Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Three Key Events on December 13

Dear Parish Faithful,

St Herman of Alaska
Today's date of December 13 has a great deal of significance for Orthodox Christians in North America, especially for those of us within the Orthodox Church in America, and even for our local parish of Christ the Savior/Holy Spirit.  

On this date we commemorate the repose in the Lord of Blessed Fr. Herman of Alaska (+1837). We had a wonderful Great Vespers service yesterday evening to commemorate his rebirth into the Kingdom of God (and, if you count our guests, we reached "double digits" in attendance!).  

I have attached his Life from the OCA website. It is very detailed and thus quite lengthy and may take more than one sitting to read through it all. But St. Herman is one of our few North American saints and we should get to know of his wonderful and holy life as well as possible:

Life of St Herman of Alaska (OCA)

In addition, I would like to include a paragraph from Fr. Thomas Hopko's reflection on Fr. Herman as found in his popular book The Winter Pascha.  The entire chapter was read yesterday evening following the service:

By American standards, St. Herman of Alaska, like the Lord Jesus Himself, was a miserable failure.  He made no name for himself. He was not in the public eye.  He wielded no power.  He owned no property.  He had few possessions, if any at all. He had no worldly prestige. He played no role in human affairs.  He partook of no carnal pleasures. He made no money. He died in obscurity among outcast people.
Yet today, more that a hundred years after his death, his icon is venerated in thousands of churches and his name is honored by millions of people whom he is still trying to teach to seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness which has been brought to the world by the King who was born in a cavern and killed on a  cross. The example of this man is crucial to the celebration of Christmas - especially in America. (p. 47-48)

It was on December 13, 1983, that Fr. Alexander Schmemann also reposed in the Lord.  Fr. Alexander is one of the greatest figures in the emergence of an autocephalous Orthodox Church here in North America.  It is Fr. Alexander who initiated the liturgical revival in our parishes that make us now strong eucharistic communities.

I studied under him and served with him as an acolyte and  briefly as a deacon in my three years at St. Vladimir's seminary in New York. When our daughter Sophia was born, he visited our humble apartment in Yonkers, NY to see her, congratulate us and spend some time with us. And  believe me, Fr. Schmemann  visiting your apartment was a big thing!

Again, to quote Fr. Hopko from The Winter Pascha:

For those who knew him, and those who will yet come to know him, the day of Fr. Alexander's death will always be a precious part of the Church's celebration of the Christmas-Epiphany season. (p. 49)

When Fr. Schmemann died in 1983, a brief tribute to him was filmed by CBS News.  Reminding me of this, Mother Paula (Vicki Bellas) sent me the following note and link.  I would like to share it with anyone who may be interested.

Fr. Alexander appears briefly at the beginning, so there is a brief glimpse of him and his style. The rest is a series of tributes to him from various bishops, scholars, friends, etc. including the words of Fr. Thomas Hopko, who was his son-in-law.  The video ends with Fr. Alexander's funeral, an extraordinary event that I returned to New York for.  

I recall approaching Matushka Anne Hopko (Fr. Alexander's daughter) and making a comment about the unique atmosphere of the funeral. She smiled, and then replied:  "Yes, just like Pascha!"  That response caught the essence of Fr. Schmemann's life - and his death.

"Bless Father, perhaps you have seen this."
CBS Documentary on Fr. Alexander Schmemann (OCN)

Interestingly enough there is an entry on Fr. Alexander at Wikipedia with a listing of all of his publications. Here is the link:
Fr. Alexander Schmemann (Wikipedia)

And it was also on December 13, that our former parishioner Mother Paula was tonsured as a nun at the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City, PA.  I believe this was in 2010. Mother Paula was known in the parish before her tonsuring by her name "in the world" of Vicki Bellas. She transferred to our parish in the early 90's and stayed with us until 2003 when she left for the monastery to "test" her vocation.  I was the one who drove her to the monastery in the Fall of that year.  

When the time for her tonsuring came, a sizeable group from our parish made the trip for the service.  That group consisted of:  Presvytera Deborah and myself, Roberta Robedeau and our former parishioners Dan and Cristina Georgescu, together with the Callender family and Jeannie Markvan and Elena Drach. We somehow managed to stay just ahead of a snowstorm blowing through the region at that time.  

The hieromonk Fr. Alexander Cutler [formerly the Igumen at St. John the Theologian Skete in Hiram, OH] served as the celebrant of the tonsuring, and Fr. Thomas Hopko and I served together with him. It was an emotional event for all of us who were there.  

Many people journey through life, never quite finding a true "vocation," so Mother Paula was blessed in discovering hers through faithfulness to Christ and a life of prayer and service. It is not a parish footnote that a monastic has come out of our parish community.  Rather, it is a true blessing. We can only say "well done" and wish her Many Years!

See also:

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