Spirituality Archive

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A Message from Father Lou – The Lenten Spring is Here!

A MESSAGE FROM FATHER LOU

The Lenten Spring is Here!

 

“The Lenten spring shines forth, the flower of repentance!
Let us cleanse ourselves from all evil,
crying out to the Giver of Light: ‘Glory to You,

O Lover of man!’”
(Cheesefare  Lenten Vespers)

Great Lent begins this year on Clean Monday, March 3. All too often we look at this period of the fast negatively.  That, however is far from the intent. Listen to the words of Fr. Thomas Hopko from his book, The Lenten Spring:

“The Church welcomes the Lenten spring with a spirit of exaltation. She greets the time of repentance with the expectancy and enthusiasm of a child entering into a new and exciting experience. The tone of the church services is one of brightness and light. The words are a clarion call to a spiritual contest, the invitation to a spiritual adventure, the summons to a spiritual feat…
The Lenten spirit of the church is one of splendor and delight.  It breathes with the exhilaration of those girding up to ‘fight the good fight’ for the One who loves them and has given Himself for the sake of their salvation…The Lenten spring is welcomed by Christians in the church not as a time for self-inflicted agony or self-improving therapy. It is greeted as the sanctified season consecrated to the correction, purification and enlightenment of the total person through the fulfillment of the commandments of the crucified God. It is received as the time for batting with evil spirits and blossoming with the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22). It is accepted as ‘the great and saving forty days’ set apart for complete and total dedication to the things of God.  It is the ‘tithe of the year’ which tells us that all times and seasons belong to the Lord who has created and redeemed the world.” (pg. 9 and 11)
As I reflect back on the many Great Lents that I have participated in – most of them as a clergyman – they’ve each proved to be incredible and growing experiences for me.  Of course the period brings with it challenges with the fasting, services, confessions, visitations etc. that add to my daily routine.  But what I have discovered is that above all, it is a time of renewal, excitement, resurrection in the Love of our Compassionate God.  Each lent brings something new to my consciousness – a new inner light dawns from the Light of Salvation, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As we enter into the sacred time again this year, let us enter with a ‘spirit of exaltation,’ with ‘the enthusiasm of a child entering into a new and exciting experience.’  It is a spiritual adventure connecting us by the Cross to a Resurrected life in the eternal Love of our Compassionate Lord.
Have a great Great Lent!
With our Lord’s blessings,
Fr. Lou

 

 

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A Message From Fr. Lou – He Came to me…

A MESSAGE FROM FATHER LOU
He Came To Me

Boris Pasternak poured out his blood in his novel “Dr. Zhivago.” As a Jew in Russia who converted to the Orthodox Christian faith, he knew a great deal of personal suffering. What sustained him is summarized in these words: “I could not have endured it without my discovery of Jesus Christ. He came to me!
Jesus comes to us today. If we need greater light, He comes to dispel our darkness. If we need peace, He comes – He who is our peace. If we need strength, power to forgive, power to love the unlovely, He comes – He who is the Pantocrator – the Almighty. He comes to enable us, to empower us, to uplift us, to save us. He came. He comes. “And His name shall be called Emmanuel, which means God with us. “ (Mt 1:23). (From Daily Vitamins for Spiritual Growth, Fr. Anthony Coniaris, pg. 372.)
The great miracle of Christmas is revealed in the remarkable fact that God comes to us. This is at the same time a universal and cosmic reality and a very personal event, the context of which is agape love. “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. “ (John 3:16). The great proof of His love for us begins with the incarnation – God’s humble taking on of flesh – our Lord Jesus’ Nativity – and ends with His passion, death on the cross and glorious Resurrection. These events are life changing for the entire human race and for you and me, personally. However, they become healing, transforming and salvific for us ONLY when we accept our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as our God. As Boris Pasternak affirmed, he could not have endured life without the discovery of Jesus Christ. He came to him. He comes to us also. Let us therefore discover Him and His love for us in our daily lives. And let us come to Him and accept Him as our loving, saving and merciful God.
This Christmas, may we find room in the inn of our heart for our loving Lord! Have a blessed and Merry Christmas and a healthy and spirit filled New Year.

