Below is a glimpse into the life of our small parish in Fenton, MI.
I greet you today, dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ, with joy overflowing in my heart…as we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost! We have spent these last 50 days celebrating our Lord’s resurrection, His Ascension into heaven…and now we climax that entire season with this incredible celebration of the decent of the Holy Spirit.
Last week, my family and I went on retreat to St. Tikhon’s monastery, which is the oldest Orthodox Monastery in the country. This community is located in the middle of the Pocono mountains…where the nearest Walmart is 45 minutes away…and you really have to crave fast food to eat it, because the nearest McDonalds is just about the same distance! Cell phone service is spotty at best, especially as you ascend the winding roads ,away from all of the noise of the world…and into the peace and serenity of the grounds where Saints have walked.
Every time I begin that ascent from the city, full of the hustle and bustle of life, up into the quiet and peaceful mountains…I feel as if I am entering into an alternate reality. The pavement and street signs turn into dirt roads and trees. The car horns and exhaust are transformed in the distant ringing of bells and the smell of incense. The noise of the world slowly decreases…and the sound of the Divine Liturgy increases. With limited cell service, all thoughts and worries of the world can easily slip away, making it easier to enter into the spiritual life that was all made possible by the feast day we celebrate today…the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the world which we live in is seeking a change. All of humanity, whether they can see it or not, is yearning for this type of peace…this alternate reality. Each and every one of us, especially when our lives are undergoing some sort of trial or difficulty as a result of the fallen world, seeks that love and comfort that our Lord offers. We seek that alternate form of existence where we are never sad, where there are never tragedies, where war doesn’t exist, where there is no racism, and where there is no death. Humanity was made to crave a life surrounded by the Holy Spirit…a life that St. Paul describes as one of peace, righteousness, and joy.
That, my dear flock…is what we have been promised for these last 50 days, and it is exactly what we receive and celebrate today!
How perfect, that on the very day that our lives are transformed by the Spirit, that we witness a personal Resurrection and Pentecost for three new warriors of Christ. As Justin, Stephen, and Christina had learned in our Orthodoxy 101 courses, they are now entering into this alternate reality…this new form of existence.
Baptism and Chrismation for the ancient Church isn’t just about proclaiming your loyalty to Christ and accepting Him as your Lord and Savior. It is the process of DYING to an old way of life…and RESSURECTING into a new life.
How often, dearest brothers and sisters in Christ, do we forget that many of us, at some point in our journey into Orthodoxy, underwent this same transformation…and entered into a new existence. It is a huge temptation, after we leave the confines of the Church, to become lax in our new lives….allowing ourselves to dirty our white baptismal garments with the filth of the world.
We forget our calling…and so often fall backwards into a flawed way of life.
The question brought before us this morning, is how do we get that zeal back? Or, in the case of Justin, Stephen, and Christina, how do I keep the fire of the Holy Spirit from dissipating? What does this blessed life offer me, that I cannot get in the midst of the world outside of these four walls?
To answer these questions, we need but only open our eyes and turn our gaze to those men and women who have experienced what a life with the Holy Spirit is all about. We need only turn our gaze to the icons that are behind me. Each and every one of the saints depicted, had their lives transformed into something wonderful. Their love of God was so great, that it flowed from them, and touched the lives of everyone they came into contact with…healing diseases, and fixing fallen souls.
The knowledge and power of the Holy Spirit allowed them to overcome difficulties in life that many of us could not fathom of, even in our nightmares. They were able to do all of this because they spent every waking moment of their lives, keeping the fire of God burning in their hearts.
As a priest, I often get asked the question,
“How do we get the Holy Spirit to continue to transform our lives, day after day?
How do we rekindle that fire which was lit inside of the souls of those who were baptized and chrismated this morning?”
The answer is simple….we ask Him! Right after the Divine Liturgy of Pentecost today, we will, for the first time in 50 days, fall to our knees and ask God for the same experience of the Holy Spirit, that Justin, Stephen, and Christina received just a few moments ago. It is then, and only then, that we can continue to transform not only our lives, but the world around us…from racism to acceptance…from war to peace…and from death…to life, amen.
