Tuesday, January 26, 2016

There Is No Such Thing as a Pro-Choice Christian

As we get closer and closer to electing a new President of the United States, we find ourselves trying to sort through and understand the ideologies of the individual candidates. Each candidate has differing views on a wide range of subjects and issues, all of which are important to the American people. It is not the Church’s place to make a pronouncement or judgment on the worthiness of any candidate nor can the Church tell you outright or even recommend what candidate you should consider voting for. The Church cannot involve itself in such matters. What the Church can do is speak about the issues, especially those which seriously impact the overall well-being of the People of God and the salvation of the Christian soul. Today, I want to address one hot-button issue specifically and that is “Pro-Choice.” I am just going to say this simply. It is not possible for a Christian to be pro-Choice. There simply is no such thing as a Pro-Choice Christian.

A lot of Christians say that while they are against abortion, they do support a woman’s right to choose what she can do when it comes to her body. This is utter nonsense! People say that the Church has no right to tell a woman what she can do with her own body; that She has no right to tell anybody what they can do with their body. Again, this is utter nonsense! The Church has every right to tell not only women but men as well what they can and cannot not do with their bodies. And the reason for this is very simple. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit dwells within the body. Thus, God dwells within us.

Genesis tells us that God breathed into Adam the breath of life. The original word for “breath” is “ruach”, the “Spirit” of life. Adam was animated by God’s Spirit. And from then on all men have derived their life from God’s Holy Spirit.

In Job, Elihu understood this, when he said: “The Spirit of God has made me. And the breath (Spirit) of the Almighty gives me life (Job 33:4). In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus says that it is the Spirit Who gives life (John 6:63). There are many places in Holy Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments, that give evidence to the sacredness of the human body and to human life as being a gift from God. Faithful Christians, especially those who understand the meaning of their Baptism, will see and understand this reality without any confusion or ambiguity.

Unfortunately, we live in a society in which cafeteria-style Christianity is the norm. Christians today pick and choose what they want to believe, and most of the time they choose only those things from the menu which are appealing to them. In other words, they choose to subscribe only to those dogmas and teachings of the Faith which are comfortable and convenient for them. Sadly, what they fail to realize is that one cannot pick and choose what one wants to believe. In order to be a Christian in the fullest sense of the word, one has to accept and profess ALL that the Church professes and teaches.

Many will argue that much of what the Church teaches and professes is man-made and not of God. This is simply not true. Truth does not develop over time. Truth always is. Truth does not change from one generation to the next. Truth, however, becomes more and more clearer over time as the Church comes to understand Herself more fully in light of the Holy Trinity, in the life of Christ, and with the grace of the Holy Spirit. In other words, as we mature in the Faith, we have a greater awareness and understanding of who we are and where we are going.

The beliefs we hold dear and profess are the manifestation of the mind of the Church, inspired, guided and revealed by the Holy Spirit. It is the mistaken understanding of many that what the Church teaches and believes on such issues as abortion, sexuality, and the human body, are “man-made” constructs and theories. Again, this is an incorrect assumption. God Himself has made known to the Church His mind on these issues; He has revealed to us His will, not just to one or a handful of “men”, but to the whole People of God. We proclaim and profess what the Councils of the Church came to know and understand through the guidance and presence of the Holy Spirit. Thus, what we believe and profess concerning marriage, sexuality, the human body, abortion, homosexuality, etc., comes from the self-realization of who and what we are: a people created in the image and likeness of God and members of the Body of Christ. Thus, a person who acts against the Body is not a member of the Body, but alienates and ultimately excludes himself from it. A Christian, a member of the Body of Christ, cannot do or speak other than what Christ Himself, the Head, does and speaks.

Any Christian woman who says she has the right to decide whether or not she is going to keep a child she bears is not a Christian. No sincere Christian would ever willingly or arbitrarily choose to take another human life, unless it was absolutely necessary (i.e., self-defense, war, capital punishment.)  In these most extreme and extraordinary circumstances, there will always be a degree of remorse or guilt on the part of a person who has taken a life he or she knows is precious and irreplaceable.

