Orthodox Christmas 2018

From the Manger to the Heart ( Going home another way....)

CHRISTMAS MORNING 2018

Fr Nick Lanzourakis

 

A Professional NBA Basketball player, Alonzo Mourning had everything he wanted. He lived a Celebrity Lifestyle.  He didn’t go to church, he didn’t give beyond the dues the NBA required to go to charity, he would also skip hospital visits that he was originally committed to.

 

At every family gathering he would see his Aunt who ever since she was a child encouraged him to take his faith seriously. She would speak about Christ’s sacrifice and how he called us to live lives of sacrifice and do all we can for our fellow man. He listened politely but went continued on his own way.. One day he woke up after a day of drinking and his side hurt. He went in for a checkup, and he found out that he had kidney disease and that if he didn’t get a transplant he would die.

This had crushed his world. He thought himself to be invincible always in the best shape, and a doctor visit never taking more than a few minutes. As he was in sadness and could not believe what was happening to him, it came to his attention that someone would donate a kidney to help save his life. He was humbled and beyond thankful.

The next Sunday he went to church with his family. There he saw his Aunt who was beaming when she saw him. She asked him what was it that made him decide to come. He said “"Before this situation, I was a young kid from Virginia who didn't understand how important selflessness and sacrifice truly was until it saved my life,"

From then on people saw a difference in his daily interactions, attitude, and disposition toward everyone he came into contact with. This man, went to the Doctor as one individual, but inspired by the love, humility, selflessness, and compassion which comes from our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ,   he went home after this experience another way.. The way of love, the way of compassion, purpose, the way of Christ.

 

Today , we stand focused on the mystery of the birth of Christ and the scene that this been created. Shepherds extol, angels praise, and magi bring gifts. The shepherds were simple shepherds and left the experience still as shepherds but shepherds with great faith, and joy.

 

 The Three wise men or magi were said to be men of immense education, and highly respected  continues searchers of knowledge, truth, and fortune. Their sudden appearance to the area frightened Herod because they had come from far away, on horseback. They must be there with immense purpose. For this reason, Herod himself gave them an audience and asked that they show him where the child was.

 After following the star, and seeing God, Christ as an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, praised by angels and shepherds they were so affected by the great humility, love, and compassion of our Lord and Savior, they did not want to report to Herod where the Child was… As the Gospel said they went to their Home by another way.  

The basketball player mentioned above was in prime health, living the lifestyle so to speak of the world, yet when he went to his doctors appointment, heard crushing news, received a new kidney and experienced the humility, sacrifice, and love of God in himself he too like the magi went home another way. He came to this experience as one person but left another.

 

He stopped holding up to a pedestal all of the glory, honor, and fame that the world had given him, and he instead focused on the love, compassion, and humility of Christ. He went home from the doctor’s office by  another way…

My brothers and sisters, we have been to many Christmas Services since our youth, established are own Christmas traditions, some of us have perhaps gotten caught up in shopping lists,  in the way the world looks at Christmas.

 

Are we prepared to leave this Christmas Divine Liturgy and to go home another way?

Perhaps we too can be inspired in reflecting on the love, compassion, and humility of our savior to dedicate ourselves to Christ, focus on loving others and treating each other as fellow icons that are created in God’s image with love, and care.

Even though we may leave today, and open gifts, and enjoy the company of family, and a beautiful dinner, let us also leave our Divine Liturgy today another way.. Let us remember that aside from today’s celebrations, we  celebrate  Divine Liturgy every Sunday let us  wake up tomorrow with the same love, compassion and emphasis on the humility and love of our Savior.

 

 If we have not, let us attend the Divine Liturgy on New Years Day to celebrate the eight day naming ceremony of Christ,  Celebrate St. Basil, and offer the first day of the year to God!  Let us look to celebrate and focus on all the feasts of the Church, including the  Feast of the Theophany of Christ which is coming up in which we celebrate the Trinity being revealed to us!

Let us truly, as the NBA Basketball Player, Alonzo Mourning,  and the Magi in today’s Gospel seek to return to our homes, our families, our communities,  by  another way..