For those of you who have not heard, our parish now has the blessing of the Holy Relics of our Patroness, St. Mary Magdalene, from Jerusalem. I hope that everyone in our parish understands what a tremendous blessing it is to have a first century relic in our midst here in Fenton! Through the prayers of our patroness, may we continue to grow in faith, love, and as a parish family! What a blessing!
Here is some spiritual nectar from the book "Our Thoughts Determine our Lives":
One cannot say that Christianity is a religion. Christianity is a revelation of eternity and life. The angels rejoice greatly because God has revealed Himself mystically to His creature, man. Our human nature has become part of the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and that is a great gift which we do not even appreciate; instead, we have cleaved to the things of this world. We have been given the opportunity to prepare ourselves for eternity, to vanquish evil, and to always be with the Heavenly Father.
Let us strive to live out our lives, not with our focus on the things of the earth, but with our eyes fixated towards things Divine!
Sunday, January 22--St. Mary Magdalene held a memorial service on “Sanctity of Life Sunday” for all unborn children. Here is an excerpt from Fr. Gabriel’s Sermon that day:
The Late Archimandrite of St. Tikhon’s Monastery, Fr. Athanasy, taught his students many things during his time on the Holy Mountain. He was a wonderful spiritual father to anyone who he came into contact with. Father also had such wonderful ways of explaining theological truths in simple terms, making them easier to grasp or understand.
One day, he was asked to explain the differences between the way Western Civilization approaches God, as opposed to the more ancient Eastern trains of thought. I have used this analogy in several of my lectures, and with many of you privately, so please indulge me if you have heard this before!
Fr. Athanasy told us to pretend that God created two beautiful roses, and gave them to the West and the East. The Eastern culture looks at the rose, inhales the wonderful aroma which comes from it, admires the beautiful creation which God had given it, and gives thanks for the blessing.
The Western culture looks at the rose and does the same thing as the East. It inhales the beautiful scent and it looks deep at the vibrant colors of the flower. Questions are then asked:
“How did God make this flower so beautiful?
How did he get it to smell so wonderful?”
In an attempt to understand the flower better, the west begins to take the petals off, in order to dissect and understand these great mysteries. Eventually they find that they are not only left with the same questions they started with, but are absent the beauty of the original flower.
We live in that western world where culture demands that we try to comprehend our existence. When we go outside on a warm summer night and stare up at the sky, the tendency for us is to wonder what other types of life are out there? How did the universe get started? Was it a big bang? Is the Universe Expanding?
Our search and quest for scientific proof to explain the great mysteries of the universe begins to take over, and it becomes easy for us to fall into this trap of trying to understand things, instead of simply standing…marveling…rejoicing…thanking and giving Glory to God for the beautiful setting He has given mankind.
The same mentality can also affect the way we look inward at the complexities of our bodies and our own existence. We forget just how miraculous it is that we are able to walk, talk, and breathe on our own. Instead of giving Glory to God for all of these wonderful systems we have in our body, we try to analyze and break down our existence to the smallest protein chains and DNA sequences, to see how we can better seize control of our physical and mental existence. We try to understand and control everything in the universe, instead allowing God to control the flow of our lives on this earth.
When we don’t completely understand something, we as a culture tend to bury it, hide it, or shy away from it. Death, for example in our modern day culture, is something that people shy away from. Open casket funerals are seen as morbid to the modern day mind. It is becoming more and more popular to not have a funeral service at all. Instead of praying for the deceased’s eternal soul in heaven, the relatives and friends gather together to celebrate and remember the short time that the he or she had in THIS existence…the existence they are comfortable talking about…the one that they think they understand.
When modern day society doesn’t understand something, it hides from truth and reality.
Many of brothers and sisters have begun to do the same thing with another great mystery that is beyond our comprehension…the death of a child still in the womb. Today, we in the Church call this day “Sanctity of Life Sunday”, because it remembers and mourns the tragic anniversary of the Roe Vs. Wade case which legalized abortion in this country.