In most cases, with the exception of rape, a woman chooses to have an abortion because having a baby is not convenient. Abortion is a selfish act because it considers only what is allegedly good for the woman who is pregnant. “I don’t want this child because it’s not convenient for me. I don’t want to be a mother. I just wanted to have sex; I just wanted to have a good time and enjoy myself.” A woman who can have such casual disregard for human life is a calculating, cold-blooded murderer. The child growing in the womb has no rights in the eyes of those women who profess to be Pro-Choice.

Having sex is a favorite recreational sport for many people today. It’s cool to have sex as often as possible and to be sexually active puts one in the “in group.” Regular and frequent sexual activity is a social status badge one wears with honor and pride.  Guys get together at the local sports bar to talk about their sexual conquests and brag about how many women they “banged” last week. Girls get together and talk about how they would like to “do” that sexy looking guy in the apartment across the hall. Watch any television sitcom or drama in prime time television and you will not find one without at least one explicit sexual scene or sexually charged dialogue. It’s all about sex and immediate sexual gratification. Try watching “Two Broke Girls” or “Younger” and think seriously if these are the type of people You want your children to grow up to be.

Very little of what we see on television, in the movies, or in public behavior, has anything to do with love and committed, enduring relationships. Most sexual activity engaged in by unmarried people today is “irresponsible.” So too, with some married couples as well. Sexual engagement is sought after and entered into merely to satisfy base animal sexual drives.  Even when “protection” is used by both parties, it doesn’t change the fact that regular sexual activity without boundaries is irresponsible and inexcusable; especially when a child is the result of that selfish behavior. What I mean by regular sexual activity without boundaries is when a couple engages in sex simply to “get off”, to merely satisfy their sexual urges. A man and a woman, who barely know each other, have absolutely no problem whatsoever giving each other sexual pleasure and gratification, but they could care less about a human life they are responsible for creating as a result of giving in to their passions. What is wrong with this picture?

Men and women oftentimes forget that they are partners with God in His work of continuing the human race. The sexual act is, and always has been, God’s design and plan to accomplish this. When a man or woman seeks to impede or otherwise stop this divine work, they are guilty of grave sin. Any man or woman can freely choose not to have children, but this will require that they abstain and refrain from sexual activity. This is certainly a big sacrifice and one that requires a great deal of self-discipline and inner strength. But if a man or woman willingly decides to freely engage in sexual activity, they must do so understanding fully that they may create another human life. Should a child be conceived, both parties must then fulfill all the responsibilities and obligations that come with that conception, first and foremost among which are allowing the child to be born.

Life begins at the moment of conception. From that very first moment God has breathed the breath of His Spirit into the womb of the mother and He has once again created life. The woman acts as host to the child. Even though the child is reliant on the woman for nourishment and care while he or she is within the mother’s body, the child is nonetheless an independent and autonomous human being who already has an established relationship with God. Thus, the child has rights which cannot be abrogated by any other human being. 

Yes, a woman has choices: she can choose the child's name;  she can choose, for a while at least, what clothes the child will wear;  she can choose what school the child will attend, etc. She can make a lot of choices and decisions. But the one choice she cannot make, the one decision she cannot make, is whether the child gets to live or not. That decision belongs to God alone. Once a child has been conceived anything other than birth is not an option.

It is simply illogical for a Christian to profess Christ and the pro-choice agenda. The two are incompatible. Christ stands for life. In fact, Christ is Life. As a people who bear the name of Christ we are called to defend human life at all its stages, from the moment of conception to its natural end. All human life is sacred; every human body is a holy thing. Even those human beings who act in the most despicable ways are entitled to a basic respect worthy of a one being created in the image and likeness of God.

Every Christian is called to speak out against all violent acts that unjustly end the life of a human being. We cannot teach, in fact, we must stop teaching, that a person has the right to have a choice when it comes to unjustly harming another human or unjustly ending another human life.

