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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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Annual Outdoor Blessing of the Waters

On the Sunday following the celebration of the Great Feast of our Lord’s Theophany and Baptism in the river Jordon (January 6) the parish of St. Ignatius gathers at a parishioner’s home on the shore of Lake Kegonsa in Stoughton, WI, to offer the prayers of the Outdoor Blessing of the water.

 

Why the blessing of the waters? Fr. Thomas Hopko explains, “Since the Son of God has taken human flesh and has appeared in the world, manifesting Himself in His baptism in the Jordan, all flesh and all matter is sanctified. Everything which is corrupted and polluted by the sinful works of men is cleansed and purified by the gracious works of God. All death-dealing powers of the devil which poison the good world of God’s creation are destroyed. All things are again made new. Through the ‘prime element’ of water on the feast of the (Theophany) the entire creation is shown to be sanctified by God’s Word through the same Spirit of God who ‘in the beginning… was moving over the face of the waters.”

Following the prayers we returned to the house for a delicious pot-luck meal and a joyful afternoon of fellowship.

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Axios! He is Worthy! Congratulations to the newly consecrated Bishop ANTHONY, Bishop JOHN, Bishop NICHOLAS!

It will be impossible to fully describe the events of this past week, culminating in the Patriachal Divine Liturgy celebrated at Holy Dormition Church at the Balamand Seminary on Sunday, December 11, 2011, where three new auxiliary bishops, His Grace, Bishop JOHN Abdula, His Grace, Bishop ANTHONY Michaels, and His Grace, Bishop NICHOLAS Ozone, were consecrated to serve the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.

For Bishop ANTHONY the trip began in the Twin Cities on December 7 as we flew from the Minneapolis airport to Paris to Beirut.  This long night (and day) ended with our arrival in Beirut at 7pm local time where we met the rest of the United States delegation led by His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH of Los Angeles, and headed to our hotel in the ancient sea port city of Byblos on the northern coast of Lebanon.

There was much scheduled for this trip, eagerly planned by Mr. Fawaz El-Khoury, including seeing many wonderful sights: From the great Mediterranean Sea to the snow capped Mt. Lebanon with it’s great cedar trees, from the Balamand to monasteries to village churches to St. George Cathedral in downtown Beirut, a short trip to Tripoli and visits to the family villages of Bishops JOHN (Duma) and ANTHONY (Al-Hiat), and staying at the Byblos Sur Mer hotel overlooking the great Mediterranean, a hotel that is virtually built into the ruins of a 12th century crusader fortress.

Our first full day together took us to right to the Balamand to be greeted by and receive the blessing of His Beautitude, Patriarch IGNATIUS IV.  His warm and energetic welcome reminded us of our Christian unity with the Mother Church of Antioch.  His Beatitude, now 94 years old, is as vibrant as ever.  It was amazing to hear and see how he has advanced just the Balamand alone during his many years of service to Christ in the Holy Office of Patriarch of Antioch.

Of course, his warmth and enthusiasm translated itself to the main purpose of our trip and all the events relating to the consecration of our new bishops.  His Beatitude was surrounded by 12 other Metropolitans and Bishops, as well several priests (at least six sponsors for the newly elected bishops) and deacons, as chief celebrant of this blessed event.  Being at the altar with His Beatitude and all the men, and being directly involved in the liturgical service, was truly an indescribable experience.

I passed today on a trip to see the ancient Roman ruins at Baalbek in eastern Lebanon.  We’ve had an amazing experience in Lebanon but today, as we prepare for our departure for the states (a 2:05am flight out of Beirut,) I am honestly tired of sitting in a bus and hope to enjoy our last day in Byblos with a walk along the sea coast and maybe a little time spent walking the streets of this beautiful ancient city.  There certainly is much more to say about this experience but I will close by saying how deeply impressed I am with my first experience of international travel, and in particular travel to this place of such history.  My America is only 300 years old… a drop in the bucket to the stones upon which I am now standing.  I look forward to returning home, to my family, to my church, to celebrating the first Hierarchical Divine Liturgy of our new Bishop ANTHONY, next weekend (Dec. 18) in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and to the rest of the Nativity Fast and all the celebrations of Christmas & Theophany.  This has been a wonderful experience.   I am so grateful to my parish and their generous gift which supported my travel to this once-in-a-lifetime event.

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