This morning is a reminder to the entire world that life does not begin when we emerge from the womb…it begins at conception. There is no better evidence of this great fact than in the beginning chapters of the Gospel, when it is an unborn child…St. John…who leapt in the womb of his mother when he came in the mere presence of the Living God. When Mary came to visit Elizabeth, the unborn John’s heart burned with joy as he perceived the presence of Him who would take away the sins of the entire world.
There is no amount of scientific reasoning which can overcome the simple truth that the first person to recognize Christ on this earth…was an unborn child.
Today we will do something that is exceedingly rare in today’s world. We will remember and pray for all unborn infants…all of the holy and sinless innocents, who as we hear in one of the services, are like “Ships that pass through life, leaving no wake behind”
These types of memorials are rare, because society will ask us why it is necessary.
“Why bring up bad memories?”
“Why relive sad emotions instead of burying them in your mind?”
What can the Church offer us that time and healing cannot?”
There is a beautiful Ukrainian Christmas Carol, which was one of my favorites growing up, about the story of Rachel. If you remember from the Gospels, King Herod, out of fear of the stories about the messiah, put an order out to slaughter innocent youths under the age of two.
We hear in the Gospels a quote from the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, Weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children…refusing to be comforted…because they are no more.”
What happened that night to Rachel is not so much different than what couples go through when they experience the loss of an innocent youth. It doesn’t matter how many grief counselors are visited, how many family members try to comfort them, or how much time has passed, parents will often find themselves in the same shoes as Rachel…refusing to be comforted.
Sometimes, there are no answers to the difficulties of life. There are no easy paths towards eternal life, and the Church in Her wisdom knows that. In times of great trial and tribulation, the Embrace of the Orthodox Christian Faith offers those who are suffering in this life a warm blanket. It offers in the Theotokos, a mother for us to cuddle up with as when we were young…a shoulder for us to lay our head on…and a warm cloak for us to shed our tears in…just as she sheds tears with us for the difficulties that we endure in this fallen and imperfect world.
To all those who suffer from the loss of an unborn child, regardless if it was a natural loss or not, let the Church, and the Theotokos, be your blanket today, and for the rest of your lives. Let it sing not only to your hearts, but to the world…to not weep for our unborn children.
To quote the ending to that beautiful Ukrainian carol:
”Do not weep O Rachel, see your children are whole. They did not die…they are alive…they are in heaven.”
Our Parish community was blessed to welcome our Father and Bishop Alexander to our parish for the weekend following Theophany. After gathering together to bless Holy Water for the year on Thursday, over 110 of our parishioners and guests packed inside our little Church for Divine Liturgy, and then processed out to bless the Shiawassee River.
After services, everyone gathered together to celebrate the feast with our annual lamb roast! It was truly a blessed way to celebrate with our parish family!
Theophany is the Feast which reveals the Most Holy Trinity to the world through the Baptism of the Lord (Mt.3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). God the Father spoke from Heaven about the Son, the Son was baptized by Saint John the Forerunner, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son in the form of a dove. From ancient times this Feast was called the Day of Illumination and the Feast of Lights, since God is Light and has appeared to illumine “those who sat in darkness,” and “in the region of the shadow of death” (Mt.4:16), and to save the fallen race of mankind by grace.
Christ is Baptized in the Jordan! Glorify Him!
During the week of Christmas, our parish family gathered together for Christmas Vespers, Vigil, and Divine Liturgy to celebrate the Incarnation! It was a blessing to have so many visitors and guests for the weekend, as we together witnessed the Birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
The Nativity of Christ has long been counted as one of the Twelve Great Feasts. It is one of the greatest, most joyful and wondrous events in the history of the world. The angel said to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Then suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts, glorifying God and saying: Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Those who heard these things were astonished at what the shepherds told them concerning the Child. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:10-20).