Do not be deceived, my children, by what you hear in the political debates. In the coming months and days that lead up to the presidential election, let your conscience be guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church. Do not put your trust in men, but in God alone. Listen to His Word. If you do, you will never go wrong and will be assured of the blessedness of Heaven.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

About Us

Many people ask what the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church is; who we are, what we believe, how we came to be, etc. These are all valid and reasonable questions. I hope that the following information will give you a better insight as to who we are, what we believe, and what our mission is. The information provided is by no means exhaustive, but it does represent, in many ways a public statement of faith of a people who love God with all their hearts and who strive to seek Him sincerely and seriously each and every day. We welcome civil, open and frank dialogue, but we will not engage anyone in polemical exchanges or discussions whose only purpose is to condemn, ridicule or defame. That being said, we offer the following for your information and enlightenment.

Historically, the Italo-Greek Church was comprised mainly of ethnic Greeks living in Sicily and Italy. Today, that original mission is carried out by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy and Malta and Exarchate of Southern Europe, a diocese of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, with its See in Venice.

The Church of Sicily is of Apostolic foundation, having been established by Sts. Peter and Paul. St. Peter ordained the Church of Syracuse's first bishop and St. Paul preached in Syracuse on his way to Rome. For the first 700 or so years of the Church's history, the Italo-Greek Church was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Rome. In the late eighth century, ecclesiastical jurisdiction shifted from Rome to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. When Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, the Italo-Greek Church was cut off from its Mother Church and faced virtual extinction. Yet, small pockets of Italo-Greek faithful remained throughout Sicily and Southern Italy as did a number of Italo-Greek bishops and clergy. This small community was able to survive despite harsh circumstances but not as an organized eparchy or diocese. Bishops were bishops of localities rather than of regions or provinces. Because of this, the bishops and clergy were able, with various degrees of success, to establish relationships among the "locals" (Sicilians) and small communities were established and grew. It is this work that the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church has continued to this day, although the work is still very difficult.

Up until the time the estrangement between the Church of Rome and the Eastern Patriarchates became definitive with the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, it can be said that there was only the Italo-Greek Church. There was really no distinction between "Italo-Greek Catholic" or Italo-Greek Orthodox." The appellation "Italo-Greek Orthodox" did not come into being until after the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-1435). The line of apostolic succession of the Italo-Greek Orthodox bishops comes from bishops of Greece who visited or moved to the Island of Sicily over the years.

Jurisdiction of the Byzantine Church in Sicily and Southern Italy was always a point of contention between the Patriarchates of Rome and Constantinople, especially during the Photian Schism (863-867). The Photian Schism was a controversy that began primarily because of the opposition of Pope Nicholas I to the appointment by the Byzantine Emperor Michael III of the layman and scholar Photios as Patriarch of Constantinople. Both Pope Nicholas and Patriarch Photios were strong willed individuals, and maybe somewhat hot-headed. Photios brought into the conflict the dispute over the Filioque, which the Latin Church had added to the Nicene Creed. Also part of the controversy was the jurisdictional dispute over the Churches in Sicily, Southern Italy and Bulgaria.

For almost all of its existence, the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church, or the Italo-Byzantine Church, as it is also known, has had a very hard time, primarily because of being in Rome's backyard. The history of the Italo-Greek Church is complex but it is also significant and important to the overall life, history and face of the Universal Church. Italo-Greek bishops such as Archbishop Gregory Asbestos have played large and significant roles in key events in the life of the Church. The Italo-Greek Catholic Monastery of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata outside Rome is also a stamp on the history of the Italo-Greek Church; for it is the last remaining vestige of the original Italo-Greek communities. and it has remained in unbroken communion with the See of Rome since its founding in 1004.

So what of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church today? The Italo-Greek Orthodox Church is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, faithfully continuing the Italo-Greek tradition which has its origins in Sicily. The Church is comprised of two Archdioceses: the Italo-Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas and Canada and the Italo-Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Siracusa and All Sicily. Both of these Archdioceses have a small number of communities in them; all of them except one being house congregations. Today, both Archdioceses can be termed "missionary" in that their purpose is to be a gateway for the return to the Church of those primarily of Sicilian and Italian descent who are seeking a "traditional" Church and a more stable and spiritual Church life.

