Monday, July 12, 2010

A Remarkable Weekend!

Dear Parish Faithful,

By any and all accounts, we just concluded a remarkably full weekend in the life of our parish. On Saturday morning, we received twelve persons into the Church through Baptism and Chrismation. And on Sunday, we honored our eldest parish members with what we could term an Appreciation Day. I would like to offer a brief summary and commentary on these events, especially for those who were not able to attend.

SATURDAY - Without aiming for dramatic or exaggerated effect, it is still possible to say that the reception of twelve new members into the Church on one day, remains "historic" for our parish - at least in the twenty-one years that I have served here as the parish priest. Or, if not historic, than certainly unprecedented. In addition, we can further describe this event as joyous and charismatic. It was impossible not to rejoice as each person - from an eighteen-month old child to some adults - were baptized and chrismated into the Church, or received into the Church through Chrismation. As the parish priest, it is a particular source of joy for me personally and as the liturgical celebrant. For those present, it was also difficult not to sense or feel the presence of the Spirit of God, especially as one person after another was anointed with the words: "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit" and the resounding "amen!" to follow. If Baptism is a "personal Pascha," then Chrismation is a "personal Pentecost." This is what I mean by a "charismatic event." This is the age-old experience of the Church from the initial great charismatic event of Pentecost.

As Tertullian (+c. 220) once said: "Christians are not born, they are made." And a person is "made" a Christian through Holy Baptism. This new birth from above through "water and the Spirit," is simultaneously the putting on of Christ in the sacramental actualization of Christ's death and resurrection: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life." (ROM. 6:3-4) Perhaps Baptism has been "watered down" through the centuries, being reduced in the minds of many to a social, family or ethnic rite; but the true meaning of Baptism remains despite this reductionism, and the objective reality of each and every baptism is the repeated revelation of the Mystery as described by the Apostle Paul. For some, this was the culmination of a long and providential journey.

Again, our newly-baptized members are: Christina and Justin Haynes; Hannah, Lucas and Abigail Cooney; Melissa and Bradley Mason; and Elizabeth Atkins.

Our newly-chrismated members are: Chuck and Jennifer Haynes; and Craig and Jessica Cooney.

As a parish, we must now fulfill the words of the Apostle Paul that we heard yesterday in church during the Liturgy: "Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." (ROM. 15:7) Each and every baptized and chrismated person is welcomed by Christ, with "open arms" we could add. As we have been welcomed from either the beginning of our life's journey - or later - we apply the identical "courtesy" to the new members of the Body of Christ. Our role is to make all of our new members feel "at home" in the local body of Christ. This is all to the "glory of God" and not to ourselves.

Many years to all!

SUNDAY - Yesterday, we honored all of those members of the parish who have not only been in our parish for many years, but who have been granted "many years" by God. The life-span envisioned in the Bible is "three score and ten years," and for the strong another ten; but our "elder" parishioners have all gone well beyond that! The six members thus honored were: Catherine Bitsoff, Vasilka Bitsoff, Tatiana Kovalenko, Marie Sim, Sophie Tyirin, and Nick Tarpoff - though Marie Sim, regrettably, was not able to attend. Although our parish "matriarchs" and "patriarch" were quite aware of the planned celebration, we were still able to surprise them in ways that they found quite moving. Each person had his/her short biography read aloud in the church by one of our young adults, all of whom were prepared and did an excellent job. We learned a bit of each person's history, their contributions to the parish, their hobbies, and some of the wisdom that they have accumulated in their long lives. This was all very enjoyable. (I hope to gather these biographies together in an appropriate format that would allow everyone to read them in the near future). Following this, each person was presented with an icon from the parish, and then blessed with holy water as we sang "O Lord Save Thy People." This presentation is what proved to be a surprise to our distinguished members.

In a few introductory comments I reminded everyone of their faithful witness as parishioners over the years, going back to the origins of the parish. How Catherine, Vasilka and Nick were initially a part of the Holy Spirit parish of the Bulgarian Diocese, and how that parish merged with us to give us our present Christ the Savior/Holy Spirit parish. The former Holy Spirit church also made some huge financial contributions to the emerging Christ the Savior that were very beneficial for the over-all life of the parish. On a deeper note, we should not forget that while in our parish, Katherine, Vasilka and Sophie lost their husbands. I was here to bury Nick and Naum Bitsoff. And beyond that, Vasilka lost her daughter Gloria, and Sophie her daughter, Cindy. Catherine lost a granddaughter to a car accident some years back also. "Accepting" these losses as they did, all of these mothers and grandmother remained faithful in the process, and that is an important witness in itself.

The church hall was nicely decorated, and our honored members had a beautifully prepared table with special table settings (and real silverware!), that allowed them to share their meal together as a group. All in all, another joyous event that concluded a rather remarkable weekend in the life of our parish. And for this we glorify God!

Fr. Steven

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