Thursday, March 21, 2013

Archpastoral Letter for the Beginning of Great Lent

 To the Reverend Clergy and all the Faithful of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
(2 Corinthians 1:2)

With Forgiveness Vespers on this Sunday evening, we begin the holy season of Great Lent, during which time we strive to unite ourselves more closely to the Lord in our daily lives.

Over the course of the next forty days, the Church calls us to more intense prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These are the three principle characteristics of Great Lent. As Orthodox Christians we embrace these spiritual, ascetical and charitable exercises with conviction, enthusiasm, and hope. At least we start out that way.

Immersing ourselves into the intensity of Great Lent is not always easy. Many times we lose steam and don’t complete the race. But we should never despair. We are weak creatures and while we may start off with good and sincere intentions, we oftentimes find ourselves being distracted by the worries and cares of the world so much so that our intent to pray more, observe the fast, and give of ourselves to works of charity oftentimes fades away. But each new sunrise gives us an opportunity to try harder and make a new beginning.

Great Lent is a time of conversion. It is an opportunity for us to change direction and focus. It is a reminder to us that we must think of the eternal and not the temporary, of the one thing needful and not the material things of this fallen and broken world. Great Lent is a time to slow down, to rethink our lives and to “clean up our act”, as it were. It is a time of solemn, sometimes even silent reflection. Great Lent brings us face-to-face with the realities of our own sinfulness, inadequacies, and weaknesses yet it also gives us hope and encouragement. As we journey through the next forty days, the Church presents us with images of forgiveness, redemption, and of new life born of suffering and unselfish love.

Following Jesus is never easy. It is one of the lessons Great Lent teaches us. For forty days we walk through the scorching desert of self-examination, intense prayer and fasting. We are also called to give enthusiastically to others in imitation of Him who gave His life willingly and freely for us.

Great Lent calls us to be good. This may sound very simplistic but it really isn’t. Being good isn’t always as easy as it seems. Satan tempts many times a day, every day of our lives. And it’s very easy to give into that temptation, especially since Satan is so good at deception. Remember how Satan tempted Christ when He was in the desert? He came to Jesus when He was in a weakened state from fasting. But Christ remained steadfast in His goodness. Our Lord never flinched; He stood His ground, drawing His strength from the relationship He had with His Father.

The temptations Jesus faced in the desert were real. They were hard. And they were decisive. God allowed Jesus to be tempted in His humanity not to make Him fall, but to strengthen Him and to make Him rise to meet the challenges of His ministry. Saying ‘no’ to Satan, Jesus forged His human resolve to follow the Father’s plan. Each of us faces temptations day in and day out; every day of our lives Satan is there dangling the carrot before us.

Great Lent is an opportunity for us to say ‘no’ to what is evil and bad in our lives, and to say a resounding ‘yes’ to what is good and draws us closer to God.  At a time when many simply dismiss the human response to God’s grace as being of no importance and believe that everyone will be saved, we are reminded of the ultimate consequences of our actions. Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us of the seriousness of our response. He says, “broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

The Didache, a catechism dating from the first or second century, repeats Jesus’ warning: “There are two ways, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the two ways.” To follow Christ is always a free choice. He leads, but we must choose to follow Him. Christ does not force or compel us to follow Him. Every day, in family life, in work, in school, with friends and even with the casual passer-by, we make moral choices that either embrace life or choose death.

During Great Lent, we intensify our prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three traditional Lenten practices, taken from the Sermon on the Mount, open us more fully to God’s grace. They help us to keep more readily Jesus’ commandments to love God and one another. These penitential practices strengthen our will to choose the good so that we are more eager to be true disciples of the Lord.

In speaking of the Lenten discipline, St. Peter Chrysologus, the 5th century Bishop of Ravenna, taught, “There are three things by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, fasting and mercy: these three are one, and they give life to each other.” (Sermon 43)

By more individual prayer during Great Lent, by observing the Fast, and by extending even greater charity to others than we normally do, we are better prepared to turn from evil and to choose the good. All the practices of Great Lent center our attention on God’s grace. They also make us more conscious of the choices that we make each day.

Certainly, we can take the easy path, giving in to Satan’s temptations, choosing what pleases us, indulging our pleasures and passions. And sometimes we do. We sin…sometimes a lot, every day. Hence, our need for repentance and the frequent use of the Holy Mystery of Confession and Reconciliation. But we can also take the more arduous path, choosing what is good for ourselves and others in the eyes of God.