The Italo-Greek Orthodox Church practices and upholds the historic Catholic Faith of the Apostles, Apostolic Order, Orthodox Worship, and Evangelical Witness of the traditional Orthodox Catholic Church. Our Church is a "Particular Church" within the worldwide communion of Orthodox Churches. Though we are not presently in Eucharistic communion with the other Orthodox Churches, we are fully in spiritual and doctrinal communion with them. We share the same beliefs and praxis with them. We hope that some day we will also be in Eucharistic communion with them, though such a decision is entirely up to them.

We have been called "uncanonical" by many in the Orthodox Church but the canonical status of a given Church or the legitimacy of its bishops and priests is not determined exclusively by who one is in communion with or which patriarchate one belongs to. Canonicity is based on a whole host of factors, first among which is the faithful adherence to the whole body of Holy Tradition. For example, if a group claiming to be Orthodox ordains married bishops, women priests, or partnered homosexual or actively homosexual men as clergy, then that group is not Orthodox. On the contrary, those groups are outside the Church. No individual bishop has the right to change what the Church itself has decided. If these things are to change in the future, it will be because the the Church itself has come to that decision. It must be the mind and the will of the Church and not the mind and will of an individual bishop that makes such changes. There is a reason why we say "It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us" when major decisions are made in the Church through Ecumenical and Provincial Councils.

The Italo-Greek Orthodox Church is not schismatical. That is to say we did not break away from any one of the fifteen patriarchal or autocephalous Orthodox Churches. We did not break away from the Church of Constantinople, whom we have always revered as our Mother Church and whose Patriarch we have always commemorated in our liturgical services.

Our Church is not a product of the schism which took place in the Orthodox Church as a result of the introduction of the revised Julian calendar into the life of the Church in 1923. We are not an "Old Calendar" Church, as that term is presently understood in Orthodox circles. While the Julian Calendar has been used for more than 1,000 years in the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church, we have recently adopted the revised Julian calendar in order to make it easier to evangelize, especially among people of Sicilian and Italian heritage living in the United States and Canada.

In the west, especially in America, the Orthodox Church is barely recognizable because it is small and unknown. We stand in the shadow of the Catholic Church and the Episcopal/Anglican Communion. Among the Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States, only a few, and they are small in terms of membership, use the Julian Calendar. The rest use the revised Julian Calendar, celebrating such feasts as the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) on December 25th, with the rest of the non-Orthodox Christians. We lament the use of two calendars in the Church, especially since neither one is astronomically correct, and we pray that the upcoming Pan-Orthodox Council will resolve this issue once and for all, so that all Orthodox Churches may bear a stronger and more united witness of the Faith to non-believers. But, at present, in terms of evangelization, it is easier to work with the revised Julian Calendar.

The Italo-Greek Orthodox Church is not heretical. There is nothing we believe or teach that is not of the Orthodox faith. We bear faithful witness to the Ancient Faith and do all in our power to preserve it intact and without blemish. Yes, we have, like all other ethnic Churches, our own cultural and religious traditions and customs, but customs and traditions, provided they are centered in the Faith and expound and manifest genuine piety and correct belief, does not lessen or dilute one's Orthodoxy.

In the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church our goal is to put Christ first in every area of our lives. We want to live with exceptional devotion to Christ Jesus and His Church through prayer; participation in the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments); sharing a life of faith with one another; and in service to one another, the communities in which we live, and to the world.

We have a calling as a Church family: to go deeper in our faith, to grow deeper in love with Jesus and towards one another, and to be faithful witnesses for the Apostolic Faith to our friends and neighbors. We are a stable, biblical, and orthodox Church in the Italo-Greek tradition. Guided by the Ancient Faith, we know where we have been and we know where we are going. We are a warm, caring, and loving Church family. We have grown in our love, our faith and our self-awareness through much persecution and suffering.

