Sunday, February 28, 2016

Homily for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son

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

Today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, which brings us another step closer to the start of Great Lent. The parable begins with “A man had two sons…” Immediately the stage is set for a story which is intended to teach us something not only about God but also about ourselves.

The interesting thing about today’s Gospel parable is that it is so down to earth and so believable. The so-called prodigal son wants to leave home, wants to go his own way, and wants independence from his family. This is something most of us have experienced and it is a very natural and acceptable thing. But in this particular instance, the desire of the son to leave home was not motivated by a desire to make it on his own. On the contrary, he wanted to go out and enjoy life. His was a great search for immediate happiness, fulfillment and gratification. He thought he could find happiness in a wanton and carefree life, satisfying his every desire whether moral or immoral, without any responsibility or thought of his future. This eventually led him to living with pigs in a pig pen, feeding off the husks of corn that were given to them to eat.

As I said, the desire to leave home and have our own life is absolutely normal and at the same time even necessary. Sooner or later, we all have to leave the nest, to take flight from the comforts and confines of our parents or guardians. But the problem with the prodigal son is that he threw caution to the wind. He did not properly prepare himself to live on his own. Further, he rejected the values which his parents had spent so much time and effort trying to help him acquire. Had he used this treasury of lessons to his benefit, he would not have ended up squandering all his inheritance and living a life of squalor with pigs. Like most of us today, we think we know better than our parents or those who possess more wisdom what is best for us. Unfortunately, this is not the case. No matter how old we are, unless we have a good moral foundation, our lives can easily end up like that of the prodigal son.

The duty and responsibility of every parent is to give their child or children a good grounding in life and a good grounding in Christian values, so that when the break occurs, any mistakes the child makes will enable them to learn a positive lesson without being so devastating as to ruin their entire lives. 

Today’s parents and guardians have a real challenge on their hands. They are required to give their children good grounding in moral values and instill in them an appreciation for the virtues while at the same time allowing them the necessary freedom to make their own life choices. This has become, in this day and age, no less than a true balancing act which can be very stressful.

One of the biggest challenges any parent faces is to allow their children to fall flat on their faces while at the same time being there for them to welcome them back into the family, even though they may have screwed up and even given the whole family a black eye. Today’s parable points out that there is no shame, or should be no shame, in returning home. No matter how bad a situation is, no matter how bad the thing is a child has done, love and mercy know no bounds. Oh yes, there is such a thing as “tough love” but even tough love does not shut doors.

The younger son, the prodigal, is very characteristic of the struggle of society today. We are a “me” people. That is to say, we are only concerned about ourselves, what’s best and good for us and how we can obtain all the things we want at any cost. Many of us have been successful in getting what we want. We work hard to acquire material possessions but the reality is that material possessions to not bring enduring or lasting happiness. In seeking to acquire and build up earthly things, we are never satisfied; we always want more. Our appetites are never satisfied.

Sadly, there is a great spiritual famine in our country at the moment. And because of that, a good number of us have ended up like the prodigal son, squandering our material resources and ending up living among the pigs. We could think of the instances of drug and alcohol abuse, all the fraud and stealing in the workplace, corruption in the Church and in civil government, murders and violence, marital infidelity, priestly infidelity, wars and civil unrest; the list can go on and on. Why would we want to continue living among the pigs when we could go back home to our Father and live lives filled with true riches and happiness?

In the parable, we are given one of the most beautiful descriptions and images of God our Father. He is outside of his house waiting for his younger son to return. When the father sees his son off in the distance, he runs out to meet him. He embraces him, kisses him, brings him home and throws him a banquet, with a sumptuous feast. Not only does he come out to greet his prodigal son, he goes out to call his elder son into the celebration.

The older brother in this story also teaches us a lesson. Just because we may play by all the rules and do as we are told, this does not entitle us to all kinds of perks or special treatment. In some ways, the older brother in this parable comes off as being more selfish than his freewheeling brother. But even in his bad behavior, the father says to his elder son, “All that I have is yours.” So too does God our Father speak those words to us. In our bad and oftentimes selfish behavior, God welcomes us back with the promise that all He has is ours.

Whether we are the prodigal son or the elder son, Jesus gives this parable to us to show us God’s limitless love for all His children, even though our actions may call for less than a loving response.

God gives us all the independence we crave. He opens His treasury and gives us more than our share when we want to set off on our own. And He is there, waiting to welcome us with a loving embrace, whenever we are ready to return to Him.

The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. There are many temptations and attractions in the world that distract us and lure us away from a truly good and happy life. We hear many voices and messages telling us, “Follow me!” or “Follow your desires and you will find happiness.” But the best and most fulfilling offer of happiness is the one that comes from God our Father, who says to us, “All that I have is yours.” God our Father is just outside the door waiting for us to come home to Him. When we return, He runs to greet us. He takes us into His arms and invites us to come back into His house, where He has set out a magnificent and sumptuous feast to enjoy to the fullest.

