words. We must read His instruction manual! And where do we find these secret instructions? Well – these are only secret in as much as we all ow our Bible to be covered in dust, for the instructions of the Lord are not secret at all! His words are not hidden! They can be found in the Gospel. The first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And thus it behooves us to read the Gospel regularly. Ideally we would all read the daily scripture readings as appointed by the Holy Church, for the Church, as a loving mother, provides sustenance for her children daily: the spiritual sustenance of the Divine Scriptures. We can find these readings on the calendar that we send to all our parishioners each year, in our weekly bulletin “Sunday Reading”, on our web site (published at 6:00 p.m. every Sunday for the coming week), and also daily on our web site at the top of the page. In fact, one must work rather diligently NOT to find these readings. :)

The reading of the Gospel is not magic of course. And this is only a part of our spiritual struggle as Orthodox Christians. But it is a good part. And an important part. And a relatively easy way to add significant value to our Christian lives with a small investment of time. And the Gospel books are the simplest of the Scriptures to understand. The language is very accessible and easy to grasp. That is not to say that we never need any help understanding these books, but quite often we do not. And when we have trouble understanding we can ask one of our priests. Or ask our Librarian John Hill to help us with a recommendation on a scriptural commentary that would be useful for us.

We cannot share what we do not have! Let us begin to acquire the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ in a zealous way, and let us begin by regularly reading His words in the Gospels. BUT: we often do share what we do have – what we all have – our falleness, pride, anger, fear, etc. Unfortunately we have all acquired – to a greater of lesser extent – these vices. And just as we share the love of Christ when He reigns in our hearts, we share a sharp word, an unkind remark, an evil glance when He does not. In fact, I would submit that whether we like it or not, we share what we have. We essentially cannot help ourselves. We need to understand this reality: whatever we have permeating our hearts is shared with others. If Christian Love – then we share Christ, whether we want to or not. If not Christian Love – then we share whatever vice saturates our heart, whether we want to or not. We cannot NOT share what reigns within us. Thus we must make a choice: allow ourselves to be filed with the love of Christ and share that – or allow ourselves to be filled with vices and share those.

On one hand we are tempted to think of this as a personal issue. But it is not, for as we often say: we perish alone and we are saved in community. Put another way: we cannot help those to be saved that we drive out of the community. And here we reach the crux of our sharing “problem.” We do not just hurt ourselves when we share the vices that we refuse to at least make a sincere effort to excise from ourselves. We often “share” others right out of the community. And we use our demonic superpower – self justification – to ensure we do not stop until we have driven away all those who do not conform to our personal standards. We forget Christ’s standards: He associated with Publicans, harlots, sinners, lepers, Samaritans, and others who were outcasts of proper society. He did not come to associate with the best of society, but quite frankly to associate with the worst. This is not to say that we should not have standards in our Christian community – of course we must. But these should be VERY broad. We should be MAXIMALLY welcoming. And the standards must be applied with Christian love. We must be maximally welcoming not just to strangers (that is easy), but to our children, our friends, our fellow Christian pilgrims.

Let me try to make this point clearer by providing an example. As our kids grow up they sometimes decide to grow out their hair, or cut it in a unique way, or maybe to get one too many piercings. I do not rejoice at this and I am not promoting this, but is it necessary for everyone to make some smart remark to a kid (because that is what they are – they may have an adult’s body but they still mostly have a child’s brain until they are 25 or so) who comes with an unusual haircut or a new earring? The answer is no. You don’t have to make that smart remark. You can actually be quiet. St. Seraphim of Sarov said that there will be few at the last judgment that will repent for having said too little. And if you just MUST say something, then say it to God: pray for the person that you judge must be instructed – let God instruct and do not trust yourself to do so, for you have not received a blessing for the ministry of instruction. You need to know that your silly judging of the child not only hurts your soul, but his or hers. And even more importantly: for every person you drive from the Church you will answer for that person’s life. Yes – their whole life, immoral as it may become uninformed by the guidance of the Church. And this holds true for an odd haircut, not quite being dressed just right, or whatever. It is MUCH better to shut one’s mouth and open one’s heart in prayer than to risk having to answer at the last judgment for driving “ of these little ones...” (Matthew 18) from God’s House.

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 18:10)

Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:14)

The driving of others from God’s House is reverse evangelism – not something we want to engage in to be sure. But something we are want to do if we do not fill ourselves with Christ. As a parish we are trying to bring more people to Christ – this doesn’t work well if most are welcoming and others are working hard to drive the new people out the door at the very same time!

