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Fr. Patrick’s Meditation from March 2013 Parish Newsletter

   “Through contemplation one comes to understand the changeable nature of visible created things: how they derive from the earth and return again to the earth.  All human affairs, all that does not exist after death, are vanity.  Riches vanish.  Glory leaves us.  When death comes, all such things disappear.”                                                                                                                           – St. Peter of Damascus

     There is never a wrong time to set our minds on eternity.  Often I find myself wondering if I’m prepared, wondering what I need to do to be prepared, or if I’m ready to do what it takes to be prepared.  I think about it for others, especially those whom God has put in my care as their priest, father confessor and friend.

     For a long time now I’ve been aware of just how impermanent life is.  “For a long time now,” means that there was also a good portion of my life when I was either ignorant of or in denial of life’s impermanence.  I would partially attribute my naïveté to a beautiful family upbringing and the sense I was given that, “the way things are is the way things would always be.”  I lived in the same house for my entire youth, (where my mother still lives – even now, just a few blocks away), I attended one grade school and one high school, our extended family gathered weekly for “any ol’ reason,” my father worked at the same job for 37 years, my parents were married for 42 years when my father died and they maintained many childhood friendships, with Mom still holding dear her friends of 60-70 years.  Truthfully, I would consider it a blessing to be able to give my own son at least some sense of this blessed permanence.

     Reality does set in, inevitably, when change occurs, coloring the construct of our thoughts.  But I have to admit that sometimes my earlier formations, though in so many ways were blessed, are even still today difficult to overcome.

     I consider this topic because of the approaching Great Lent and the journey we as Orthodox Christians are preparing to make, entering again into our Lord’s death and resurrection; more than just a symbol of eternity this journey is the encapsulation of Truth – the Truth that our eternal God has created for nothing less than eternity, and we, His beloved, were created for it.

     What compelled St. Peter of Damascus to write the above?  According to the Prologue of Ochrid, this St. Peter (commemorated Feb. 9) spoke out strongly against Islam as well as the Manichean heresy.  For this the Arabs cut out his tongue and exiled him, where it is said God continued to give him the power of speech and the blessing of bringing many to the Christian faith before dying as a confessor and martyr.  St. Peter’s entire life exhibits urgency for faith and the readiness to abandon all worldly cares – even life itself – for the sake of the eternal Kingdom of God.

     Shakespeare’s “Me thinks thou doth protest too much” often comes to mind when I discuss (more often argue) the world’s influence upon our lives, especially but not exclusively with our youth.  It may not be easy to hear but I have no doubt that we are as “frogs in the pot” while the temperature of the culture heats up around us.  Excessive political correctness, affirming alternate lifestyles, muddied moral standards, infatuation with entertainment and pop-culture, supporting the choice to kill the innocent, and an increasing dependence on politicians to define fairness are just a few of the issues of our time that confuse (distract) even Christians.

     My point in all of this is that (post) modern life is filled with distractions that no longer inspire a beautiful sense of permanence but rather provoke a perilous attachment to the impermanent vanity of the world.  What can we do to see this clearly and be men and women of heavenly minds?  Men like Peter of Damascus model for us exactly what we need: desire for God, faith, prayer, self-denial, contemplation, and even exile!  In a way Great Lent is a voluntary, mini-exile, as we do what we can for a season to live in a “Lenten” manner.  More than anything we ask God that on Pascha we might “Behold Thy glorious Resurrection.”  But to behold the eternal we must also strongly desire the eternal, which begins every time we “exile” ourselves (in and out of Lent) from vain and vanishing “human affairs.”

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St. Ignatius Youth Fellowship Sledding Night

The St. Ignatius Youth Fellowship gathered at Fr. Patrick & Kh. Vanessa's house on Friday, January 4, for an evening of holiday fellowship and fun.  The evening began with hors d'oeuvres and a Greek chicken dinner, and was followed by a fun time of sledding behind the school across the street from the Kinder's.  The evening ended with a White Elephant gift exchange and lots of laughs!