As we draw closer to the start of Great Lent, my children, let us look at our life to see exactly where we are. Are we making it on our own? Are we truly happy? If the honest answer to these questions is “no”, then it’s definitely time to turn around and head back home and ask our Father’s forgiveness and help.



Tuesday, February 9, 2016

On the Proper Disposition for a Worthwhile, Beneficial and Reverent Celebration of the Divine Liturgy



My Beloved Children in Christ,

As we prepare ourselves to resume a regular schedule of Divine Services at the Cathedral and throughout the Archdiocese, I would like to take this opportunity to address an issue about which there seems to be some confusion. It pertains to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. 

As many of you have family members and friends who are members of the Catholic Church and other faith communities, there have been occasions when some of them have attended Divine Liturgy with you. Obviously, your loved ones and friends are used to a different style of worship in their own Church or faith community and some have posed questions about our form and style of worship, especially with regard to our Eucharistic liturgy.

While Catholics, for the most part, will find our Divine Liturgy familiar to them in structure and content, they are, nevertheless used to a more "informal" and less ritualized Mass. The same holds true for some of the Episcopalians that attend our liturgies, if they are "high church." Nevertheless, many consider our Liturgy to be "archaic" and "rigid." They are used to Masses and worship services with a more "upbeat" and "feel-good" atmosphere. This is sad and unfortunate because they are missing out on something more profound and spiritually more rewarding which comes with "traditional" worship.

The liturgical experiments that have taken place, and continue to occur, in both the Catholic Church and Anglican Communion have found very few occasions of success. If one looks closely, for example, at the current trends in the Catholic Church, there is a significant and visible shifting of faithful to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. And the reason for this? It is because the Extraordinary Form provides stability and is grounded in the mystery and spirituality of a rite that not only reveals the Truth but teaches it as well. The same holds for the Liturgies of the Eastern Churches.

In the Episcopal Church, the experimentation has been more destructive and its consequences more recognizable. The creation of the "Anglican Catholic Church" in recent years is partly in response to the watering or "dumbing" down not only of that Communion's liturgy but of its doctrine and discipline as well.

I am not going to try to defend our way of worship because quite frankly more than 2,000 years of unbroken Tradition speaks for itself. It is true that the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Orthodox Church has developed over time and did not come into its final form until at least the 12th century, and it is true that the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church today is much more elaborate than the Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Church in the fourth century. Yet, our Liturgy is still as relevant and "contemporary" today as it was centuries ago.

Liturgical worship can certainly change but it does not change at the whim or instigation of the celebrant or of an individual bishop. Changes to the Liturgy are made by the Church as a whole; and such changes reflect the mind of the Church, manifested by decisions arrived at through conciliarity and synodality.

Each particular Local Church can certainly organize and structure its liturgical worship as it sees fit, but in this regard it is most always done in the context of traditions or customs that reflect the cultural and ethnic composition of the Local Church in question. But one would be hard pressed to find, for example, a Byzantine-rite Church celebrating "themed" Divine Liturgies based on "Dora the Explorer" or "Star Wars." This kind of abuse leads not only to the sin of sacrilege but also attacks and distorts the very doctrines and beliefs of the Church. Do we worship God or do we worship ourselves?

It is true that liturgy is made for the people and not the people for liturgy, but that does not give us license to remove the one basic element of liturgy: that of the worship of God. Liturgy is not theater or entertainment. Liturgy is not expected or intended to give us a warm and fuzzy feeling. Liturgy is intended to raise our hearts, minds and eyes to heaven so that we can draw closer to God and come to understand and experience more deeply and fully His love and care for us. Liturgy is first, last and always the worship of the Holy Trinity. Liturgy is intended to give glory, praise and honor to the Almighty. Liturgy is all about God, and about our relationship with Him.. Too often people reduce God, especially Jesus Christ, to a mere friend. God is more than a friend and Jesus is more than our "brother." Many people forget this. That is why we see so many abuses in the Catholic Church and various Protestant communions.

Sacred Scripture gives us many descriptions of how God was worshiped by the people of Israel. The Psalms especially encourage us to worship God not only with song but with various types of musical instruments. Let me say that there is nothing wrong with organs, drums, tambourines, cymbals, harps and orchestras being used to enhance worship, but they must be in support of the worship experience and not the main focus of it. As I said, Liturgy is not entertainment or a concert but an experience wherein we enter fully into the life and mystery of the Divine.