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
St. Nicholas Visits the Children
sunday, December 11, 2016
Our parish celebrated the memory of our beloved Saint Nicholas, the Bishop and Wonderworker of Myra and Lycia. Fr. Gabriel gave a children's homily after the Divine Liturgy in which he read a short story about the life and works of St. Nicholas and why we get presents in our stockings on Christmas. Afterwards, despite receiving our first big snowstorm of the season, we were lucky enough to get a visit from St. Nicholas himself who passed out candies and gifts and took pictures with the kids.
Although we missed the company of some of our parishioners who were unable to make it through the treacherous weather, we had a full hall downstairs as we shared our monthly Agape Meal and heard more about the life of St. Nicholas and how we arrived at some of the modern American conceptions we now have of “Kris Kringle”. The parish also enjoyed some leftover treats from our very successful bake sale that had been held the previous day. Thanks to everyone who helped with all the food and St. Nicholas day celebrations and made it through the snow to share this wonderful time together. St. Nicholas pray to God for us!
"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth." (1 John 3:17-18)
For several weeks, the Church School children have been working very hard to make 100 handmade Christmas Cards, to be sent to inner-city elementary school students in the Flint area. It is the children's hope and prayer that this project, started by the Orthodox Christian Fellowship and FOCUS Flint, will bring joy and hope into the lives of those families who are less fortunate.
Partnered with other area Orthodox Churches, along with the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, the hope is to have over 500 cards put together to be sent with FOCUS Flint backpack meals to families for Christmas. May God continue to bless their efforts!
Saturday, December 3, 2016
Fr. Gabriel held a readers workshop with some of the tonsured readers and those interested in beginning to assist with this crucial work in the life of the Church. Fr. Gabriel shared information regarding the importance of this position and the responsibilities of those who hold it. First and foremost is the fact that as a reader in the Church you must hold yourself to a higher degree and continue to work towards improvement in your personal prayer life and understanding of Holy Scriptures, trying especially to read at least one chapter from the Gospels every day. Fr. Gabriel also provided excerpts of a letter from the late Archbishop Job of the Midwest in which he sets forth instructions and gives advice on how to properly and articulately chant the prescribed sections of the Divine Services.
Finally the participants were given the opportunity to individually practice reading sections from the Epistles with advice and encouragement from Fr Gabriel. Overall the workshop was a great success with helpful information and edifying reminders for the current readers, and several new volunteers stepping up to participate in the reading of the Hours and the Epistle during the Divine Liturgy.
It is in the first chapter of the Gospel of John that we first hear the words that have become a kind of hallmark of Orthodox evangelization, especially in non-Orthodox lands: "Come and see!". This invitation is given twice at the beginning of John's Gospel, once from Philip to Nathanael in response to: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"; but the first is given by Christ himself to St. Andrew (thereby honoring him with his common epithet of "First-Called") in response to an inquiry as to where Christ is staying. The gospel account tells us that St. Andrew, with another of St. John the Baptist's followers, did indeed go and see and remained with him the rest of that day - after which St. Andrew went out, found his brother Simon (Peter), told him that he had found the Messiah, and subsequently brought him to Jesus.
I believe that it is very right and proper for this saying: "Come and see" to have found such a central place in the Orthodox mindset with regard to outreach to the non-Orthodox, but why is it so especially proper for us as Orthodox? We see many other organizations that focus on going door to door or disseminating information in other ways, satisfied to spread intellectual arguments for their beliefs, regarding these as the best and most persuasive introduction to their faith. Why has the Orthodox Church, while encouraging the promotion of Orthodox information, not seen these tactics as central to her mission of outreach, but rather insisted on the utmost importance of those interested in the Orthodox Church coming, seeing, and experiencing the Divine Services?
I will begin with a quote from St. John of Kronstadt which demonstrates the high view that we as Orthodox Christians have of our Mother - The Church, and the benefit imparted to those who attend.
“The Church, through the temple and Divine service, acts upon the entire man, educates him wholly; acts upon his sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, taste, imagination, mind, and will, by the splendour of the icons and of the whole temple, by the ringing of bells, by the singing of the choir, by the fragrance of the incense, the kissing of the Gospel, of the cross and the holy icons, by the prosphoras, the singing, and sweet sound of the readings of the Scriptures.”