With our Lord’s blessings,
Fr. Lou

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A Message From Fr. Lou – “Thanksgiving” …

A MESSAGE FROM FATHER LOU

Thanksgiving

 

With the beginning of the Ecclesiastical Year 2013-2014, we enter into the 30th year of the existence of our Saint Catherine Parish. Many who were baptized at Slaven’s Elementary School and some who were baptized after our Saint Catherine’s Temple was completed, have now baptized their own children under the protection of Saint Catherine the Great Martyr. The faithful of this Parish have accepted into the “communion of saints” faithful from various Orthodox backgrounds and pilgrims from a variety of Christian traditions and ancient faiths who have chosen to call Orthodoxy their home. We glorify our Lord for His Divine Presence, love and grace. We thank our Lady the Theotokos, and the Great Martyr Catherine for their intercessory prayers and protection. Finally, we thank our founding fathers and mothers and you the faithful who have accepted their leadership mantle to live eucharistically – in thanksgiving.

Evharisto – the root of Eucharist, which means “thank you”, is such a powerful word. Its core “charis” means “grace”. It’s prefix “Ev” means bless. When we therefore thank God – first and foremost – we “bless” our Loving Lord for the grace given to us. Now grace by definition is a free gift, undeserved, if you will. That free gift begins with our life itself and continues with everything that is in us and that we have. Of course, the Eucharist refers to Holy Communion as well. We therefore live in perpetual thanksgiving, in communion with God and one another. This state of being and the attitude of thanksgiving associated with it has at its core our healing from the fall of original sin – through God’s love and grace .

In this 30th Ecclesiastical year of our Saint Catherine Parish, we again offer ministry and participation opportunities for all our parishioners – young and old alike. These are outlined later in this publication. Please take a moment to see where there are ministries to serve your needs and areas where you might serve in thanksgiving to our Lord for the spiritual gifts you have received. If you have any questions about any ministry please refer them to the Ministry Leader, or Alina Buzdugan, our Ministry Teams Coordinator.

May we all have a most blessed and beautiful 2013-2014  Church Year celebrating 30 years of communion in Thanksgiving to our merciful and Loving Lord and God – Father Son and Holy Spirit.

This is the year of the Lord!

With His blessings, Fr. Lou

 

 

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RETURN – It’s the Soul purpose of Great Lent

A MESSAGE FROM FATHER LOU RETURN – It’s the Soul purpose of Great Lent

That incredible time of Great Lent is nearing again this year with Clean Monday on March 18. In fact Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians began Lent on February 13, with an early Easter, March 31. Our Pascha this year will be celebrat- ed on May 5. So, just what is the purpose of Great Lent? It’s “soul” purpose is returning to God. It is a return to the original beauty in which we were created – a beauty of union in harmo- ny with God and then with one another. The consequences of the Ancestral Sin were the fall of humankind, a distortion of that original beauty, with a focus on the self and the material realm first – rather than God and the spiritual realm. It is a sep- aration first from God and in turn from one another. This sepa- ration from the “Life-Giver,” consequentially brings about death. The ultimate death, however, is not physical, it is spiritu- al. If not healed, this separation brings about the destruction of our soul.

And so it is that God, in God’s great mercy and love offers healing for our souls. First, through the “Word” – the Holy Scriptures, the prophets and the law and then the Word, Him- self enters into the world to reclaim our fallen race, by becom- ing one of us, taking our sins upon His shoulders, dying upon the cross – destroying the power of death and the evil one – and resurrecting – reclaiming the original beauty of the human race. And finally, by sending the Holy Spirit into the Church – the Body of believers to complete and live out this reclamation project of Return and re-union.

Great Lent is that annual re-telling of the story of our human condition and invitation to re-connect with God and our fellow humans. Of course, the yeoman’s portion of the work has been accomplished by our Merciful and Loving God, yet our free-will response, is a necessary component to our souls’ salvation. The central themes to our free-will response to God’s invitation are:

  •   A desire to be with God. This desire is predicated upon

    humility and an attitude of gratitude, a realization that our very life and all the good that entails are gifts from God. We are not self-sufficient. We need God to live;

  •   A resolve – a choice to return to the One who gives us life. This return requires a change of focus and direction from our self and the material realm, primarily to God and the

spiritual realm. This is against our fallen human tendency. This is repentance. It is understood in our Orthodox life as a life long journey often entailing hard work;

 Re-union with God. Sharing with Him in the joy of Pascha through which His Life-giving Resurrection is enlivened in us not only at the end of our life but in the midst of it.