The mission of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church is to strengthen all God's children through classical biblical Christian values, to reach out to young people through the stability of the unchanging Christian Tradition passed down to us from the time of the Apostles, and to preserve and teach the rich treasure that is the classical Italo-Greek way of faith and life. Our goal is to strengthen and foster a genuine and living relationship with God through Christ; to be a stable and loving Church home to all people seeking God's truth; to reach out to a hurting and broken world and provide pastoral care to those who struggle with addiction and life's hardships; to instruct people in the Orthodox Catholic Faith in such a way that it leads to stability, freedom, joy, happiness, and blessing.

We know that a great many people, regardless of denomination, have experienced the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. What many people want to know is if our Church is open to and receives the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit. The answer is a definitive YES! One of the concerns we have is that many people associate being a "Spirit-filled" Christian with a certain type of praise music or church service. We think this confuses the issue. In fact, we think that this can often be a real problem. When we associate the work of the Holy Spirit with a particular "style" of worship or music, we often "compartmentalize" the work of the Spirit to being merely within a church service. We believe this is an error no matter what your worship service looks or sounds like.

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on a band of Jewish believers who attended Temple worship in Jerusalem. These early disciples observed the daily Jewish hours of prayer and lived out their faith in a "liturgical" setting, not a setting today's Evangelical Christians associate with "Spirit-filled" worship. In fact, a traditional Church like ours has much more in common with the ancient Jewish Temple worship than it does with any other Christian denomination today, with the exception of the Catholic Church, which is a Sister Church to the Orthodox Church. So, rather than focusing all of our expectation of the activity and work of the Holy Spirit on a particular worship service, we teach that this should be the daily experience of the believer who is walking in obedience to Christ and faithfully proclaiming and witnessing to His Gospel. We encourage the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be cultivated in the lives of our members and believe that the power of the Holy Spirit should be demonstrated in our daily lives.

The Italo-Greek Church is a traditional Church. But we are not traditional in the way some people would think. Tradition is not about rites or customs. They certainly a part of it, but there is much more to being a "traditional" Church than that. While many Christian denominations and ecclesial communities are seeking to become more "relevant" and "contemporary" in doctrine and worship why would the Church flaunt the fact that it is "Traditional"? In this age of technological wonder the very idea of "Tradition" seems suspect and yet refreshing.

Society is moving at such break-neck speed that many people can hardly keep up with the constant changes and developments in societal values and morals. Such swift social change can cause us to forget ourselves and our history. As a people, we are losing our memory. Memory. This is an important word. Memory helps to anchor us. It anchors us in our past and gives us a solid grounding and foundation upon which to build our futures. Memory anchors us in the home we grew up in, with the family members we shared Sunday dinners with, with the grandparents we loved so much, with Christmas' long past, and with that first puppy we had. Memory helps us retain our identity. But many of us have no family memory that reaches back beyond our parents or grandparents. A fast moving society can easily forget its roots. Having a short memory can leave us feeling isolated, alone and rootless. But the Church has a long memory, one that goes back more than 2,000 years and which is very real for us today.

Many Christian denominations feel great pressure to keep up with the most recent trends and fads. They seem to be chasing after a society that is day-by-day forgetting more and more of itself. Christian denominations that keep riding the trends are straying farther and farther away from their Apostolic roots and the Gospel. How can they stay connected with their beginnings when those beginnings no longer have any meaning or relevance for them? All that was given to them by the Apostles is now but a mere shadow of things long past. At what point does this "chasing after a society that will not have God" cause us to betray our own history as Christians?

These and many other considerations are causing many to return to the ancient traditions of the Church. Tradition is not trendy. Tradition is not novel, nor is it doctrinaire. Tradition cannot be fitted into slick promotional campaigns or 30-second spots filled with nice heart-tugging or adrenaline pumping images. Tradition doesn't create something new, but preserves something old and original, something tried and true. In fact, that is one of the functions of Tradition, to pass on that which is solid and unchanging. Perhaps this is why many people today, both young and old, are turning to the Orthodox Church. There have been countless articles about people in their 20's returning to Churches that are not flashy or dependent upon technology or music. We saw this especially at the time when Pope Benedict XVI of the Catholic Church reinstated the use of the Tridentine Mass in the Roman Catholic Church. Young people especially were attracted to the authenticity and mystery of this traditional form of worship because it provides a sense of enduring faith, identity and stability. 