You can see from this that the Orthodox by no means consider their meeting at Church to be a simple gathering of like-minded people affirming and encouraging each other. The Divine Services themselves, being made up primarily of words from Holy Scripture and composed and developed by Saints who achieved such closeness to God, are themselves truly inspired by the Holy Spirit - they breathe with Divine Life and exude a spiritual peacefulness to the faithful. However, we must always remember that this does not happen by itself, it is the responsibility of all Orthodox Christians, not just priests and readers and the choir, to contribute to, participate in, and promote this life-giving effect of the Church and its services.
This is made clear by the obvious difference we can all discern between seeing icons in a museum, or seeing a hymn in a collection of poems, or hearing a sermon on the radio, and experiencing all of these things in the Holy Temple of God. Each of these have a power in themselves and are indeed beneficial on their own when understood and appreciated correctly; but individually they cannot compare to the experience of the Divine Services of the Church in which all of these elements are brought together and then, most importantly, enlivened by the Holy Spirit through the faith and prayer of those present. This is our most important task as Orthodox Christians. As I’m sure we have all heard at one time or another, the Greek word “leitourgia” from which the word “liturgy” is derived, literally means “the work of the people”, this is our job - carrying on the saving work of Christ’s Body on earth through committed, focused, and prayerful participation in the services, especially the Divine Liturgy.
It is this active faith of the community of Christ, vivifying and bringing to life the Divine Services, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that is a truly capable witness to the Divine Life of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. It is in this way that we can fulfill the injunction of St. Seraphim of Sarov: "Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved." Although it is good and profitable to focus on outreach, to be conscious of how we can share the Life of Christ with more and more people, it is reassuring for those of us with busy schedules who may find that simply keeping the flame of our own faith alight is quite enough work, to know that focusing on this flame of faith within ourselves is indeed the most important work of any outreach and evangelization. For each member of our community to focus on preserving and strengthening their own faith, and subsequently bringing that grace they have received to participate in the work of the Church will ensure that all of the services we perform in this community will be filled with the transformative power of the Holy Spirit - to the enlivening and strengthening of our own spiritual lives and also as a powerful witness to any who have taken up the offer to "Come and see."
Reader Philip on the Feast Day of St. Andrew the First-Called
As it is impossible to verbally describe the sweetness of honey to one who has never tasted honey, so the goodness of God cannot be clearly communicated by way of teaching if we ourselves are not able to penetrate into the goodness of the Lord by our own experience. - St. Basil the Great
No matter how much we may study, it is not possible to come to know God unless we live according to His commandments, for God is not known by science, but by the Holy Spirit - St. Silouan the Athonite
This coming Monday, November 21st, we will celebrate one of the Twelve Major Feasts of the Orthodox Church, The Entry of the Most Holy Mother of God into the Temple. In this feast we remember the promises made by Joachim and Anna that, if blessed with a child, they would dedicate that child to the service of God in His Holy Temple. Subsequently, we celebrate the beginning of the fulfillment of that toward which all Old Testament Temple worship symbolically pointed: the Theotokos taking her place in the Holy of Holies as the one who will become the true living Temple of God through the miraculous conception of Christ in her womb.
This feast is placed for us at the beginning of the Nativity fast, and as the Troparion for the feast declares: "Today is the prelude of the good will of God, of the preaching of the salvation of mankind." So this feast serves for us as a precursor to the Nativity, a prelude to that angelic herald of the Birth of the Savior: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, good will toward men!” This is the opening notes to the beautiful song of salvation we will celebrate in full in a little over a month’s time.
The late Fr. Thomas Hopko noted in a talk he gave on this feast day that: "What is being said here and what is being contemplated in the person of Mary as the central character in the story is that human beings are created by God and redeemed by God in Christ and sanctified by God through Christ by the Holy Spirit to become living temples of God himself." This feast provides us with an opportunity not only to reflect upon the unique honor God has placed upon His Mother and the role her obedience and godliness has played in our salvation, but also to reflect upon how we can very closely mirror this "unique" calling of Mary in our own lives. As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?" We are all called to become holy through the indwelling of God in us, not only in a spiritual manner, but also physically, materially, through our participation in the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist in which we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, that same Flesh and Blood which was given form in the womb of the Mother of our Lord.
The Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple often receives little attention despite being one of the Twelve Major Feasts; however, this feast day provides us with many wonderful opportunities for growth as Christians. It helps in our understanding of God's plan of salvation and how the archetypes of the Old Testament are so beautifully fulfilled in the miraculous events of the New. The feast is provided not just for help in our understanding. It is also inspiration for our spiritual growth, which ultimately guides us toward union with God.
St. Gregory Palamas exhorts us in the end of his Homily on this great feast:
"Now, brethren, let us remove ourselves from earthly to celestial things. Let us change our path from the flesh to the spirit. Let us change our desire from temporal things to those that endure. Let us scorn fleshly delights, which serve as allurements for the soul and soon pass away. Let us desire spiritual gifts, which remain undiminished. Let us turn our reason and our attention from earthly concerns and raise them to the inaccessible places of Heaven, to the Holy of Holies, where the Mother of God now resides.
Therefore, in such manner our songs and prayers to Her will gain entry, and thus through her mediation, we shall be heirs of the everlasting blessings to come, through the grace and love for mankind of Him Who was born of Her for our sake, our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory, honor and worship, together with His Unoriginate Father and His Coeternal and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen."
- Reader Philip
Sunday, September 11, 2016- St. Mary Magdalene remembered those who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. After Divine Liturgy, Fr. Gabriel lead the parish in the Litany for departed, praying for the souls of all of the Orthodox Christians who lost their lives that day. A memory eternal was then taken for all of the victims.
Later on in the afternoon, several faithful parishioners went to the Fenton Fire Department for the unveiling of the city's new 9/11 Memorial. Fr. Gabriel led those close by in prayer and blessed the new memorial with the hopes that those that visited the memorial would remember the sacrifice of all those first responders who selflessly gave their lives to save the victims of this horrific attack.
Earlier on in the Divine Liturgy, Fr. Gabriel reflected in the sermon about the importance of this day and the effect that it should have on each and every one of us:
Today, we commemorate the anniversary of perhaps the greatest attack on our nation. It was an attack that shook this country to the core, killing thousands of American Citizens…our Brothers and Sisters in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 which crash-landed in Pennsylvania.
We remember this attack because it was unique to us. Nothing like this had happened in most our life times. We had never known this type of violence and attack, and only heard about them from our parents and grandparents, who told us stories of Pearl Harbor and the World Wars.
It was traumatic for all of us that day, no matter where you were, or how old you were, because it all unfolded before our very eyes. We didn’t hear about it in a newspaper clipping after the fact. We saw it all televised live…and many of us have the images of those airplanes flying into the buildings. We can still see the images of men and women jumping out of buildings, many of them making the sign of the cross before departing this life.
We remember what happened to us in the days after the attacks: the sobriety that was struck into all of our hearts, and how faith in the Lord God in this nation was revived. We didn’t know what the following days would hold for us…how many more attacks would we have to endure….what more would happen to us…there was so much uncertainty…so many questions.
For the first time in decades, people began to speak openly about how they took refuge in prayer, and how they allowed the Church to act as a blanket to comfort them during this time of uncertainty.
We remember this day the souls of our departed Orthodox Brethren, and all those others who perished that day, asking mercy from the Lord our God for them and for their families.
We will see today on the televisions, many images and pictures from those frightful days. We will relive many of them in our minds when we go to the memorial service at the fire station later on this afternoon…standing next to the first responders day after day, lay down their lives for their fellow man.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today, we should not remember the attack, but instead remember the courage and pride that we had for all of those who denied the animal instincts of self preservation and demonstrated for us what it meant to be a human being…someone who sacrificed themselves for a complete stranger.
