Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Choosing the Kingdom


Dear Parish Faithful,

“A lack of veneration of the Mother of God does not necessarily imply a denial of faith in the Kingdom of God. But to venerate her and to glorify her as the true Theotokos, as the Church does, this is to confess the coming of the Kingdom of God in power.” (Archpriest Alexis Kniazeff)

As we embark upon the two-week fast that leads us to the “summer pascha” of the Dormition of the Theotkos on August 15, I would like to outline the various services and feasts that we will encounter, plan to participate in as fully as possible, and hopefully experience as “the coming of the Kingdom of God in power.” This is a wonderful opportunity to once more make the Church the main focus of our lives, as we make a conscious choice to “not be conformed to this world.” (ROM. 12:2) With children or without, through a “renewal of our minds,” we strengthen our relationship with God in and through the Church and establish our commitment to Christ and the Church as the major priority of our lives. The schedule through which we accomplish this is the following:

Friday, August 5: Vesperal Liturgy for the Feast of the Transfiguration at 6:00 p.m.
This major Feast Day will include the blessing of the fruit baskets that we bring with us to church that evening.

Monday, August 8: Vesperal Liturgy for the Feast of the Glorification of St. Herman of Alaska at 6:00 p.m.
One of most beloved “patron saints” of North America, we commemorate the date on which he was liturgically and canonically ranked among the known saints of the Church – August 9, 1970.

Sunday, August 14: Great Vespers for the Feast of Dormition at 6:00 p.m.
The beautiful service in which the decorated tomb is in the center of the church on which is the icon of the Theotokos in blessed repose for our heartfelt veneration.

Monday, August 15: Divine Liturgy for Dormition at 9:30 a.m.
The culmination of the two-week Fast in which we commemorate the falling asleep and “translation to Heaven” of the Theotokos.

The Vesperal Liturgy has become, over the years, a pastoral response to the “working communities” which our parishes now are. In other words, the vast majority of parishioners of any given parish today cannot attend the morning Liturgy, so the Vesperal Liturgy allows more of the faithful to receive the Eucharist for the Feast. In a sense, this is patterned after the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts that we serve during Great Lent. That service is actually an extended Vespers with the reception of Holy Communion attached to it. It is not a full Liturgy because we do not use the Eucharistic canon and consecrate the Gifts; but it allows for the reception of the Eucharist on a weekday of Lent through the Gifts that were “presanctified” the Sunday before. The Vesperal Liturgy combines a part of the festal Vespers with the Liturgy (which we enter at a certain point) and the full Eucharistic canon and consecration of the Gifts that we then receive as on a given Sunday Liturgy. This allows for a full participation in the Feast, as the Eucharist is the culmination of the Feast in all of its fullness. But again, here we are stressing its pastoral purpose for allowing as much participation as possible. With Dormition on a Monday this year, however, we cannot celebrate the Feast with the Vesperal Liturgy, and so follow the traditional pattern of Great Vespers on the eve and the Liturgy in the morning.

“Real life” has its endless daily challenges that can often enough interrupt the most well-intentioned of plans; a common occurrence with young children, of course. “Daily turbulence” or “daily fatigue” is not something that is easily anticipated. Planning ahead – together with a sense of commitment - can help. Yet, often we speak of prior “commitments” that do not allow us to attend the many services on our liturgical calendars. Yet, how do those “commitments” compare to our commitment to faith in Christ? Are these “commitments” that can be postponed to a day other than one which calls us to the worship of God in the Church? Can we move things around on our calendars? Whose “invitation” should hold a priority for us – one from our social calendars, or the one from Christ? Can any serious Orthodox Christian actually choose entertainment, a social event, or a shopping excursion at the local mall when the Feast is being celebrated in the Church??? I believe that such a choice should be brought to Confession and repented of. At least let your conscience be clear for an absence for a cause “worthy of a blessing” if that is how things work out. This is not about a “guilt trip,” but about our choices. You are probably better off not coming to church if you think you are being “guilted” into doing so.

If a local non-denominational “mega-church” can fill up on a weekday for a power-point presentation on a giant screen or some “Jesus entertainment” (they may mean well, but probably don’t know any better); than certainly the parishes of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church can fill up as well (at least proportionately) for the Feast Days that signify the “coming of the Kingdom of God in power.” The choice is ours.

Fr. Steven

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