 This Great Lent, may we make our own the words of Jesus, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem” (Matthew 20:18). Today, we are beginning our journey to Jerusalem, where all humanity is saved by Christ’s Death and Resurrection.  May our journey be one of enlightenment and purification so that when we come to celebrate the Paschal mysteries, we may say with great joy and confidence: “Christ is Risen! Truly, He is risen!”



Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Forgiveness Sunday Homily

Homily For Forgiveness Sunday

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we Orthodox Christians celebrate Forgiveness Sunday, the day before the beginning of Great Lent. I use the word “celebrate” intentionally because we do, in fact, celebrate the fact that God’s compassion is without bounds. We celebrate because we rejoice in the fact that we are given the grace to forgive those who have offended and transgressed against us as many times as God forgives us our sins and transgressions. We celebrate because we are loved by a God whose mercy toward us is unfathomable and indescribable.

Today, I want every person here, and throughout our Archdiocese, who is burdened with sin to believe in God’s mercy and love, and to believe in them joyfully because God IS love. He has a great tenderness towards the work of His hands. God seeks not to condemn the guilty but rather looks with anxious care upon them to see how He can turn around His righteous anger and restore them to favor. For this reason alone there is remission of sins.

Forgiveness comes to us not through any merit of our own, present or foreseen; but only through the tender mercy of God, and the marvelous and wondrous visit of love which came of it.

If God is gracious enough to forgive our sins, it can be done; for all things are possible with God and every arrangement is already made to accomplish it. Behold Him in Jesus Christ, and there we see Him as full of compassion and love.

The main point of my homily today is to bring into prominence those few words, “the tender mercy of our God.” For me, the words shine with a brilliant and comforting light. I see in them a soft radiance, like one of those precious pearls of which the gates of heaven are made. There is a sweet melody which touches my heart when I hear the words “tender mercy.” “Mercy" is music, and “tender mercy” is the most exquisite and sublime form of it, especially to a broken heart. To one who is despondent and despairing, these words are life renewing and full of hope.

Those of us who are sinners, much bruised by the lashes of conscience, will bend our knees, crying out, “O Lord and Master of my life, let me hear again from Your lips the sweet sound of the words ‘tender mercy.’ Pour out upon me Your mercy and compassion that I may be renewed and refreshed in body and spirit.”

If you think upon the tenderness of God, it will strike you with wonder and fill you with awe, that One so great should be so tender and loving; for we are prone to attribute to Omnipotence a crushing energy, which can scarcely take account of our feebleness and littleness. Yet, when we think about this, it cannot be otherwise; for He who is truly Omnipotent is the only One who can love so greatly and totally.

Throughout the New Testament, we read of God’s gentleness and of His tenderness towards the children of men; we see that tenderness displayed to its full extent in the Gospel of our salvation. Very conspicuous in the Gospels is this “tender mercy of our God.”

The original wording is, “The mercy of the heart of our God.” But the Evangelists, though they wrote in Greek, carried with them into that language the idioms of the Hebrew tongue; so they do not use an adjective, as it would seem from our translation “tender mercy;” but they say “the bowels of mercy” or “of the heart of God.” The “mercy of the heart of God” is to be seen in the remission of sin, and in the visitation of His love when He comes to us as the “Dayspring from on high.” So great is the tenderness of divine mercy.

The mercy of the heart of God is, of course, the mercy of His great tenderness, the mercy of His infinite gentleness and consideration. But it means much more. It means the mercy of God’s very soul. The heart is the center of life, and mercy is to God what the heart is to the human body. When the heart stops, life ceases. When God’s mercy is absent from our lives, what happens is spiritual death; our sins overwhelm us, they poison our body and we experience spiritual death. “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies, says the Lord God.” Why does God say this? Because God is love: not only is He loving, but He is love itself. Mercy is of divine essence: mercy lies in the heart of God. He has bound up His mercy with His very existence. As surely as He is, He will grant remission of sins to those who turn to Him and ask for forgiveness.

The mercy of God’s heart means an enduring and abundant mercy, a mercy which forgives every transgression and sin which is sincerely confessed and repented of. Remission of sins is a business into which the Lord throws His whole heart and being. God delights in mercy and the giving of it. He forgives with an intensity of will, and a readiness of soul.