We will be evangelists of one sort or another – we will conduct evangelism by sharing what we have. We cannot share what we do not have, but we cannot NOT share what we do have. What is in our hearts WILL come out. Let us decide today – this very minute as we finish reading this note – that we will make every effort to fill our hearts with the law of love that our Lord brought us in His Holy Gospel. And by doing so we can have great hope that we will be able to drive away from ourselves all those things that we do NOT want to share. That we will become so full of Christian Love that there will be no space in us whatsoever for anything opposed to Christ! With the Lord’s help all things are possible, so let us trust in Him, make our effort, and get to work on our evangelism – spreading the love of Christ that can be within us if we only sincerely try! And if we can all do this we will bring many others to Christ, for the world is seeking this authentic love and the peace that subsequently comes from this love residing in our hearts. St. Seraphim of Sarov said: “...acquire the spirit of peace and 1000 around you will be saved.” We are going to have to redesign our future parish church if that is the case, and it can be the case, and it must be the case if we will only earnestly try!

May the Lord help us all to get to our 1000! The directions on how to begin to do it are above.

In Christ,

Fr. Gregory

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Evangelism is as Simple as a Quiet Conversation


I would like to continue our discussion about Orthodox Evangelism here. I am going to try to post something on Blogtushka each Wednesday. Mostly in this regard, but certainly we will discuss other things. Please pray for me that I get this important job done.

There are certain sorts of tactics in conducting evangelism that take time, treasure, and talent to execute. The Russian Festival is one of those things. But there are other things that DO NOT take much time, treasure, or talent to execute. One of those is the sharing of business cards. I’d like to start our renewed evangelism efforts with this simple tactic. I have lots of business cards. So does Fr. Moses. We do not buy business cards to save them – we buy them to share them! And it is SO POWERFUL when parishioners share these business cards with friends. If your friends know that you are attending St. Vladimir’s they are going to ask you about it. That is the way that things work in America – people want to have these sorts of conversations. And to be honest: there are MANY people who are quietly, almost ashamedly, looking for a place to worship on Sunday morning. A recent poll indicated that 80% of people in America would attend church on a Sunday morning IF THEY WERE JUST ASKED! But to make this even easier, share a business card and say something like “...check out our web site and then let me know if you’d like to go with me to church some Sunday – I would be happy to have you join me anytime.” If we don’t ask we are essentially keeping our loved ones away!

This is the sort of evangelism that is normal for Orthodox people. We don’t go door to door and attack people in their homes or attack them on the streets. But to have a quiet and pleasant conversation with a friend and encourage that friend to join us on Sunday morning (not to go alone, but to go WITH US) is fully in line with us sharing the good news of the Gospel. Or to put it another way: to share the cure for death! Because that is what the Lord brought us – the cure for death. For with Christ there is no death, but only eternal life. This is what people want! This is what they are seeking! And if we give them an opportunity to find it – they will grab on to it with both arms!

This Sunday we will have big stacks of business cards – both mine and Fr. Moses’ - on the literature table. Take some of each and use them! Give them to friends, loved ones, co-workers. Give them with love – the love of Christ that you have within you. And with a warm invitation to have them join you on some coming Sunday morning. If the person is already involved in a church and can’t come Sunday – invite them for Saturday evening services! And if they can’t do that – invite them for Wednesday evening services! But YOU have to put skin in the game. You can’t ask them to come without you. Everyone needs a little hand-holding as they approach the Lord. YOU are called to do that hand-holding.

Grab business cards this Sunday! If you miss it – grab them next Sunday. Or ask us – we are HAPPY to give away our business cards for the glory of God. May He strengthen you as your work to spread His love to your close ones!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Friday, September 13, 2019

Orthodox Evangelism – an Oxymoron?

I am reading a great book right now: “100 Natural Ways to Grow a Church – A Guide to Orthodox Evangelism in North America.” What is Evangelism? That is a Protestant thing, no? NO IT IS NOT – this is an ORTHODOX thing. Protestants might do this better than we do at this point in history, but it is time to take back that standard! Evangelism is the spreading of the Gospel. You know who did that first? The Apostles. And do you know what Church they belonged to? The ORTHODOX CHURCH!

This is our birthright, and this is our obligation. We’ll be talking a lot about this going forward in our parish, including forming a group that will have a sharp focus on this important part of being a living, growing, thriving Christian community. I think we should begin to examine everything we are doing in our parish family through two perspectives: how does this effort serve our parish family -AND- how does this effort welcome new people to God’s Church? This is not to say we should stop anything that we are doing. It is to say: can we tweak what we are doing so it more actively and warmly welcomes new people to our parish?

