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Fr. Patrick’s Meditation from Oct/Nov, 2012, Parish Newsletter

“When she saw where the soldiers had driven them, she cried out to the mountain: ‘O mountain of God, receive a mother with her child!’, and the rock opened and hid the mother and child inside itself.”

From The Prologue from Ochrid – Sept. 5, the feast day of the Holy Prophet Zacharias, the father of St. John the Baptist

(Having celebrated the conception of St. John the Baptist just a couple of Sundays ago (September 23) I was reminded of this meditation written for the 10/03 newsletter.  I thought I’d share it here again….)

Miracles!  Why are they sometimes so hard to believe?  Or maybe the question should be, “Why are some miracles simple to believe while others are simply unbelievable?”  True, there are several different levels of stories and miracles reported in the lives of the saints, from the historically accurate to what some call “legend.”  For example there is a “legend” reported in the life of our holy patron, St. Ignatius of Antioch.  The story of his martyrdom concludes with the Christians of Rome entering the coliseum when the lions had finished with the holy bishop to “gather up the heartier pieces” of his remains for proper burial.  Legend tells us that as his heart lay open on the ground the Christians discovered the letters IC XC (Jesus Christ) written in gold inside his heart.  Another legend, though much more historically feasible, tells us that when St. Ignatius was a young child he was the child whom Jesus “took… and put in the midst of [the disciples]” (Mark 9:36).  Maybe some of you have noticed that the Church has assigned this Scripture passage to be read on the feast day of St. Ignatius.

I was intrigued by the question of miracles when I read the story of the Holy Prophet Zacharias, the father of St. John the Baptist, from the September Prologue:

   “… and Zacharias was made dumb from that moment, and did not speak until his son was born and he had written on a tablet: 'His name is John.' Then his mouth was opened, and he glorified God.  Later, when the Lord Christ was born and Herod began killing the children in Bethlehem, he sent men to find Zacharias's son and kill him, for he had heard of all that had happened to Zacharias and how John was born.  Seeing the soldiers, Elisabeth took John in her arms – he was eighteen months old at that time – and fled from the house with him to a rocky and desert region.  When she saw where the soldiers had driven them, she cried out to the mountain: 'O mountain of God, receive a mother with her child!', and the rock opened and hid the mother and child inside itself.  Herod, furious that John had not been killed, ordered that Zacharias be cut down before the altar.  Zacharias's blood spilled over the marble and became as hard as stone, remaining thus as a witness to Herod's wickedness.  At the place where Elisabeth hid with John, a cave opened and a spring flowed forth, and a fruit-bearing palm grew up by God's power.  Forty days after Zacharias's death, blessed Elisabeth also entered into rest.  The child John stayed in the wilderness, fed by an angel and guarded by God's providence, until that day when he appeared by the Jordan.”

As I read this story I could not help but think about conversations I’ve had, especially with inquirers and converts to Orthodoxy, regarding the believability of such events.  I know that the part about Zacharias not speaking would be believable because it is “in the Bible.”  Maybe with some biblical awareness one might know that the Zacharias Jesus referred to in Matthew 23:35 was Zacharias, the father of St. John.  However, I can just hear the questions about the rock opening and the commonly held Orthodox tradition that St. John was raised in the wilderness and fed by an angel from about the age of two.

There are countless examples of such miracles throughout the history of the Church.  The question raised then is which ones do we “have to believe?”  My answer would be that no one is forcing anyone to believe anything specific about the life of a saint and that if someone refuses to believe certain things it is up to their conscience.  I would only caution such doubt because of what it does to nurture the passions of prideful opinion and self-reliance.  When I let myself doubt one thing, soon it can lead to another, and another, and another; and pretty soon we are questioning the Incarnation of God and the Virgin birth of Jesus, or the validity of Holy Communion and the surety of the Resurrection, or the need for the Church to guide our Christian faith.  One need not look far to see these doubts existing not only in secular atheistic circles but in some “Christian” circles as well!

As Orthodox Christians we are challenged by historical traditions which include embellished stories of many holy heroes from the past.  A grain of salt is very tiny but maybe with judicious and spiritually mature usage we can bypass the temptation to doubt and leave ourselves open not only to the possibility that such things did happen in the lives of St. Ignatius, St. John and countless others, but also to the possibility that miracles of many kinds are happening right now in the unfolding of our own lives.  Who knows, maybe one day someone will write an unbelievable story about the faith and life of one of us?

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Fr. Patrick’s Meditation from Aug/Sept, 2012, Parish Newsletter

I am often asked questions about the culture of Orthodox Christianity. When this happens I usually have to clarify the question by asking, “Do you mean… ethnic culture, spiritual culture, administrative culture, etc.?” It’s a very difficult question to answer without considering the bigger picture. First of all, Orthodoxy is not a compartmentalized culture. It is a culture of integration: faith with life and life with faith. I believe we all agree that ideally God should be included in all aspects of our lives. But is He? This is a real question which, when answered, gives the real answer to questions about the culture of Orthodoxy. The culture of Orthodox Christianity is a culture which seeks to incorporate the presence of God in all aspects of one’s life. What do we often hear when people having traveled overseas describe their experience of an Orthodox country? “I could sense the life of the Church everywhere.” This was my experience in Lebanon, at least where we visited, and I have heard the very same thing from people (Americans in particular) who have traveled in Russia, Greece, the Balkan states, etc.