Many people appreciate the ceremonies and rituals, and the beauty that abounds in the "traditional" or "liturgical" Church. These set the Church apart from the more mundane and pedestrian, and much less sacred, worship experiences of the Evangelical and other Protestant faith communities. The Great Tradition of the Orthodox Church has the effect of re-centering our spirituality, not on our own emotional excitement, but on God. In a time when there seems to be no authority and no confident way to discern the "truth", the Great Tradition of the catholic (universal) faith can provide a place to stand firmly and without fear.For these reasons and many more, "Tradition" is making a comeback.

What are some of the practices of this Traditional faith that so many are returning to? The liturgical church year, for example, expressed in the seasons of Great Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Advent; a return to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist as the focal point and pinnacle of Christian worship and unity; a sense of sacredness, mystery and beauty in worship; a tradition that embraces and makes sense of suffering and hardship rather than pretending that they do not exist; a history of spirituality that goes deep, drawing on the experience of monastics, ascetics, and saints; and the faithful and unaltered transmission of the original meaning of the Bible from the community that originates it rather than contorting it to fit modern shifting ideals. This, and so much more, is why people are returning daily to the Church.

So why is the Italo-Greek Church a Traditional Church? It's not because of the calendar we use, for a calendar is nothing more than a reckoning of days and dates. In the Orthodox Church, we do not worship days, we worship the Holy Trinity. We all know that Christ was not born in December so it doesn't matter if we celebrate His birthday on December 25th, or January 7th, (or June 1st for that matter). What is important, rather, is that we do remember, honor and give thanks for the miracle of the Incarnation and the reality that Christ came to dwell among us and bring salvation to the world. It's not because we use the Byzantine Liturgy or Rite; or because our clergy can be married, or because they have beards; or because we fast a lot. No, we are traditional because we are faithful to the whole body of Tradition that has been entrusted to us by the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church. We accept "the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the authentic record of God's revelation of Himself, His saving work and activity, and moral demands - a revelation for all men and for all time." On Christian morality, we believe that "every Christian is obliged to form his conscience by the Divine Moral Law and the Mind of Christ as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and by the teachings and praxis, the entire body of Holy Tradition, of the Church." We believe that the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) are "objective and effective signs of the continued and saving activity of Christ our Lord among His people and His covenanted means for conveying His grace." Thus, we profess our belief in seven Holy Mysteries (Sacraments): Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation), Holy Eucharist, Penance, Holy Anointing (Unction), Marriage, and Holy Orders.

The Italo-Greek Church exists for those who want to return to the beginning; for those who want to practice a faith that is not superficial, but demanding. We are here for those who want to return to a sense of the sacred. We are Traditional because the Faith passed on by the Apostles is the Pearl of Great Price, and it is worth preserving and passing on. There is nothing more beautiful, more enlightening, more pure, more true, and more stable than the Orthodox Catholic Faith. We accept as binding the Faith we have received from the Apostles and which was defined by the Fathers of the Church. These include the threefold male Apostolic ministry of bishop, priest and deacon; the Articles of Faith enunciated in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed; the dogmas, doctrines, and canons defined and adopted by the Apostolic Council, the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and the universally accepted Regional and Local Synods; and the writings and teachings of the Fathers of the Church. As sons and daughters first of the Church of Rome and then of the Great Church of Constantinople, our religious heritage reaches back to the earliest days of Christianity in Sicily and beyond that to our Lord's establishment of His Holy Church by His precious Blood.

The Italo-Greek Orthodox Church is obedient to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Great Commission Christ has given to His Church to "Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations..." (Matthew 28:19) Our communities fulfill that Commission by committing the resources God has given us: clergy and parishioners, finances and physical plants, to the work and fulfillment of the Five Essential Ministries of a Servant Church: Proper Worship, Faithful Discipleship, Unconditional Love and Fellowship, Evangelism, and Missions.

