Fr. Patrick’s Meditation from February, 2012, Parish Newsletter

“… Meditate On These Things”  Philippians 4:8

A reflection on my recent trip to Lebanon…

There is no greater reality check than real experience.  This thought has been on my mind ever since I began planning my trip to Lebanon for the consecration of our Bishop ANTHONY and the other two new auxiliary bishops of our Archdiocese.  Initially and admittedly this thought was a source of fear; the fear of experiencing something different, challenging what my preconceived and self-convinced notions have been telling me for many years.  As God’s Providence has allowed, it was truly my blessing to see the Mother Church of Antioch first hand.  I’m sure we all agree that it is good for us to be stretched physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.  I guess this was my time and I am so grateful to everyone who supported my travel in one way or another.

I will not be so bold as to over-generalize and say that all Americans, and anyone affected by the spirit of western culture, are presumptuous and autonomous.  I do believe, however, that self-governance, whether collectively as a nation or as a matter of personal self-determination, leaves men dangerously subject to the temptations of individuality, isolation and self-praise.  The truth of the matter is that the very air of western culture is permeated with the “dogmas” of individuality and self-determination, and anyone raised in it or living under its influence cannot help but breathe it.

The majority of my thoughts have turned (not surprisingly) to matters of faith and the life of Orthodox Christians in the Church.  I am still sorting through my first experience, as brief as it was, of indigenous Orthodox Christianity.  The cornerstone of St. Ignatius Church, Madison, WI, reads “2004.”  The church where the consecrations took place was built in the 12th century.  Our St. Ignatius Church has yet to raise one generation of Orthodox Christians while Holy Dormition Church at the Balamand Monastery has raised dozens of generations within her walls.  This one thought alone speaks volumes to my soul and my conscience.  Hopefully it does to yours as well.

As I stood before the Patriarch of Antioch, preparing to present my friend for consecration to the Office of Bishop, I couldn’t help but think of how unprepared I was to be standing in this place, a place of deep holiness and history.  I wondered to myself how many pious and reverent priests had stood in this spot, and for the first time in my life I saw directly the order of my Church, from the headship of the Patriarch, to the Synod of Metropolitans, to the priests and deacons, to the chanters, and to the body of the laity standing in prayer, all part of a great tapestry, each important in their own way, ordered and yet equal, individual yet incomplete without the other, a father and his children yet brothers one and all.  I do not wish to romanticize this experience by imposing upon these people any expectations of perfection.  That would be unfair to those involved, and I in no way would want to allege that the Orthodox Christians of Lebanon of think they are somehow standard-bearers for the Church.  In fact I felt quite the opposite.  I felt the people of Lebanon only wanted to share with us their life in Christ, to let us know of their love for us, to feel a part of who we are, and to let us know that they are part of us.  I am certain that in my life I have never felt such a grand expression of hospitality, and I have never felt more certain of my feelings of insignificance stemming from my own life as a self-determined individualist.

I’m afraid this experience has raised more questions than answers as I ask myself, “Where do I/we go from here?”  When early on I expressed apprehension about traveling for the consecrations one of our parishioners told me, “Father, we want you to go.  Your growth from this experience will only help our parish.”  Certainly I hope this will be the case.  And it might be this one point – the American church’s lack of an ordered culture – that will command my attention for the rest of my priesthood.  Forgive me, but I did envy my brother priests in Lebanon who do not have to deal with the diversities of culture and expectation that exist here in America.  I believe there is a common understanding of structure, authority, expectation, and place that stems from the order of this beautiful culture.  While our air is permeated with  “dogmas” of individuality and self-determination, the air in Lebanon is permeated with the dogmas of a shared society and culture.  This did not diminish at all any one’s individual personality or character (in fact, I met many “characters” in Lebanon!); yet it does eliminate at least one layer of uncertainty which allows a priest greater ease in simply doing his job.

These thoughts are just a beginning.  There may be one consolation to being a self-determined individualist, however.  The isolation of an ill-defined or lost social life may very well lead one to seek a connection with the faith community of the Holy Church.

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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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Another Beautiful St. Nicholas Day Celebration at St. Ignatius

Each year on the Sunday nearest to the celebration of St.Nicholas Day (December 6) the parish of St. Ignatius holds a special coffee hour with parish entertainment and the singing of Christmas Carols.

In addition to a relaxing time we are also blessed with a visit from St. Nicholas who often tells stories of his past or is asked questions about his life in the service of Christ and the Church.

Prior to the start of the program the children of the parish are instructed to put their shoes in the foyer of the church where specially prepared St. Nicholas treats are placed in their shoes during the program.

As always, between the fellowship, food, and entertainment a good time was had by all. The full feast of St. Nicholas was followed the next day with an evening Vesperal Liturgy dedicated to the Great Saint!

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