If the use of musical instruments has always been a part of a Local Church's liturgical worship, what right does anyone have to criticize or ridicule their custom or tradition? In the Oriental Otthodox Churches such as the Ethiopian Church, the Divine Liturgy is very animated and colorful. Does that make it any less Orthodox or valid? No! What is problematic is when things are taken too far to the extreme. What I mean by this is that abuses such as "themed" liturgies or "clown" Masses, such as one finds, for example, in the Catholic Church, are not only inappropriate but they are blasphemous and sacrilegious as well, as their focus is on the people and not on the worship of God. Such types of practices should be avoided at all costs.

One does not find these kinds of activities and abuses in the Orthodox Church because we have a deeper sense of mystery surrounding God and a clearer understanding of the meaning of worship than many of our Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters. That is why one does not hear frequent talk about "liturgical renewal" in the Orthodox Church. Truth be told, there probably is a need for some changes to made here and there in our liturgical worship services but, any major changes to the overall structure of the Church's divine services, especially the Divine Liturgy, must come about as the result  of a unified work undertaken and comleted by all the Local Churches together, so that good order in the Church is maintained and safeguarded.

Every bishop has the solemn duty and obligation to safeguard and ensure the integrity of divine worship, especially the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, in his eparchy/diocese. A bishop who does not dutifully oversee the conduct of divines services within the parishes and communities of his diocese/eparchy brings upon himself grave consequences. Thus, we must ensure that all things are done in proper order and that the potential for scandal or abuse is minimized as much as possible. There must always be a certain decorum and proper disposition in the Church regarding the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, especially the Holy Eucharist.

In the Italo-Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas and Canada we follow certain rules and abide by certain regulations when it comes to proper conduct and participation at divine services.

First, we ask that all who attend services at any of our temples be properly attired. Modesty at all services is called for. As a general rule, business casual dress is the guideline that should be followed when dressing for Church. If you have a question as to what we in the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church consider to be "business casual" attire, please feel free to contact the Chancery Office or a local Italo-Greek Orthodox parish, mission or congregation for those specific guidelines.

Second, we believe that silence is very much a part of a worthwhile and spiritually uplifting worship experience. We believe also that God speaks louder and clearer to us when we are silent. Therefore, we ask that when you enter one of our churches you refrain from loud and unnecessary talking. There especially should be no loud and unnecessary talking before and during divine services. This means also that there should be no frivolous talking or laughing  in the sacristy, vestibule or narthex. You will find that during our services, there are short periods of silence appointed. This occurs primarily after the homily/sermon and after the distribution of Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy. I ask that during these times there be complete silence in the temple.

If you are a visitor to one of our parishes or worship sites and a service is in progress, we ask that you quietly enter the body of the church. Please refrain from lighting candles or venerating icons while a service is in progress, unless such activities are part of the service itself.

Women should wear some sort of head covering and men should remove their hats upon entering the the church/temple. This is a sign of respect and humility before the Lord.

The faithful should arrive before the start of Divine Liturgy and not leave until the Liturgy is completely finished. Leaving the service as soon as you have received Holy Communion is disrespectful and not good manners, unless, of course, one has to go to work. In this case, please leave the temple/church as discreetly as possible.

Please remember that there is no smoking at any time in any of our temples or anywhere on church property. You will find that in most cases, signs will be posted at our churches and worship sites mandating that there be no smoking within 50 feet of a particular premises.

When attending divine services in any of our parishes or worship sites, cell phones must be either turned to vibrate or completely off. Individuals violating this rule will be asked to turn their device off. If they do not, they will be asked to leave. Please be considerate of the other people in church and do not disturb their prayers, worship and commune with God.

My hope in issuing this Instruction is that your worship with us will bear much spiritual fruit and blessings.

May God bless you and yours always,


In His service,
Most Rev. Archbishop Stephen J. Enea




Sunday, February 7, 2016

Archbishop Issues Instruction Regarding Holy Communion



In anticipation of the resumption of Divine Services at the Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace in the next few weeks, His Eminence Archbishop Stephen has issued an Instruction regarding the reception of Holy Communion at the Cathedral. The Instruction serves as a clarification of our Church's position regarding the Sacrament of the Eucharist and is in answer to questions received from individuals over the past few months who wish to visit the Cathedral now that the Archbishop has returned. The instructions are posted on the cathedral's blog and may be viewed there. You may access the cathedral's blog here: www.igocathedral.blogspot.com.

In the next few weeks, we will be posting to the cathedral's blog the schedule of Divine Services for the first week of Great Lent as well as the Schedule of Services and Events for Holy Week.

If you have any questions regarding services and events at the Cathedral, please email them to igocathedral@gmail.com. If you have questions for the archbishop or general questions about our Church or Archdiocese, please direct them to: igoarchdiocese@gmail.com

Thank you.