Rector's Message for October 2017
The Sunday after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which we have just celebrated, marks the third anniversary of the founding of our parish, whose first Divine Liturgy was on the Sunday After the Cross in 2014, and thus our first full month of divine services was October of 2014. By God's loving Providence, with the holy protection of the Most Holy Theotokos and the prayers of St. Irene of Chrysovalantou, and through the dedication and sacrifice of our parishioners and benefactors, the cycle of Sunday divine services, the major holy days, and Holy Week and Pascha have continued with very few interruptions since that time, along with skilled and generous labor in building our prayerful chapel, lovingly prepared agape meals, sacred instruction, and many acts of love great and small.
Whatever our earthly thoughts or feelings may be, whatever merely human analyses may be offered, it is most evident that the existence and mission of our parish is the will of God and the work of God. Since it is God's will, we need have no doubt of our duty: to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly, to make our parish life the center of our life and labor. Since it is God's work, we need have no fear of opposition from the world, the demons, or men. We need to fear God alone and to do His holy will. The only things that can prevent this are our own passions and sins. The Lord desires our salvation, and He is waiting to give us every spiritual gift and whatever earthly means we truly need (as opposed merely to those we want!).
As a spiritual offering to beloved parishioners, benefactors, and friends, I would like to say a few words about what gifts we truly should desire from the Lord, what we should ask for. This is our parish's birthday. Let us ask the Lord for birthday gifts! And let us ask for those things which will truly please Him. By St. Irene's prayers, may we always love God and do His holy will! Loving God above all and doing His holy will: This is the best “program” for any parish, any family, and any soul!
“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you (Matthew 6:33).”
On the night before He died, Our Lord gave the most precious and all-conquering gift to His disciples, prayer in His name, the Name of Jesus:
And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16: 23-24)
Our experience, however, is that often we do not receive what we ask for. Why is this? St. Theophan the Recluse, in commenting on this Gospel passage, says the following:
…What a shame for us that we do not know how to make use of such a true promise! And it would be good if only this would cause shame, otherwise a shadow would be cast over the promise itself, as though it were too great and impossible. No, the guilt lies entirely on us, mainly because we recognize that we are not faithful servants of Christ, and our conscience does not allow us to expect mercy from the Lord. In addition, it happens that when someone starts asking God about something, he does it with a divided soul. He mentions that thing in his prayer once or twice, as if in passing, and then drops it, and says later, "God does not hear." No, when asking for something in particular, one must be persistent and indefatigable in prayer, like the widow who forced even the heartless judge to satisfy her petition by simply not giving him any peace. When true men of prayer ask for something in prayer, they unite it with fasting, vigil, all sorts of deprivation, and charity. Furthermore, they ask not for a day or two, but for months and years, and thus they receive what they ask for. Imitate them, if you desire to have success in prayer.
- from Thoughts for Each Day of the Year
We may add that we would experience more success in prayer if we were to ask for those good gifts which we know the Lord wants to give us, that is, spiritual gifts. We do not know if it would be good for us to receive this or that material thing, this or that relief from want or anxiety regarding our circumstances, the needs of our family, etc. Perhaps it would be good for us, perhaps not, though we must ask, and ask in the way that St. Theophan describes above, for all of our life, material and spiritual, depends utterly on the Lord, and He wants us to ask Him for all of our needs. But we know that He is waiting to give us spiritual good things. What should we ask for?
Well, we are not great men of prayer. It is certainly premature to ask for high spiritual states: continuous prayer, freedom from all passions, spiritual insight, etc. If you were in a position to ask for these things, you would probably not be reading something written by me. But one could start with these:
1. Let us ask the Lord to help us see our sins and at the same time have a correspondingly great hope in His mercy.
2. Let us ask for a constant remembrance of death, God’s judgment, heaven, and hell.
3. Let us ask for a constant spirit of reverence and the fear of God, a constant desire to know and to fulfill His Holy Law in all of its commandments.
When we start, even a little bit, to receive these good things, which we know God wants to give us, we will know the power of prayer through experience.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that hopeth in Him (Psalm 33: 8).”