Whether we like it or not the culture of the Church which stands out most starkly in America is its ethnic culture; maybe it’s because Orthodoxy’s ethnic heritage stands out so dramatically in comparison to the Anglo-Saxon culture of America. The other day I was driving down Shafer Drive when one of our neighbors stopped me to say hello. The first words out of his mouth were, “We thought we would see you at Greek Fest last Sunday. We love it. Every year we plan and meet several of our friends over there for food, especially the desserts, and for the dancing. Does your church ever think they’ll do something like this?” Over the last several years I have gained a deeper appreciation for the ethnic heritage of the Orthodox Church. Yes, I love the food and all the related cultural amenities, but more importantly what has made a bigger impression is the cohesiveness of ethnic cultures. Greeks, Middle Easterners, Slavs, at least within their own cultures, are peoples who stick together. Maybe it is somewhat easy because of the homogeneity of their cultures, but there is a very real cohesiveness within these cultures that, in my view, is worth examining.

What concerns me most, and what I am meditating on here, is the spiritual culture of Orthodox Christianity, and its ability to cohesively hold men together in a splintering world. In comparison to Western Christianity the Orthodox Church, I have heard said, seems like a dinosaur. The Orthodox Church has not “gotten with it” regarding the changing times of post-modern society. The faith demands on the Orthodox Christian today are as great as they always have been. Theological, moral, disciplinary standards have only evolved in their revelation to the Church, and their content is immutable. In comparison, author Ross Douthat had this to say about the loss of an authentic (western) Christian core which started in the mid-twentieth century: “The mainline churches made few demands on those who flocked into its ranks in the 1950’s. In effect, many members acquired only a thin gloss or a ‘veneer’ of religiosity… (and) to some of their children, even the weak requirements of church membership seemed too burdensome or too pointless to assume.” The culture of Orthodox Christian spirituality is founded upon very real “demands;” demands which cannot be altered for the sake of convenience, disagreement, or political correctness. This does not mean that there cannot be struggle with the demands of our faith, or that on a case by case basis the application of standards can be pastorally modified, but the Church’s cohesive call to holiness cannot be altered.

The most compelling question I would like to ask here is this: What’s so bad about demands? The loving demands that are put on the Orthodox Christian are there for one reason: eternal life with God. Why do men argue with this, or say they are unnecessary, and even worse, just blow them off? The truth of it is, the Orthodox Church in the west has been deeply affected by clergy and laity alike putting demands on the Church, consequently compromising this cultural foundation. Some ask, “Why should we follow the antiquated practices of Liturgy (other than on Sunday,) Festal celebrations, Confession, personal prayer, fasting, a tithing stewardship, koinonia (Christian fellowship)?” These profound practices are the very foundation of our Holy Faith and without them, sadly, we will become a mere “veneer of religiosity,” and even worse than marginalized: pointless. Maybe this is what St. Paul meant when he said, “…in the last days [men will] hold the form of religion but deny the power of it” (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

In my meditation following my trip to Lebanon I made this comment: “What impressed me was not the beauty of the Lebanese culture, but rather the faith that made the culture of the Lebanese people beautiful.” It is my hope that we can continue to grow in appreciation for our own culture of Faith. Obviously we are not an ethnically homogenous people, so there is only one cohesive Truth that can hold us together: our Orthodox Faith which so beautifully prays: “Let us love one another so that with one accord (heart/mind) we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.”

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Fr. Patrick’s ’12 Pascha Sermon

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Christ is Risen!

Just in case you’ve forgotten the reason I offer a few words at this time is not that I think I have anything important to say, but mostly to give you a rest after standing all this time.  We should be a little tired after the usual Lenten season and Holy Week, though wouldn’t you agree that it’s been a beautiful Lenten season and an inspiring Holy Week?

This is a feast of Life and a feast of Light.  In all our gifts from God nothing that we do can earn these gifts.  It’s because of God’s love for us that He gives them to us.  He wants so much for us to receive them, and to become sons and children of God; sons by adoption those who follow the Son of God.

In the world of darkness sometimes it’s hard to imagine how anybody can really come to know the Lord.  As we struggle with our desires, or sins, our uncertainties and doubts, our fallen nature, it truly is a miracle for any man, any woman or any child to be given the Light and to receive the Light, and to recognize Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of our souls, and all that He did for us.

I recall in college, when before I started coming back to the church more regularly, there was a Pascha at St. Elias Antiochian Church, a small little parish in LaCrosse, with about half the people who are here on a good day.  I hadn’t really done much that lent and when I spoke to the priest he simply encouraged me to come to church.  So I came.  And when I came that night, in spite of all my lack of preparation and relative disinterest up to that point something remarkable happened.  I cannot explain it, I guess ultimately it lead me here to this place where I now stand in these beautiful white vestments (by the way, handed down to me by His Grace, Bishop ANTHONY).