We saw this in countless videos from that day thousands fleeing from the danger, while 100s were running TO the danger, selflessly giving their lives for their neighbors. As so many were running out of the burning buildings, they were rushing in, climbing the steps to try and clear the way for those on the upper floors to run to safety. They would climb 10 floors in all of their gear, rest for a minute to catch their breath, and continue their climb to the 70th floor. Their thoughts did not dwell on how tired they were or what they were getting themselves into. Those first responders only thoughts, were the life and well being of those trapped above the damage that the planes had caused. They continued to climb higher and higher, freeing and helping more and more people along the way, until the ground shook and gave way.
While the millions of pounds of concrete and steel crushed down to the earth, our Lord caught those men and women, and for their sacrifice, took them to a place where there is no sickness or sorrow or sighing…but life everlasting.
My beloved brethren in Christ, the wealth that these first responders had while rushing into the danger, is the same wealth that our Lord wants us to achieve…a wealth of humility. We gain this by tapping into the spiritual life, and through prayer, transforming the way that we see what is truly important. When we enter into this spiritual existence, the draw to wealth and power begins to fade, and the importance of community and love takes shape. This is the life we need to strive for…the life that our Lord spoke of throughout all of the Gospels.
We are refreshed this day by the humility of the first responders, and we ask God to give us the strength to echo their courage in our daily struggle, putting the needs of others above our own needs, and echoing the selfless love our Lord had for us, when he laid down his life for sake of the entire world.
Restarting a Tradition
Wednesday, August 10- Saturday, August 13, 2016 - It has been many years since we held a Vacation Church School (VCS) together with our fellow area parishes. St. Mary Magdalene was proud to be the home for our restart to the Flint-area Orthodox VCS program. Each day the students participated in Bible lessons, games, snacks, crafts, and a closing prayer from our priests.
Our lessons focused on the true gifts we have through God and how we can always depend on him when we are in need. The games were designed not only for fun, but to help the kids practice cooperation and problem solving. Each of the crafts (we did two a day!) were specially designed to tie in with the children’s lessons for the day.
Almost 30 students joined us from the area parishes, while representatives from each church lent a hand. We owe a very big thank you to the coordinator Meghan Durand, Lori Photiou and Ruth Karabinas from Assumption, and Khouria Leslee Abud and Rene Hanna from St. George’s for all of their help. We also thank many parishioners from St. Mary Magdalene who volunteered their time. There were so many helpers we couldn’t possibly list them all here!
There are two things to take away from VCS. One, children will devour instruction about the church and faith when we are enthusiastic about teaching it to them. Two, wonderful things happen when we work together with the other faithful in our community!
Thursday, July 21, 2016 - Our parish family celebrated the feast day of our Patroness, St. Mary Magdalene. This year we had the special blessing of having her relics present for the Vesperal Divine Liturgy.
Fr. Gabriel gave the following address to the faithful from all over the Flint communities who had gathered to come and celebrate the Divine Liturgy:
Glory be to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!
Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we greet you on this festive occasion in honor of our Patroness, St. Mary Magdalene. She is known as the Apostle to the Apostles, Equal to the Apostles, and one of the Holy Myrrh Bearers.
That’s a lot of titles for a woman living in a time where women were not held in the same regard as the men. Yet the Church in Her wisdom, honors her with so many titles. She honors this simple sinner who went against the grain of society and became a follower of Christ.
I spoke last Saturday at Vespers about a beautiful quote from St. Philaret, which I would like to repeat to everyone this evening.
We have all seen those beautiful Alaskan photos of a rushing river with fish trying to jump the rapids to swim upstream. St. Philaret uses this image and says to us:
“A fish that is alive, always swims against the flow of water, while one that is dead, floats in the water and is carried downstream. A True Christian goes against the current of a sinful age. A false one is swept away by it’s swiftness.”
We can use this beautiful imagery to describe St. Mary Magdalene. This analogy is even more profound when we read what some Church traditions say about her early life.