Evangelism happens in two ways: when people come to us and when we go out to people. There are very Orthodox ways to do both of these things. And there are very NOT Orthodox ways to do both of these things. We will work on training ourselves to do this the right way – the Orthodox way – over the course of the next few months and years. Everyone will participate in some active way in this effort. Some will “do stuff”. Others will pray. And the prayer is just as important – maybe MORE important – as the “doing stuff” that has to be done to welcome those who come to us of their own accord AND those that we go out to meet and invite to the Lord’s House.

There are sort of two pivotal instructions from our Lord in this regard:

1. THE GREAT COMMISSION: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

2. THE GREAT COMMANDMENT: “...thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

A lot of this work will be small paradigm shifts on our part. For instance, we have a festival coming up this weekend. We are all working like crazy to make the festival happen and to make it successful using the metrics of financial success and bringing new people to the Church. Do you know what that “bringing new people to the Church” metric is? EVANGELISM! And as we think about what we do – and with God’s help and with our parish family’s hard work we do a lot – in the light of Evangelism we will get better and better at making the Orthodox Church a place for those who are seeking God. We’ve got the Pearl of Great Price – and it is not ours to hide. We need to share it! The Great Commission is not an option, and neither is the Great Commandment. We are called to fulfill these instructions of our Lord! Can we do it! We CAN do it if we work hard and ask God’s blessing on our work!

Keep an eye out here for more on this topic. How you can work. How you can pray. What you can do. Consider subscribing to Blogtushka so you don’t miss any updates. The Lord put us in this time and place so that we could best save our souls to be sure, but He also did that because it is our job to sanctify this place. To fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment with zeal and Christian Love. And to do it in a way that is fully and authentically Orthodox. Let’s start with this weekend’s festival! Let it be a warm welcome to all those in our community who are not yet part of our parish family! And if we do this with the love of Christ shining within us we will have begun to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. BEGUN! There is more to do of course. May the Lord guide us, bless us, inspire us, and strengthen us to hearken to His words and to actualize them in our lives!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Festival Communications & Temptations


Thank God we have gotten to the time of the year where we have the opportunity to slay the temptations! Our festival takes a lot of work and a lot of people spend a lot of time to make this happen. So people get tired. And they don’t think before they speak. Which means they sometimes say hurtful or ignorant things. We have a choice then how we answer. We can slay the temptations by showing Christian love and humility, or we can stoke the passions by returning evil. You don’t need me to tell you what the right thing to do is. But maybe these tactics will help you to be more successful in doing the right thing.

1. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) writes in his manual for priest on confession that if we could just think before we speak we could avoid 75% of our sins. That’s a big number! And if you think about it, you will probably agree that this is just about right. Think first. Then speak. Or return the text that you just got insulted at. Or whatever. THINK. Then act as a Christian.

2. ASSUME OTHERS HAVE GOOD MOTIVES. Most people want to do and say the right thing. Sometimes it seems that this is not the case, but this is OUR problem – not theirs. Assume your brother or sister desires to do good and that YOU are the problem if you are interpreting their actions or words in any other way but good.

3. MAKE EXCUSES FOR OTHERS – NOT FOR OURSELVES. The fathers say that we should make excuses for the bad behavior of others, but never excuse ourselves in this regard. We don’t know what is in the heart of another. If someone acts out or speaks out we should assume their dog got hit by a car earlier in the day, or their mother just told them she has cancer, or whatever. Excuse others. Hold yourself to the highest standard of interpersonal communication. That is the Orthodox way.

4. NO ONE IS CLAIRVOYANT IN OUR PARISH. At least to the best of my knowledge. So we do have to tell people if there is a problem. If no one can read our minds then it makes no sense to hold a grudge or speak out against someone for something you have never told them is an issue. Communicate with love, but communicate clearly.

5. FORGIVE. We are all trying to give our best to God this week. But these words of the Lord should be ringing in our ears as we make our efforts:

“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

Our labor is our gift to God. But if we are not actively forgiving others then our gift is wasted. Let’s not waste our gift! We are all giving a lot! But let us give as a Christian: with love and forgiveness. Then the Lord will accept our gift.

Now – read everything above one more time. And then this: let’s get out there and have the best festival ever AND slay the temptations as a parish family as we do it!

Fr. Gregory