Thursday, August 29, 2013

Homily for the Feast of the Dormition

August 15/28, 2013

For hundreds of years, Christians throughout the world have observed the feast of the Dormition/Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15th, commemorating her death and celebrating her being taken bodily to Heaven. Truth be known, we have no real knowledge of the day, year, and manner of Our Lady’s death. The dates which have been assigned to her death vary between three to fifteen years after Christ’s Ascension.
Mary’s tomb was presumably found in Jerusalem. Tradition tells us that she dies in the presence of all the Apostles, but that after her burial, her tomb, when opened, was found empty. Therefore, they concluded that her body had been taken up (assumed) into Heaven. This would be a logical conclusion since it would be inconceivable to think that the body of the Mother of God should decay in the grave.
The feast of the Dormition/Assumption of the Mother of God completes God’s work in Mary since it was not fitting that the flesh which had given life to God Himself should ever undergo corruption.
Mary was a model disciple completely open to God’s grace. The feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God celebrates the special place that Mary has in the life of the Church. This place is first of all defined by her being chosen to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. This fact alone gives her a uniqueness which is shared by no other human being who has ever lived.
By her assumption into heaven after her death, we come to understand that Mary, because of the dignity of her motherhood and her own personal submission to God’s will at every stage of her life, takes precedence over all other human beings in the sharing of God’s glory which is the destiny of all of us who die united with Christ her Son.
Today’s celebration turns our eyes in that direction, where we will hopefully follow, if we have lived a good and righteous life, when our earthly life is over. In order to experience what Mary experienced, we must live as she lived; we must follow her example. In all things, we must submit ourselves completely to the will of God.
Mary chose, with the help of God’s grace, to preserve her God-given purity throughout her life. The bodily corruption of death was not God’s original plan. It came into the world through sin, as St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians: “the sting of death is sin.” So, it is fitting that she who knew no sin should not experience decay and corruption after death or delay in enjoying the first fruits of her Son’s work.
Mary was always at home with God’s word. She lived on God’s word. She was filled with God’s word and divine light. This is why she was so resplendent, so good, and so radiant with love and goodness. Mary was, in every way, what God had intended us to be from the very beginning.
The feast of the Dormition has always been loved dearly by the faithful of the Church. The feast is a sign to us that someday, through God’s grace and our efforts, we too may join the Blessed Mother in giving glory to God.
The feast of the Dormition and Assumption of the Mother of God should be a source of great hope for us, for it points the way for all followers of Christ who imitate Mary’s fidelity and submission to God’s will. Where Mary is now, we are meant eventually to be, and may hope to be through Divine grace.
Let us seek to imitate Mary’s self-sacrificing love, her indestructible faith and her perfect obedience. As with the case of Jesus’ resurrection, we need to look at the meaning of what the feast is about rather than being too literal in our understanding of how it is described. In other words, we do not need to know all the details of what or how it happened but rather that it did happen and what it means for us.
Mary’s greatness does not come solely from being chosen to be the Mother of God but in her total acceptance of that responsibility in faith and trust, accepting blindly all that it might entail. And, indeed, she had no idea the price she would have to pay to be the mother of Jesus. But she had emptied herself in total service to Him and now she is being raised to the highest place among the human race. Through her body, Mary said “Yes!” to God. Through her body, Mary was elevated to a place so high that no creature would ever be able to displace her.
Mary is a model for us all, and her assumption into Heaven is sign of hope for us as well. We now have a Mother who is in heaven; a mother who is the Mother of God, the Mother of the Son of God, who is also our mother. Jesus made her our mother when, while hanging on the Cross, He said to the disciple and to all of us: “Behold, you Mother!” Precisely because she is our mother and is now with God, she is very close to each and every one of us. She always hears us and listens to us and she always intercedes with her Son on our behalf.
On this feast day, let us thank the Lord God for the gift, example and life of the Virgin Mary, and let us pray to her to help us choose and follow the right path every day, to make the right choices, and to give ourselves over totally to God’s will every day. Today, we join Mary in her happiness. May we be found worthy of that same happiness in our own relationship with God.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

You Are My Life

Dear Friends,

During these past two weeks I have been unable to speak about the case in question. But I wish to offer the following so that you may see another side of the story other than what has been in the media. It's only a sampling of 16 years of ministry, love and service but it speaks volumes about what we hold dear and important.

Please do not forget the good that was and is still being done and always remember that you are my life and I live for you.

Please continue to keep me, Phil, and our Church in your prayers.

May God bless you all!

Your unworthy servant,
+Archbishop Stephen


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Into Your Hands, O Lord

To the Faithful of the Church and to our friends and supporters:

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all!

I wanted to post this last Tuesday but the events of the past week have been quite emotionally and physically draining and I have just been trying to center myself in those areas and spiritually. First of all, on behalf of myself and Phil, I want to say "thank you" for the outpouring of prayers and words of encouragement we have received. Your kindness and support in this difficult time will never be forgotten. To borrow some words from St. Paul, I thank God always when I remember you in my prayers for I have derived much joy and comfort from your love. Truly, your love and prayers are my strength during this difficult time.

You all know what has been written in the papers and said in the news reports so there is no sense in rehashing it here, nor do I care too. All I will say is that nothing was intentionally done wrong and I hope to fulfill the promises I made. As the Diocesan Bishop I made a decision which my heart told me was right and I still stand by it. Would I do it again? No, I wouldn't. Not because I don't trust any more but because I know now that things can happen that are beyond our control that can change things.

To the faithful of the Church; to my family, friends and supporters; to my co-workers in the vineyard; to my brother bishops and fellow Orthodox Christians, I am deeply sorry for the embarrassment, hurt and pain this has caused you all. The intention was always only to do God's work and glorify His Name. Hopefully, I will be able to resolve this in the way it was initially intended and continue our work with the poor, the sick, the forgotten and the needy as we have done for the past sixteen years.

I ask you to remember that there is more to the story than what was told in the papers. I ask you to remember the nine hundred plus children of Head Start that we have cared for the past eight years and who are so dear to the heart of the Cathedral parish and who are my pride and joy. I ask you to remember the thousands of families we have served every Thanksgiving with baskets of food and on a weekly basis from our food pantry. I ask you to remember the hundreds of senior citizens whom we help by shoveling snow, mowing lawns, running errands, etc. I ask you to remember all the good things we have done for God's people with the only motivation being love and a desire to serve as Christ served.

Not a dime of money given by any individual was ever spent on anything other than what it was ear-marked for. Not a dime of any money that was ever given was used to pay salaries or any administrative costs. Money to pay our regular bills derived from our collections, fried dough sales, Italian ice sales or other fundraisers. Yes, we have and still do struggle to pay our bills but that burden has been lightened by the weekly bingo game we started in October 2012. Though I know it is not an acceptable way to fund the works of the Church, it has nevertheless been a blessing for us, giving us the opportunity to have a regular weekly income we would otherwise not have. Because of the bingo game, we have paid over $30,000 in bills and are able to pay our regular recurrent bills when they come due.

I don't know what the outcome of this will be, but I place it all in God's hands and implore His mercy. During this difficult time, I ask your continued prayers for myself, Phil and the Church. And if you can, please come to visit us at the Cathedral. Call or email before you come to make sure that we are there. But it would be nice to see you.

With love in Christ,
+Archbishop Stephen