 

             I would like to take this time to wish you a blessed nativity and happy new year, with all of God’s Blessings. 

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OUR 50th CHRISTMAS IN CRANSTON with NATIVITY JOY

CHRISTMAS EVE 2018

 

by Fr Andrew George

 

My beloved parishioners & friends - tonight we have come home for Christmas.  "Home" in two special ways.

  • It's all feeling so familiar to me - in fact it feels GREAT. Last year we had Christmas in the Demetrakas Hall which was certainly cozy and warm - as you will certainly recall.....
  • But there is no comparison with being in THIS CHURCH and this year in particular being our 50th year in Cranston. 

 

  • As our service is just about over......we have hopefully been comforted as well I pray, of the warmth in here and of the well sung Nativity Hymns of significance and impact...as well as those wonderful words from the Scriptures, both "old and new" about a place and time when God ACTED!  

 

  • Did I just say "when" God ACTED  -  God is always "ACTING!"   I must stress that God is always with us when we seek Him.  

 

  • This leads to the second definition of "HOME" I wish to make tonight.  Another way to describe HOME starts also with the letter "H" -  and that is the word  - HEART.
  • Home is where our heart is and in particular - the heart of Christ. 

 

Think of a baby still in their mother's womb and how

we can hear the heart beat with special instrumentation,

and at times we can feel the heartbeat with our hand as well.

 

Something like this happened centuries ago when God heard and felt the heart of humanity, knowing how it fell through the sin of Adam & Eve

so He sent prophets to comfort them - but also teach and uplift them.

 

People became imperfect, yet many desired perfection and right living.

So God came as an infant and in adulthood taught the truth,

suffered for our sins, reopened paradise and establish the church.

 

 

The mission of the Church is exactly this - to lift up mankind to gain perfection.  The church does not so much cater to the perfect for there is hardly such a person, if any.

  • The church caters (rather ministers) to those who need to be perfected. That's our whole purpose in being "a Church"  and coming into 'the church."

Of course we have to do our part, too. We can't just lay back and say, "Well, lay it on me Lord."   

No, a lot of times -  it takes lots of hard work to be perfected, to be renewed and firm in our Christian witness.

 

God takes us  -   the outcast, the unfaithful, the tax collectors and sinners as the New Testament calls us - and through God's divine love and grace, God perfects us. God transforms us and gives new meaning, purpose and direction to our lives.

  • The Church helps us clean up our act to become more like Christ every day. And the more we become like Christ, the more Joy there is in our lives. That's why Christ came. That's why Christmas is the season of Joy.  It is the start date of earthly salvation towards heaven.

 

That exactly was God's message to the Shepherds that Christmas Night - the angel of the Lord said:

I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people.....

from that proclamation we get the well know carol

                                    Joy to the World the Lord has come......

 

Something new and Joyous was taking place. Something most everyone had forgotten about in all the mess of daily living. It was time to make a change, to clean house, to sweep out the cobwebs of people's hearts and souls.

 

  • The ancients kept trying to do it through blood sacrifices and today's generation at times, similar attempts.  People back then kept getting it wrong and at times simply forgetting it, - so God had to come up with another way.  
  • God had to come to clean up the spiritual clutter THEN and for some in our times, as well. Thus we have Christmas every year to nudge us onward toward betterment.

 

It all started in the manger.

 

The first group to hear this message of Hope and Joy was one of the least likely group of people ever chosen....WHO WERE THEY?

The Shepherds, who were only slightly higher than the Lepers in the social pecking order of the day.

WHY WAS THAT,  DO YOU THINK?

Again, God was showing us that He cares for all people

not just the high and the mighty, PERHAPS in fact we could say...

He cares first for the lowly.

 

 

Beloved in the Lord---

 

God has come down in the flesh as Jesus Christ. God humbled himself on our behalf and as a result - humanity has been lifted up. Salvation has come near. Where the horizontal and the vertical intersect, there is the cross of Jesus Christ....there is the Church.

 

A famous artist painted a picture of the Nativity,

in which across the crib falls the shadow of the cross.

Salvation is God’s eternal plan for humanity.

