Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
2018 ANNUAL PARISH MEETING
GLORY TO JESUS CHRIST!
“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14).
Today we hear these words of the Lord and we pray that we will learn from this Parable and learn to be like the Publican, the tax collector. We pray that, especially as Great Lent approaches, we will be able to recognize our sinfulness, entrust ourselves to the Lord and cry to Him, “Have mercy on us!” It is in this spirit of humility, of recognizing our sinfulness, our weaknesses, and our dependence upon the Lord God that we call out for His mercy.
We will gather together today, after the Divine Liturgy, for our annual parish meeting… a time to reflect upon our life together as an Orthodox Christian community, a parish community, an integral part of Christ’s Holy Orthodox Church. Because the parish by-laws require this and see this as primarily a business meeting, part of our reflection includes the question of how we financially and materially support the work of the Church in our parish and beyond our parish. But we also always need to see everything that we do- “business” matters, service to our neighbor, maintenance and care of our temple and parish hall and grounds, outreach, AND worship as part of our life together. In this sense, everything we do together as a community is “spiritual,” “religious,” and in service to Christ.
St Paul speaks of the Church as a Body, and each one of us as members of the Body (1 Corinthians 12). Each member of the body has a unique gift and plays its own unique role in the life of the Body: “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
One indication of the health of a community is the width and breadth of the talents and labors offered up unto God for the building up of His Church and we are grateful to acknowledge -with the humility of the Publican- that in our small parish community we are blessed with an abundance of talent and with many people who willingly offer their time in various tasks and labors: the parish council oversees the administrative/financial operations of the parish; the church school teachers and assistants commit themselves to the edification and building up of our children and their education in the faith; the Myrrhbearers Altar Society (MBAS) and all those who “love the beauty” of the House of the Lord maintain and beautify the temple, those who take care of the robes and vestments and those who decorate with floral skills; the choir lifts their voices and our hearts up to the Lord, offering praise to the Triune God; our Teen and Young Adult League (T/YAL) participate in activities that strengthen their faith and their fellowship; those who contribute to our parish newsletter, weekly handout, and our newly-renovated parish website; the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America (FOCA) works together to assist in various charitable outreaches; there are those who arrange flowers, bake our altar bread, care for and clean the temple, make coffee, make possible our Holy Week, Holy Supper, the annual Pascha potluck and the annual Saint Nicholas Neighborhood outreach, our outreach and volunteer committee coordinates wonderful activities through the year; the clergy offers the parish the service of their prayers and their pastoral care (Fr David, Fr Mihai, Deacon Andrew, newly-ordained Deacon John); the “Altar Team” serves at the Holy Altar, assisting and bringing greater solemnity to our worship…
Just in this short, incomplete list, we see that we have a width and breadth of talents and abilities with which God has blessed us. And for this, we’re thankfull. We thank God for the continued growth (and we offer our embrace to all our new members), life, vitality of our parish community. And we see many new faces with us all the time. Together, in Christ, we always strive to pray, fast, confess our sins, live in repentance, serve, celebrate our life in Christ, and commit “ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God.”
How does this happen? Through your generosity. Through the time and talents you offer to the Lord. Through your financial resources and material gifts. Through your prayers. By your lives of faith and lives of service.
As we soon approach the Sunday of Forgiveness, even now I ask your forgiveness for not being all that I could be for you and for failing you because of my human frailties. As you are aware, my service as a bishop of the Church also requires time and attention outside of the parish. But be assured that Saints Peter and Paul Church- all of you- are the main focus of my life and my work and my prayer. As St Paul says, “I do not cease giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (Ephesians 1:16).
As we celebrate this Divine Liturgy this morning, we give thanks to Almighty God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Triune God. And as we continue our prayerful service to God in this year’s annual meeting, let us be thankful for all the Lord has done for us. Let us once again give thanks to God for all His many blessings. Let us approach the Lord in gratitude and with humility, asking His continued mercy upon us, upon our parish community, and upon all our dear and loved ones. And let us be eager for the year to come!
Glory to Jesus Christ!