My Beloved Ones,
This week our Metropolis of Atlanta continued its beloved tradition of the Winter Youth Rally. This annual event calls to my mind a recent liturgical event commemorated during this Christmas season.
Our Metropolis covers a large area, and so many of the youth in attendance come from places that, while they are all in the Southeast, have subtle differences in geography and culture; Tennessee is as unique as Georgia, which is different from Florida, and so on.
It is in this festive period that our young people—who have been shaped by all our diverse parishes—come together, unified in the Name of our Incarnate Lord. This indeed makes me think of the Magi, or Wise Men, as they are also known.
According to Tradition, the Wise Men were named Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior, and various sources have their number as coming from countries such as Persia, India, or even China. Recognizing both the royalty and the divinity of the child, they came bearing gifts and worshipped him.
In the same way, our children come. Certainly they do not travel as great a distance—but they leave their homes and families during a blessed season, with a sense of joy and expectation. Their gifts may not be as rich as gold, frankincense, or myrrh—but they offer up their physical and intellectual talents for God’s glory.
The Wise Men have the distinction of being the first pagan Gentiles who were brought to the worship of our Lord. In doing so, they bore witness to God’s love, and His promise of salvation for all mankind. I am always so proud of our young people, who also gather together during this blessed event, in much the same way: to bear witness to the Light, in that spirit of fellowship, truth, and love.
May you continue to have a blessed Christmas, with prosperity in Christ, as we continue our journey through this Holy season.
Metropolitan of Atlanta
The door opened and closed with a bang thousands of times. One angry son left the house and crashed the door shut and the hinge came loose. When he tried to re-enter the door wouldn't open.
“What’s the matter with this door?” he shouted. “Someone let me in.”
“Now, you’ve done it,” said the mother.
“The door isn’t broken,” said the boy, “it is just the hinge.”
“Well, I can’t get it open,” said the mother. “You'll have to wait until father gets home.”
“You push and I’ll pull,” said the boy, “and we will get the door open.”
They succeeded with a struggle and closed the door with a struggle. “You wouldn’t think one little hinge would make such a difference,” said the boy.
It is true that the doorways of life hinge on important matters, which we often take for granted. Christmas hinges on the birth of Christ and the Church teaches of His Spirit; but much of society takes Jesus and the Church for granted.
Democracy hinges on the respect for the rights of every individual, while many take these rights for granted, while denying the privileges to others. Christmas, democracy, the Church, the school, the home, and all good things are short changed by millions who ignore the hinges which swing the doors through which they come and go. In observing Christmas we pause to consider the many to whom we are indebted… those who keep the streets usable, those who keep the electric lines supplied, and those who bring us the mail. Christmas is a time of appreciation because God’s love makes us aware of the many blessings He provides through others. The greatest gift is the gift of love for it makes us aware of all that is good in His creation.
The boy learned the value of the hinge in his own defeat. Some are wise enough to appreciate the things on which life hinges without frustration.
“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon His shoulders; and He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
The message of Christmas is that God intrudes upon the weak and the vulnerable, and this is precisely the message that we so often miss. God does not come to that part of us that struts through life, confident in our self-sufficiency. God leaves His treasure in the broken fragmented places of our life. God comes to us in those rare moments when we are able to transcend our own selfishness long enough to really care about another human being.
On the wall of the museum of the concentration camp at Dachau is a large and moving photograph of a mother and her little girl standing in line of a gas chamber. The child, who is walking in front of her mother, does not know where she is going. The mother, who walks behind, does know, but is helpless to stop the tragedy. In her helplessness she performs the only act of love left to her. She places her hands over the child's eyes so she will at least not see the horror to come. When people come into the museum they do not whisk by this photo hurriedly. They pause. They almost feel the pain. And deep inside I think that they are all saying: “O God, don't let that be all that there is.”
God hears those prayers and it is in just such situations of hopelessness and helplessness that His almighty power is born. It is there that God leaves His treasure, in Mary and in all of us, as Christ is born anew within. Amen!
+Fr. George Tsahakis
While driving, I often listen to a station that plays the ‘old songs’ and I’m sure for many of you, these are really old songs. I heard a song the other day, the title of which implied that the singer was ‘all alone and feeling blue’, “Me and My Shadow”. But while a shadow may be dark, it can be a blessing, as well. Some can appear so unimportant when they cast shadows in our path, that we completely ignore them as they pass us. The star of Bethlehem, however, cast a shadow of light that the Magi could not disregard. These great men paused to search the skies, their books and to follow this shadow, which led them and us to a future of hope and salvation.
As we end the year 2016 and enter the new chronological year, I hope you take time to reflect and search as the Wise Men did before you go full speed forward packing up Christmas and returning to a routine life. Slow down and think about the shadow case by 2016 and the light that 2017 will shine in your life. Remember, you’re a year older and a year wiser. Reflect on:
--the goodness and grace of God in your life;
--the personal promises you have made and their fulfillment;
--the type of service you have given to others and to your Church;
--the personal inspiration you have derived from your devotional life;
--the rewards of Orthodox Christian fellowship received in you Church, and
--the growth of your spiritual and emotional stature.
Once you have reflected on the shadow of the past year, it’s time to ask what the New Year will bring. What opportunities and choices lie ahead? With what spirit, attitudes, values and way of life will you meet the events and experiences of the New Year?
Some goals that can be set for the New Year are practicing gratitude, encountering the Lord daily, nurturing friendships, being a good steward in time talent and treasure, being a positive influence in your parish, becoming healthier and continuing to practice a Christian Orthodox lifestyle.