We invite you to come and worship with us. Even if you are just curious, we invite you to come and check us out. Our doors are open wide and we wait with open arms to welcome you and assist you in whatever way we can. We look forward to seeing you soon.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year! Felice Anno Nuovo!

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

God has blessed us once again, by His love, mercy, and grace, with another New Year; with another opportunity to draw closer to Him and give glory to Him by the way we live our lives. As we begin the new year 2016, let us enter it with hope, optimism and confidence based on God's love and promise that He will be with us even to the end of time.

In this new year, let us first and foremost strive to be ambassador's of God's love and peace in both the global community and the towns, villages and cities in which we live. We have the power and the ability, my brothers and sisters, to bring peace and unity to the world, if we truly desire it and want it. We have to ask ourselves why peace and harmony among men eludes us. Why is the world in such as sad state? Sadly, for all the tragedies and sorrows of war and civil unrest in the world we have no one to blame but ourselves.

There has never been a time in the history of mankind that there was no tragedy, war or strife. In the unending conflicts between peoples, nations, religions, races, and ideologies, countless lives are lost and countless numbers of people are overcome with sorrow and grief because of the loss of their beloved mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and friends.

Human life is a very precious and delicate gift from God, yet we act as if God has nothing to do with creating and bringing about life. We behave in such a way which deludes into believing that we humans are the authors and masters of life, when in reality it is God Himself who is the only Author, Creator and Master of not only human life, but of all creation. We are merely God's caretakers, appointed and charged by Him to be good stewards of what is rightfully His. Yet, rather than faithfully discharging our duties and obligations before God, we abuse and even destroy the gifts we have been given.

As human beings, we forget that our lives do not exist independently or separately, but are intimately connected with the lives of others. We were not created or born to live our lives in isolation from others but to live in holy community with our fellow human beings 

From the beginning of time, God has called us to live with Him in holy communion, a communion which is reflective of and filled with the life of the Holy Trinity. It is for this reason that God created us in His own image and likeness. Thus, we have it within us to do many great and wonderful things for His greater glory and for the betterment of mankind.

Unless we are willing to live fully and obediently as the children of God, we will never fully achieve greatness and never realize the peace we constantly say we want in our personal lives and the communities in which we live. Our words and deeds in pursuit of peace, justice and equality among men are empty and meaningless unless they are rooted in and of God.

Every new year brings new opportunities to change our hearts and minds, but it seems we are perfectly content to remain hard-hearted and stubborn. Our actions never seem to back up our words, especially when it comes to peace and getting along with one another. How unfortunate this is because we do not see that all this happens because God has been systematically and deliberately removed from the equation. As simplistic as it may sound, the answer to all the world's problems is God. Peace, harmony, fellowship, justice and equality come about from lives lived fully and faithfully in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This new year will not be without its share of tragedy and sorrow. Many will still feel isolated and lonely. Many will continue to suffer starvation or struggle to get food on the table. Many have entered this new year with debts that seem impossible to repay. Many will still be homeless. Many will still suffer from drug, alcohol or other addictions. And many will still suffer abuse, exploitation and oppression. We have the power and capabilities to stop all this, but not without God's help. When we are left to our own devices, we inevitably make a mess of everything we do and we are somehow unable to achieve what we set out to do. Oh yes, we are good at many of the small things, but when it comes to the real important stuff, we just can't get past ourselves. However, when we look to God and draw on His power and grace, the impossible becomes the possible and the unattainable becomes the attainable.

And so, what exactly are we saying when we wish one another a "Happy New Year?" Are we just spurting out a mere rote greeting because we have done it year after year over the course of centuries? Are there real and genuine feelings of good will and best wishes behind the words we speak?

Hopefully, when we wish people a Happy New Year, our words are meaningful and sincere. When we wish others a Happy New Year, we should be expressing our sincere hope, and prayer, that the New Year will be better than the previous one, that nasty unexpected surprises do not come knocking at the door; and that God's grace and blessings will be given in abundance to all we greet.