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Welcome Bishop ANTHONY Celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas

Between pastoral visits to St. Elias, LaCrosse, WI, for their 100th Anniversary on December 1-2, 2012, and St. Nicholas, Grand Rapids, MI, December 8-9, Saidna ANTHONY was able to pass through Madison just in time to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas with a Hierarchical Vesperal Liturgy the evening of December 5.  We were overjoyed to host Saidna in Madison for a couple of days where he could take a little rest between his pastoral visits and celebrate the memory of this great Saint of the Christian Church.  The evening was highlighted with the celebration of Holy Communion with a wonderfully prepared dinner following the Divine Liturgy.

 

Saidna took some time to field questions from those present, questions relating to the state of the Orthodox Episcopacy in America, to the topic evolution, to the important issue of working with our children, especially regarding friendships in the world and the finding of faith compatability in potential spouses.  Saidna preached at the liturgy on the Gospel of St. John chapter 10 and the life of the active Christian as demonstrated by St. Nicholas: Bishop ANTHONY part 1, Bishop ANTHONY part 2, Bishop ANTHONY part 3Bishop ANTHONY part 4.  It was also a special celebration because we were almost one year to the day of the first anniversary of Saidna's consecration to the episcopacy.  We look forward to Saidna's next visit sometime in 2013.  May God grant him many years!

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A Christmas Homily- St. Gregory of Nazianzus +380 from December ’12 Newsletter

     Christ is born, glorify Him. Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him. Christ on earth, be exalted.  Sing to the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him who is of heaven and then of earth.  Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope.

     Again, the darkness is past; again Light is made; again Egypt is punished with darkness; again Israel is enlightened by a pillar.  The people who sat in the darkness of ignorance, let them see the great Light full of knowledge.  Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new.  The letter gives way, the Spirit comes to the front.  The shadows flee away, the truth comes in on them.  Melchizedek is concluded.  He who was without Mother becomes without Father (without mother of His former state, without father of His second).  The laws of nature are upset; the world above must be filled.  Christ commands it, let us not set ourselves against Him.  O clap your hands together all you people, because unto us a Child is born, and a Son given unto us, whose government is upon His shoulder (for with the cross it is raised up), and His name is called The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father.  Let John cry, prepare the way of the Lord; I too will cry the power of this Day.  He who is not carnal is Incarnate; the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.  Let the Jews be offended, let the Greeks deride; let heretics talk until their tongues ache.  Then shall they believe, when they see Him ascending into heaven; and if not then, yet when they see Him coming out of heaven and sitting as Judge.

     This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating today, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God – that putting off of the old man, we might put on the new; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him.  For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and as the painful succeeded the more blissful, so must the more blissful come out of the painful.  For where sin abounded grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more does the passion of Christ justify us?  Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him who is ours, or rather as our master's; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation…

     The very Son of God, older than the ages, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the incorporeal, the beginning of beginning, the light of light, the fountain of life and immortality, the image of the archetype, the immovable seal, the perfect likeness, the definition and word of the Father: he it is who comes to his own image and takes our nature for the good of our nature, and unites himself to an intelligent soul for the good of my soul, to purify like by like.

     He takes to himself all that is human, except for sin.  He was conceived by the Virgin Mary, who had been first prepared in soul and body by the Spirit; his coming to birth had to be treated with honor, virginity had to receive new honor.  He comes forth as God, in the human nature he has taken, one being, made of two contrary elements, flesh and spirit. Spirit gave divinity, flesh received it.

      He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity.  He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness.  What is this wealth of goodness?  What is this mystery that surrounds me?  I received the likeness of God, but failed to keep it.  Hetakes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image, immortality to the flesh.  He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than the first.

     Holiness had to be brought to man by the humanity assumed by one who was God, so that God might overcome the tyrant by force and so deliver us and lead us back to himself through the mediation of his Son.  The Son arranged this for the honor of the Father, to whom the Son is clearly obedient in all things.

     The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, came in search of the straying sheep to the mountains and hills on which you used to offer sacrifice.  When he found it, he took it on the shoulders that bore the wood of the cross, and led it back to the life of heaven.

     Christ, the light of all lights, follows John, the lamp that goes before him.  The Word of God follows the voice in the wilderness; the bridegroom follows the bridegroom’s friend, who prepares a worthy people for the Lord by cleansing them by water in preparation for the Spirit.  We need God to take our flesh and die, that we might live.  We have died with him, that we may be purified.  We have risen again with him, because we have died with him.  We have been glorified with him, because we have risen again with him.

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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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