The three legged stool of the Great Lenten journey is Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Prayer nourishes our desire and helps us re-connect with the Life-Giver, our Loving Lord. Fasting assists us in the turning primarily away from our selfish focus and to God. It involves struggle and commitment, perhaps a war. It is waged first in the physical realm because it is precisely there that we are too focused. The result of that over focus is a sick soul. Healing comes through re-focusing, returning to God. And finally, Almsgiving helps us to re-direct our focus to our fellow human beings. By loving “the least of God’s brothers and sis- ters,” we love him. (MT. 25:39-41)

Our Lenten Pilgrimage draws near. Let’s use the beauti- ful tools offered at this time of year to Return to our Loving Lord, dying more to our self-focus and living more in the Life-giving Presence, death on the Cross and Glorious and Life Giving Vic- tory in the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Have a blessed Great Lent with our Lord’s Grace and blessings,

Fr. Lou

Listed on the following pages are Great Lenten opportu- nities for prayer, scriptural and spiritual readings, repentance and confession, retreats, charity and acts of kindness.

THE LENTEN PRAYER OF ST. EPHRAIM

(Said daily in Great Lent)

Lord and Master of my life, de- liver me from the spirit of laziness and meddling, the lust for power and gossip. (Prostration)

Rather, grant the spirit of wis- dom, humility, patience, and love to me your servant. (Prostration)

Yes, Lord and King, grant that I may see my own faults and not to judge others. For you are

blessed to the age of ages. Amen. (Prostration)

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An Attitude of Gratitude

A MESSAGE FROM FATHER LOU

An Attitude of Gratitude

“If the only prayer you said was “thank you” that would be enough.” Meister Eckhart

The daily doxology whether read or chanted in our Orthodox Christian tradition begins, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace and goodwill to all people.” This glory is an offering of thanksgiving to our God for His abundant blessings, for His Love, for His creation, for us. This doxology begins our day and sets the tone not only for each day, but for our life. The beautiful quotation above by Meister Eckhart serves to invite us to have an attitude of gratitude.
The Greek word for gratitude or Thanksgiving is “eucharistia”, or translated literally into English, “Eucharist.” The Eucharist or Holy Communion then denotes a special relationship based upon God’s agape love for us and our love offered back to God in deep appreciation. There is then a continuous and unbroken circle of love between God and us which serves to provide for us the foundation for our life. Living then in gratitude with thanks given to God and others – we live. We inhale of God’s blessings and exhale in grati- tude… and thus we live. This Eucharistic living is not only between God and us but then becomes Eucharistic living from one to another and then we are one in God.
An Attitude of Gratitude…
“Give thanks unto the Lord for He is Good and His Mercy endures forever.”
(Psalm 135/136).
“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer, and let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” (Maya Angelou)
“The man who knows the delight of the love of God – when the soul, warmed by grace, loves both God and her brother – knows in part, that the Kingdom of God is within us.” (Staretz Silouan)
“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” (Thich nhat Hanh)
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” (Marcus Tullius Cicero)
“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today.
Have you used one to say thank you? ” (William Arthur Ward)
February 2, forty days after the celebration of our Lord’s Nativity – Christmas, we annually celebrate Jesus’ En- trance into the Temple. Historically, the Righteous Simeon took our Lord into his hands and entered into the Holy of Ho- lies within the Temple, signifying that Jesus was and is the New High Priest. The New Covenant has dawned and our Lord has entered into our presence.
May we praise Him. May we glorify Him. May we thank Him for His Divine Love and life giving presence. May we live eucharistically with a daily attitude of gratitude. Have a beautiful, blessed and Grace filled year in thanksgiving to our Lord.
With our Lord’s blessings, Fr. Lou

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A Change is Needed

As I write this article, it is only days before Christmas. This typical time of joy, excitement, and anticipation, carries with it this year certain somberness. Annually, we are disturbed by the commercialization of this “holiday season” and the various attempts to remove Jesus from the celebration of His birth – as ludicrous as it sounds. This year is no different in that regard. And each year for those of us who have “eyes to see and ears to hear”, our Lord overcomes those obstacles and Emmanuel – God is with us!

This year, however, in the midst of the shortest days of the year in our Northern Hemisphere, an even deeper darkness has permeat- ed the depths of our being – Sandy Hook Elementary School in New- town, CT. An unimaginable act of evil and terror in the murder and massacre of 20 kindergarteners and first graders, 6 of their teachers, and a mother whose “disturbed” 20 year old son shot her while she slept, before his killing rampage and suicide. This heinous act of evil has touched us to the very core. It has brought us to our knees. The most vulnerable and innocent of our little ones were slaughtered…

How do we respond? A change is needed. Unfortunately, these acts of violence are not new. To be sure, in our country with the terrible rise of mass murders in the past decade or so, these terrorist acts on children have become all too familiar. Centuries ago, at the time of Moses, the male infants of the Hebrews were ordered killed by the Egyptian Pharaoh because the Hebrews had become too power- ful. (Exodus 1). Shortly after Jesus’ birth, the Hebrew King Herod ordered all the children under two-years of age to be killed in and around Bethlehem in his attempt to destroy Jesus in fear that He would one day take his thrown. (Matthew 2:16-17). Our Church com- memorates these Holy 14,000 Innocents annually on December 29th. And then there are the more contemporary slaughterings of children at the hands of Adolph Hitler, Stalin, The Killing Fields of Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan – to name a few.