You can grow spiritually in the New year by searching your book, THE BIBLE and for your convenience, many parishes will provide a Daily bible Reading Guide for Orthodox Christians, so that in one year you can read the entire Bible. There is always something new to learn from it, and, in fact, that’s a personal goal for me in the New Year, too!
Hearing that old song, I am assured that I’m not alone ‘strolling down the avenue’ but that our Lord is with me and with you now and in the New Year. Whatever 2017 will bring, I pray it be a hopeful blessing to you. Let the New Year be one of freedom from sin, a year of renewed service to others and to your parish, full of love and dedication a year of trust in god, so it will be productive and prosperous from the beginning to the end. The year 2017 may be the best or the hardest year you will ever know, but it can be the happiest for you if you have a strong faith in our Lord
Grasping the opportunity to reflect on the blessing of the past year, relinquished my position as the Dean of the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Tarpon Springs and assuming a new position as the Proistamenos of Sts. Raphael, Nicholas and Irene in Palm, Harbor, FL, my personal thoughts are a prayer of thanks for the support and love of so many. To my former and to my new co-workers in the earthly vineyard of the Lord, whom I am privileged to serve as a shepherd of His sacred work, a sincere token of appreciation and gratitude for the blessings of you.
A HAPPY AND BLESSED NEW YEAR!
+Fr. James Rousakis
The Metropolis of Atlanta’s Family Life Ministry (www.familylifeministry.atlanta.goarch.org) strengthens individuals, families and church families through adaptable programs, blogs and educational materials as a means of fostering connection within our homes and our parishes. Featured blogs include:
Journey of Marriage (Pre-Marital Seminar)
All couples marrying in the Metropolis must attend a Metropolis-sponsored Journey of Marriage seminar prior to their wedding. The couple will present their certificate of completion to their parish priest after the seminar.
To see the full list of seminars through 2017, and to register, please visit:http://www.familylifeministry.atlanta.goarch.org/upcoming-events-2/
The Sophia V. Bambalis CrossRoad Alumni Scholarship Fund provides students in need of financial assistance a scholarship or scholarships to attend the CrossRoad Summer Institute, a ten-day vocation exploration program held annually at Hellenic College Holy Cross. The award is established as a memorial tribute to Sophia V. Bambalis, a 2006 CrossRoad participant who passed away on January 31, 2014, after a lengthy illness. The Donors of the Fund have established this scholarship so that young adults like Sophia may have the opportunity to attend CrossRoad and become leaders for the Church and society for years to come.
Sunday, February 19, 2017, 6:00 pm Palm Harbor University Theater Hosted by Saints Raphael, Nicholas & Irene, Palm Harbor Proceeds will go towards building of the Diakonia Retreat Center, Salem N.C ~ Our Beautiful Panaghia Chapel! Tickets sold through your church office or call 727 741-4125 ~ firstname.lastname@example.org
Prokeimenon. Grave Mode. Psalm 98.9,1.
Exalt the Lord our God.
Verse: The Lord reigns; let the people tremble.
The reading is from St. Paul's Letter to the Hebrews 2:11-18.
BRETHREN, he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, "I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee." And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again, "Here am I, and the children God has given me. Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.
14,000 infants (Holy Innocents) slain by Herod in Bethlehem
The Reading is from Matthew 2:13-23
When the wise men departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son."
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more." But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaos reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."
The infant-slaying Herod mentioned here is the same one that ruled at the time of Christ's Nativity. In those days, certain Magi, who were wise and noble men, perhaps even kings, set forth from the East, and came to Jerusalem, seeking the King of the Jews, Who had been born; and they said that in the East, where their homeland was, an unusual and strange star had appeared two years before, which, according to an ancient oracle (Num 24:17), was to signify the birth of some great king of the Jews. "For we have seen His star in the east," they said, "and have come to worship Him" (Matt. 2:2). Hearing these things, Herod was troubled, and the whole city together with him. Then, having inquired and been informed by the high priests and scribes of the people that, according to the prophecies, Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, he sent the Magi thither and ordered them that, when they would find the Child, to inform him, so that he also - as he affirmed - might go and worship Him. But the Magi, after they had worshipped, departed by another way to their own country by a divine command. Then Herod was wroth and sent men to slay all the infants of Bethlehem and the parts round about, from two years old and under, thinking that with them he would also certainly slay the King Who had been born. But this vain man who fought against God was mocked, since Jesus the Child, with Mary His Mother, under the protection of Joseph the Betrothed, fled into Egypt at the command of an Angel. As for those innocent infants, they became the first Martyrs slain in behalf of Christ. But their blood-thirsty executioner, the persecutor of Christ, came down with dropsy after a short time, with his members rotting and being eaten by worms, and he ended his life in a most wretched manner.
Saint Marcellus, who was from the city of Apamea in Syria, was born of renowned parents. Adorned with virtue and learning, he succeeded Saint Alexander to the abbacy of the Monastery of the Unsleeping about the year 460. This monastery was so named because the monks there were divided into three ranks, and took turns in succession for the execution of the sacred services both day and night, and thus ceaselessly sent up praise to God, without any lapse. The author of this practice was the aforementioned Alexander. As the biographer of both these Saints writes: "Later, a venerable monastery was established near the mouth of Pontus - that is, the place where the Black Sea tracts into the Bosphorus - and he introduced a rule that, though new, was superior to any found elsewhere; that is, that henceforth they should never be any cessation in the hymnody offered to God, but that through an unbroken succession of those that served in turn, there should be achieved this continuous and unceasing glorification of our Master."