From a Christian perspective, our hopes for the New Year should be of a spiritual nature: that faith in Jesus Christ may strengthen and withstand the challenges and assaults of an increasing secular culture, that God's purpose of making us more like Christ may proceed to a successful completion, that true justice and equality will finally come to God's people everywhere, and that all people may live together in peace, harmony and unity of heart, mind and spirit.

All people of good will, but especially Christians, must show leadership in generosity, goodwill, and courage. For the Christian, Christ is the beginning and end of all things. He is the source of all that is good, and because we bear His name and are members of His Body, we are called to be His face and hands, His mouth and legs. In short, we are, in our very person, to make Christ visibly present to all. If we do not do this, then the religion we practice and the One we confess and proclaim as God is a fraud.

Christians have a a special role to play in bringing about peace, stability and unity in the world, but we cannot accomplish this if our own house is not in order. It is a scandal that so many divisions exist within Christianity. It is even more of a scandal that divisions exist within the Church, divisions which have existed for more than 1,000 years. I speak specifically to the more than nine centuries old rift that still exists between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. How can it be that intelligent and rational human beings cannot sit together and resolve differences that have kept them apart for so long? How can the prelates, theologians, and other learned individuals of our two Churches believe that the world will listen to and take seriously their pleas for peace, understanding and healing when we in both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches cannot resolve the differences that exist between us?

Christians have a duty and an obligation to do better. The world will change for the better once Christians unite again into one family of faith, faithfully witnessing and living obediently the Gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed and taught by the Church.

If 2016 is to be any different or better than 2015, then we must all lay aside our arrogance, self-interest and pride and place ourselves front and center before God, who is the only source of peace, justice and unity for mankind.

We need real moral and spiritual renewal. The harder and more difficult times are, the more we need clear standards to live by. Those standards are given to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ  Moral  renewal starts with a wholesale acceptance of the Gospel truths. Spiritual renewal starts when we turn our lives over completely to Christ, through Whom and in Whom we have are being.

The Gospel is the only foundation upon which the world's peace, unity and stability can be built, and it is only the Church which can guide, assist and counsel the world's secular powers to attain the goal of worldwide peace, unity, justice and cooperation among the peoples and nations of the world. But in order for the Church to undertake and fulfill Her role in this task, Her members must first be of one mind, one heart and one spirit.

To that end, I pray that the heads of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, specifically the Patriarchs of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, of Moscow and the other nine patriarchal, autocephalous and autonomous Churches, will acknowledge their grave obligation, responsibility and duty in ending the rift that has kept our two Churches apart for more than 900 years. Practical, tangible and real steps must be taken to accomplish this. There has been more than enough time for talk; now is the time for action. The will of Christ demands it.

The world will not see peace until the Church is once again united. Then, and only-then, will She be able to successfully carry out and fulfill Her role as bridge-builder and peacemaker among the peoples and nations of the world. This can only be accomplished, however, if those involved in the work abandon their egos and personal agendas and put God and the well-being of His Church first, bringing Her healing and peace.

All things are possible with God and nothing is possible or fixable without Him. Only God gives the power, the courage and the will to make possible that which we believe to be impossible. And the unity of the Church IS possible if , however, the Churches themselves  and those who lead them truly want it and desire it.

I know that many people will disagree with a lot of what I have said in this message, especially my statement that the world will not see peace until the Church is once again united. But is it a coincidence that so many Christians have lost confidence in their Christian roots and in the Church and that we have seen such extremes of despair, division and behavior in the world? Certainly many in the Church over the centuries, especially those appointed to leadership positions, are to blame for this; the Church has plenty to own up to and apologize for. But all is not lost, because Christ has promised that the Holy Spirit would always be with and in the Church to guide and protect Her. Now, we must listen to the Spirit, humble ourselves before God, and ask for His help assistance to make things right and bring peace to world.

May 2016 be truly a year of blessings, renewal, and change for the Church and for all God's people.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

Yours in Christ,

+Archbishop Stephen