How do we respond? A change is needed. As we have been “brought to our knees” by this horrific act, let us not be so quick to get up. Let us remain there in prayer and look to the One who of ages past and present brings us out of darkness into the light. (Matthew 4:14-16). As we consider such issues as gun control, mental healthcare, protective measures in schools, malls, theatres, and crowded venues – allow these considerations to be rooted in prayer.

A change is needed. On the 12th day of Christmas, we annually celebrate Theophany/ Epiphany, remembering our Lord’s baptism in the Jordan River, where God in Trinity is revealed. Our belief is that as the Lord stepped into the water of the Jordan, the River reversed its course. Symbolically, as Christ – the God/Man entered into the world, He reestablished fallen nature and humankind to its (and our) “original beauty”. Our journey in response to God’s presence in our lives of actualizing our reclaimed beauty in a world full of pain, suffering, sorrow and death, is an upstream battle, one going against the flow. It requires a soul focus on God.

A change is needed. Jesus began his three-year public ministry following His baptism with the words of His Forerunner, John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17). Repentance – a change of mind, a change of attitude, a change of direction is needed. Please read these powerful words written by Father Alexander Karloutsos in his 2012 Christmas message:

“Why is it, I ask, that we insist on giving our children everything our parent’s could not afford to give us and yet desist from giving them the priceless things of value that our parent’s did give us – our faith, culture, and legacy? We buy them apps, but not aptitude for living; we give them toys, but neglect to give them life’s tools; and we give them the best of cars, but without giving them the best road to travel through life. Surprisingly and sadly, out of our abounding love, we’ve given our children an entitlement mentality opposed to a gratitude mindset!”

A change is needed. We need, our children need, our civil lead- ers need, our nation needs, our world needs – GOD. God is our Savior. God is our Hope. God is our Strength. God is our Love. God is our Peace. God is our Life. The change necessary is needed at all levels, but it begins with you and me. It is “grass roots”. Saint Seraphim of Sarov states, “Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved.” In the violence of our world, of our nation, of our cit- ies, of our rural areas, of our entertainment, of our politics, and of our families – we, you and I are called to be peacemakers. As Saint Basil states, “Nothing is so characteristically Christian as being a peacemaker.” In a world of divisions, borders, disagreements, and hatred, we are called to love.

Let this change begin today. With the beginning of our New Year, and still in the midst of the celebration of Christmas and The- ophany, our Lord’s humble entrance into the world and the revelation of God in Trinity, let us allow Him to lead us out of darkness into the Light. As we draw nearer to His Light, may we be renewed and transformed. May He then use us as His beacons of light, hope, love, care, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace for our families, our peers, our nation and the world!

Have a blessed healthy and Spirit-filled New Year! With our Lord’s blessing,
Father Lou

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Spirituality

by Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald

Orthodoxy believes that the supreme treasure which God wishes to share with us is His own life. Our faith begins with the affirmation that God has acted in history to permit us to participate in His love and His goodness, to be citizens of His Kingdom. This conviction is expressed so beautifully in the prayer of the Liturgy which says: “You have not ceased to do all things until You brought us to heaven and granted us the Kingdom to come.”

The fundamental vocation and goal of each and every person is to share in the life of God. We have been created by God to live in fellowship with Him. The descent of God in the Person of Jesus Christ has made possible the human ascent to the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy believes that each Christian is involved in a movement toward God which is known as theosis or deification. [Read More]

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Metropolitan Kallistos – Are You Saved?

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Health Reform

A MESSAGE FROM FATHER LOU

We have not seen a more controversial issue than health reform in our country for some time. It is the main topic of debate on many radio talk shows, Fox News and CNN. Those on either side of the debate, I believe would agree that the providing of quality and affordable health care to all within our country is one of her main responsibilities.