There is this mistaken and unbiblical idea that Mary was a prostitute before she met Christ. But through one of the oral traditions of the Church, we learn that Mary Magdalene, at a young age, led such a chaste life. The devil thought she might be the one who would bear Christ into the world. It was for this reason that the devil put upon her seven demons to torment her and lead her into a life of sin.
We hear in St. Luke how Christ freed her from these demons; she followed him thereafter. Even at our Lord’s passion, St. Mary was not swept away by the currents of fear and denial like many of the Disciples. She openly followed Jesus to Jerusalem and was steadfast at the foot of the Cross with the Theotokos…standing by Jesus in His darkest moments.
After Christ’s Crucifixion, she continued to swim against the current of society. St. Mary took courage with the other myrrh bearing women and went to the tomb that her Lord was laid in. Because of that courage, she was given the great gift of being the first person to see the Risen Lord and announce the Resurrection. What would happen, dear brothers and sisters, if we were able to consistently swim against that stream of sin which
we find ourselves in the fallen world? The personal relationship that St. Mary Magdalene had with the Savior is one that we spend our entire lives trying to achieve. Through her life, our patroness shows us the path that we must follow. Her life shows us that no matter what wrongs we have done in our lives up until now, there is still a chance to turn things around.
Until the day which we breathe our last on this earth, we have the opportunity to do as St. Mary did…and flip the switch.
Our 21st century minds have a hard time grasping just how big of a deal it was for St. Mary to be the first person to see Christ resurrected. In that time, women were not considered credible witnesses. They were not allowed to give testimony, because only the men were considered believable. Yet to Jesus this didn’t’ matter. He trusted St. Mary to deliver the greatest news in the history of the world. He saw her love for Him at the foot of the cross where she shed tears of sorrow.
Christ saw St. Mary’s dedication to Him. When the myrrh bearing women went to the tomb, they were prepared to ask the Romans to move the stone away so that they could anoint Jesus’s body. He forsaw that Mary would travel without fear to Rome and announce the Resurrection to the capital of the Pagan Empire. Christ admired her struggle against the streams of a sinful society, and chose her to be the FIRST to see the Risen Christ!
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we have a unique situation in our Church today because we are blessed with the presence and relics of this great “switch flipper”. In our little home of Fenton, Michigan, we have a piece of the bone from the very first person to see our Lord Resurrected. This represents an undeniable and physical link to our Lord Himself and I hope that everyone present this evening takes a few moments to whisper a prayer into the ear of St. Mary Magdalene herself. Ask her to pray to God for the courage to make the changes in our own lives, allow us to struggle against the streams of sin, and come into the loving embrace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Glory Be to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!
Sunday, July 17, 2016 - St. Mary Magdalene Parish welcomed members of the police and fire departments, as well as local EMTs to the blessing of vehicles in honor of St. Elijah. There was representation from all of our surrounding cities, including Fenton, Livingston County, and Grand Blanc Township.
After Liturgy, Fr. Gabriel led the parishioners in a prayer service for the first responders, which included intoning "memory eternal" for all of those first responders who lost their lives in our communities. The list dated all the way back to the 1870s.
The first responders who were present were anointed with oil which streams from the Tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. Prayers were also said for their safety and protection. With the series of police shootings happening in our country this past month, the first responders offered their thanks and gratitude for the prayers and support.
Fr. Gabriel, in his sermon at the Divine Liturgy, explained why the blessing of the vehicles and prayers for our first responders was so important:
"St. Elijah, who we commemorate this week, was in a similar situation as we are in today. He lived in a Godless society...one that had lost its way. Yet his humble faith allowed God to guide him, and bring light to the darkness of his time.
"In honor and memory of this glorious prophet, we will be doing our part this morning to bring God back into the forefront of our community. By blessing vehicles, we will proclaim that God is present and fills all things in this world. We will ask Him bless and strengthen our first responders, those men and women who God uses to protect our communities and our families here in this world. We will ask our Lord to send down guardian angels to not only protect them, but to protect all of us from the harm that we ourselves, in our fallen state, have brought into the world."
May God continue to bless and keep our first responders for many more blessed years in His service!