Opening His heart, God gave us His Only-begotten Son so that He might save all men and women. The Eternal God has thrown His whole being into the business of redeeming men. If you want to see God as He truly is, you will find Him at His best in the pardoning of sin and the saving of men. If you desire to know the real character of God, you must study the visitation of His love in the person of Jesus Christ. Then you will come to the full understanding of the depth of God’s love and the infinite grace which spring forth from that visitation. It is a wonderful sight to behold God when He says: “Now will I arise.” With awe and childlike wonder we watch Him as He lays bare His arm and takes up the work of grace. When He stirs up His strength to come and save us, and brings the essence of His being into intense action to bless us, we are truly favored indeed.

It is this desire to do us good, this eagerness to bless us, which is meant by the mercy of His heart. It is not only tenderness but intensity, fullness, eagerness, delight, and concentration of power. All this is to be seen in the dealing of God with guilty men when He visits them to grant them the remission of their sins.

The forgiveness of sins is a wonderful gift we have been given. We very often take this for granted. The Church gives us Forgiveness Sunday as a reminder of just how important the forgiveness and remission of sins are in our lives. Without them, our lives spin out of control and we sink deeper and deeper into despair and hopelessness. When we are forgiven our sins and when we forgive those who have sinned and transgressed against us, our spirits and souls are set free and we fly into the warmth of the light. We are refreshed, renewed and strengthened; we are given a new energy and raised to a higher level of communion with God. When we are free of sin, we see and feel His love and His presence in our lives more deeply.

As we prepare to begin our Lenten journey, let us do so by taking full advantage of the tender mercy of the Lord by placing all our sins before Him and asking Him for forgiveness. Let us also ask one another for forgiveness of the many sins and offenses we have committed against each other over the past year, so that we may worthily bear witness to the joy and reality of the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and proclaim it in purity of heart to all people everywhere.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Archdiocese Celebrates Ordination of New Deacon

With grateful thanks to Almighty God, we are pleased to announce the ordination to the Holy Diaconate of Joseph A. Brousseau of Las Vegas, NV. Fr. Deacon Joseph was ordained to the Diaconate on Tuesday, February 13/16, 2013 at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, NV by His Eminence, the Most Rev. Archbishop Stephen, Metropolitan of the Americas and Canada of the Italo-Greeks and Primate of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church.
Fr. Deacon Joseph was born on June 27, 1969 in Brooklyn, New York to Joseph and Estelle Brousseau. He is the husband of Elisabeth (Erica) and the father of two children.
Deacon Joseph served in the US Army Reserve - 24th Military Intelligence Battalion from 1987-1990. From 1990 to 1994, he served in the US Army's 702nd Main Support Battalion, 3/16th Field Artillery Battery. In 1994, he joined the NY Army National Guard - 442nd Military Police Company, where he served until 2000. From 2000 to 2007, Deacon Joseph served in the Air National Guard, serving one tour in Baghdad, Iraq.
From 1995-2007, Deacon Joseph was an Investigator with the New York City Police Department - Applicant Processing Division.
During his time in the military and in law enforcement, Deacon Joseph was the recipient of many awards, including the Army Commendation Medal, Operation Iraqi Freedom Medal, Operation Enduring Freedom Medal, Police Meritorius Service Medal, US Military Service in Iraq Medal and others.
Deacon Joseph is a 2011 graduate of St. Bernard's School of Theology, where he earned a Master's Degree in Pastoral Studies (MAPS).
Before entering into the Orthodox Church, Deacon Joseph served as a Youth Minister in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany; as a catechist and Pastoral Council member at St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Northville, NY. He served also as an acolyte/subdeacon at Our Lady of Wisdom Byzantine Catholic Church in Las Vegas, NV.
Deacon Joseph was a diaconal candidate for the Byzantine Catholic Church, however, he left the program after study and research led him to the Orthodox Church. Deacon Joseph and his family were received into the Orthodox Church at St. Nicholas Orthodox Mission in Las Vegas.
In January 2013, Joseph and his family petitioned His Eminence, Archbishop Stephen to be received into the canonical jurisdiction of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americs and Canada and asked for a blessing to establish an Italo-Greek Orthodox Community in Las Vegas under the patronage of St. Tatiana of Rome. Both requests were positively received and acted upon.
On February 9/22, 2013, His Eminence issued a Decree of Canonical Erection formally establishing St. Tatiana of Rome Italo-Greek Orthodox Church in the city of Las Vegas effective February 14/27, 2013. Concurrent with the canonical erection of the parish, Archbishop Stephen appointed Fr. Deacon Joseph as Administrator. 
We welcome Fr. Deacon Joseph into our Archdiocesan family and wish him many years of fruitful ministry in service of the Lord and His Church. Cent'anni!