Allow me to focus on a different type of health reform – Spiritual Health Reform. How many times have we heard or perhaps even said ourselves, “…if you have your health you have everything.”? Our Lord and His Church throughout the centuries would of course confirm this through His compassion and countless healings of sickness, disease and ailments in His ministry and through His people. However, above these physical healings He places, of course, our spiritual health and well being. This is of no surprise for us in theory. In other words, even the most basic of Christians understand that our spiritual health, the health of our soul is of primary importance. Health of mind, body and soul are intricately woven together, but our primary focus is health of soul. In our Lord’s own words, “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is life not more than food and the body more than clothing…? But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all this shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:25, 33). Or remember Jesus’ healing of the paralytic man that was lowered down through the roof to Jesus by his friends? Upon seeing their faith Jesus said to the Paralytic, “son, your sins are forgiven.” The scribes and others with them upon hearing Jesus, complained that only God can forgive sins to which Jesus responded by healing the man to show that his sins were forgiven also and first showing the primacy of this dimension of health. (Mark 2:1-12)

In the midst of the great health reform debate that we find ourselves, why not take this opportunity to focus on your own spiritual health reform? Allow me to offer a few concrete suggestions:
1. Dedicate your life more fully to Christ. Accept His love for you (John 3:16), and love Him and your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22:37-39). Daily think of concrete ways of loving God by loving others – a kind word here, a prayer there, a monetary offering to help over there, are a few suggestions.
2. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Mt. 6:33). Put God and His kingdom first in your daily life. Begin and end each day with a thanksgiving prayer. Read His word, the Bible, daily. It is like daily food or vitamins.
3. Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. (Mt. 4:17). To be a “holy one” (a-yi-os in Greek) means to be in the world but not of the world. Repentance is about walking in a different direction than worldly directions such as desiring fame, fortune, and being self-centered. Be God-centered and humble as you relate to others!
4. Forgive! If you forgive man their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not… either will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt. 6:14-15). We tend to justify ourselves when we have a conflict with another. That’s our pride—not humility talking. That’s the world’s way.
5. Be humble! Remember the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. “…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
6. Take advantage of the Religious Education classes for the adult, the “School of the Seventy”, and the personal journaling questions offered weekly.
7. Participate in the Church – the sacramental presence of our Lord with His people.

I respectfully offer these suggestions with a sincere hope and prayer that they can help in reforming our spiritual health and wellbeing.

With our Lord’s blessing, Fr. Lou

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As God Wills

A MESSAGE FROM FATHER LOU

My sisters, brother and I had the good fortune of growing up in the same town as my paternal grandparents. For the first ten years of my life or so, our maternal grandfather also lived in Cheyenne until his passing. If there is one phrase that I remember, perhaps above all others from my Yiayia and Papous, it was “Proto o Theos”, literally “First God” or “As God Wills”. Sentences would go something like this: “I will see you next summer, Proto O Theos”, or “Proto o Theos we will go fishing Saturday” or “I will fix you macaroni kapama (an incredible Greek tomato and meat sauce), “Proto o Theos”. You see my grandparents really took nothing for granted and realized that everything from the simple and apparently mundane to the complex in life is dependent upon God. From my grandparents to my parents and now to my siblings, the phrase “God willing” is a part of our regular vocabulary.

Indeed this is a part of our Orthodox Cultures. This, however, is not the case in our American – even Western European cultures. Even Christianity has often been negatively influenced to the point where “God-willing” is looked at negatively rather than positively. Please read what Mother Raphaela, the Abbess of Holy Myrrhbearers OCA Monastery in upstate New York recently said in her address to the graduates of Saint Vladimir Seminary: “…But we have a culture, even a Church culture where the phrase “as God wills” signifies a negative, fatalistic approach to life and who in their right mind would try to find that for any future?” She goes on to challenge the seminary graduates to live a life in personal relationship with God, so that His will be slowly but continually intertwined with their will, as they live a life of intimate relationship with Him and through Him with others.

If God’s will is to become our will it requires a commitment to relationship in love to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God’s will is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. It is, however, not forced upon us. If God’s will is to become our will we must humbly choose to accept Him and then anything that He wills in our lives. “How we use this incredible portion of created time and space we call life, matters incredibly.” (Mother Raphaela, pg. 7) Our opportunity and responsibility is to use time and space – indeed our lives as opportunities for love, kindness, grace, forgiveness as reflections of the light of God’s glory in an alarmingly dark world.

As we enter the Fast Period of the Dormition of the Blessed Theotokos please join me in reflecting on God’s will in our daily lives. As we approach the end of the summer and the beginning of the New Ecclesiastical Year (September 1) please join me in a commitment of love to our Lord and God in Trinity and to one another. “Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God…” (Religious Ed. Theme for 2009-2010)
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Love of God the Father and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

With our Lord’s blessings,
Fr. Lou

(Note: Quotations and references to Mother Raphaela are from Essay and Notes, Volume 15, No.1 Summer 2009, Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery, Otego, NY.)