Anyway, something happened that day.  That for some reason as the people who couldn’t hold a candle to what you all sing here, so beautifully and wonderfully coordinated as always, they couldn’t hold a candle to this, somehow in the beauty of their sincere hearts and faith the Light of Christ was shown [to me].  And when they sang “Christ is Risen,” on that day, I started to believe.  I may have [believed] before that, I’m not sure, but sure after that I started to believe.  It was remarkable, the clarity after that, the clarity of everything I was hearing, which having grown up in the Greek church I didn’t really understand very much when I was a kid.  I had to follow a book and I never knew where they were so I was guessing all the time.  After I got older I figured it out.  But it all made sense.  And I knew that somehow in my youth, all those years going to church, my parents dragging me, Mom always reminding me even still today that I wasn’t always happy about going to church, they went and they took me.  We hardly ever missed [church,] maybe three times in eighteen years.  Somehow the Word of God came through all of that.  Because when you proclaim the Truth the soul hears it, when you proclaim the Truth the soul knows, whether it’s in English, Greek, Arabic, Russian, Romanian, Spanish, whatever.  Whether you understand it or not when Truth is being proclaimed it enters the heart and it rests there, it resides there until one day hopefully we respond to it with conviction, commitment and trust.

I was not in a particularly pious state of life at that time and I honestly don’t know why God gave that to me.  It was a little tiny thing but it was greater than the expanse of heaven.  For any of you who have experienced this, and I hope that you all have in one way or another, to even have a drop of this Light, a little beam of it just somehow penetrating the darkness of our lives, and we begin to see clearly of what life is for, what life is about, then things begin to make sense.  Our priorities change, the order of our lives become ordered by the will of God as we desire and pursue a life in His Kingdom not just in some distant future but today, for the Kingdom of God is near in the Resurrected Christ.  And for us to live near Christ, well, it is heaven.  Pray God help us to live near Christ and remember Him always.  We pray God give us a little grace, just a little., maybe on this night for all of us, maybe somehow through this Lenten journey and Holy Week, or maybe in the season of Pascha.  Who knows when it will come?  But as Christians here we stand ready to receive, ready to enjoy this great Feast, and to give glory to God Who loves and Who came to this earth in the flesh, Who taught us, Who healed us, Who suffered for us, Who died for us, Who was buried for us and Who rose from the dead so that He might be the first born of the dead, and that we might follow Him in the Resurrection unto Life Eternal!  May we see this clearly in the face of all that we are going through in this life; to trust in God and continue to seek Him with all our hearts, again, to live with Him now and always.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Christ is Risen!

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CHRIST IS RISEN! Pascha, 2012

Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!  Great Lent, 2012, has passed.  Holy Week is come and gone.  Pascha is here and the season of Life, Light and Joy has begun.  It was another wonderful time of preparation and celebration at St. Ignatius and we share here just a few memories of God’s blessings from this year’s Pascha.  This was the first year where inclement weather prevented us from processing outside after lighting our candles.  It is rare to have serious thunder storms so early in April.  We made do, however, and processed indoors and did the reading of the Resurrection Gospel and all the rest from in front of the closed Holy Doors.  The thunder outside could not compete with the thunderous singing of “Christ is Risen” inside!

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St. Ignatius Welcomes His Grace, Bishop ANTHONY.

His Grace Bishop ANTHONY, the newly consecrated auxiliary bishop for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America assigned to serve the Diocese of the Midwest, made his first Hierarchical visit to Madison and St. Ignatius the weekend of January 28-29, 2012. This Sunday marked a feast of the Patron Saint of our parish, St. Ignatius of Antioch and the translation of his relics (following his martyrdom at Rome in the year +106 his companions collected his remains and returned them for burial in the city of Antioch where St. Ignatius served as bishop for over 40 years).  Saidna’s visit was also in conjunction with the celebration of our parish’s 15th anniversary of our first Divine Liturgy in Madison, December 1, 1996.

The weekend was highlighted by Sunday morning’s Hierarchical Divine Liturgy presided over by His Grace. On Saturday the St. Ignatius Parish Council hosted a brunch in honor of Saidna ANTHONY and met with him to discuss the state of the parish and the scope of our ministry as Orthodox Christians in America. Following the brunch Saidna met with the children of the Church School and then offered a 90 minute seminar to the entire parish, answering many questions regarding his life and his new ministry as bishop of the Midwest. The day was concluded with Great Vespers and preparations for Sunday’s celebrations.

On Sunday following the Divine Liturgy the parish hosted Saidna for a delicious luncheon banquet where the parish presented Saidna with a small monetary gift and the gift of new hard shell luggage for safely transporting his various delicate liturgical items, especially when traveling by air. The afternoon ended with a brief presentation by Saidna and his good friend (and our priest) Fr. Patrick Kinder as they sang a few of their old KERYGMA songs: “Coming Home,” “Best Friends,” and “The Old Black Bible.”

Thank you, Saidna ANTHONY, for your love and concern for our parish! May God grant you many years as you begin this new ministry serving our beloved Archdiocese and Midwest Diocese for many years to come!

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