This is why He has come down. This is why we can be lifted up.

 

We, then, are the recipients of a great and free gift. In fact we are the recipients of the greatest gift of all. The God of all creation has become the babe of Bethlehem. The babe of Bethlehem became the Lamb on the Cross.

 

  • Ø Because of the Divine drama of which the stable of Bethlehem was only a part, our salvation has been made possible. It was in our behalf that God humbled Himself, and the salvation that He offers is free to all who desire to receive it.

 

We do not have to do something grandiose in order to earn salvation. There is no material gift that we can offer the Christ child - in return for what God has done for us....as He still does for us.

 

His great love is for each of us, in all generations....not just the people at His birth. 

 

There is only one gift - we can offer Him in return;

one gift, we should offer Him?

That is to receive the gift of His love - and then - love others in return.

 

God has humbled Himself and came down to His creation.

Humanity has been lifted up.

Salvation has drawn nigh.

Let us receive it, joyfully, and make it our own.

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DON'T LET CHRISTMAS BE A LOST OPPORTUNITY,

MAKE  A  FRESH  START

Sunday of the Forefathers of Christ

Second Sunday Before Christmas / Dec 16, 2018

Fr Andrew George - CranstonRI

Opportunities comes with so many different faces that we often don't recognize them. That's probably why we sometimes miss them. A previous generation said that opportunity comes dressed in overalls. And they were largely right, for nothing succeeds like hard work. Our generation thinks that opportunity comes with a suit and tie, with a college diploma. It may, but there's no guarantee.  No matter what we wear, we still have to work hard.

A divine opportunity comes in what is, to our human eyes, the most unlikely garb of all. It's no wonder we don't recognize it; or that, recognizing it, we resist it. The Christmas Lent that we currently are observing, is an especially good time to experience a divine opportunity to make a FRESH START in living as the assigned Epistle today notes  /   yet the assigned Gospel pericope gives an example of the opposite.....a "lost opportunity."

- Any time is a good time to assess opportunities for spiritual growth and all seasons belong to God; but because you and I find certain settings          and circumstances especially hospitable to religious experience, the Christmas and Paschal seasons being particularly filled with good opportunities     for this growth. 

The Invitation offered today in the Gospel (Luke 14:16-24) to the King's "banquet" was ignored by 3 invited guests, guests who gave rather silly excuses....mainly world entanglements; one due to a property purchase, another due to a business enterprise and the 3rd due to marriage.

 

Think about it beloved, if you got an invitation from King Carlos of Spain

or Prince Phillip of England...Queen Elizabeth, or the

president of the USA - would you give an excuse not to attend?

But today's characters in the Bible reading, did just that and not just from a high ranking

government authority, but from God himself.

The Gospel lesson does not say anything about "how" these people felt or reacted when they learned how wonderful the event was and that it was more than just a nice meal, but rather it extended to an eternal reward of everlasting value to each person that accepted the invitation.

 

- I wonder if these people repented their decision not to go, or if they remained so focused on the success of today, that they gave no consideration to tomorrow.

          Let's talk this morning a little bit about this topic of tomorrow and the importance of  = repentance......


"Repent" is one of the loveliest words in our language....METANIA in Greek (after thought, or change of thinking).  This word gives us human beings a sublime compliment, for it says that we can do something about the course we have taken. If we were nothing more than mere animals, we'd have to go the way our instincts demanded. But you and I, humans as we are, can repent, we can change!

 

If we are on the wrong track, we can turn around, or get on another train.

We may not be able to change what we've already done,

and we may not be able to fully escape the consequences of those past choices.

But we need not continue in the same destructive path.

We can repent, and start again.  We can make, yes, we can make a FRESH START.



Every life accumulates a certain amount of rubbish. No matter how earnestly and thoughtfully we live, we make mistakes -- if not outright sins.

In time, our sins, stupidities, and poor choices can become like a mountain around us,

until we spend endless waking hours in the miserable enterprise of regret.

 

Thanks be to God, there is something better than haunting regard. Regret, you see, leads nowhere. It is a sea of misery in which we can wallow and fret until it destroys us.

- But repentance is a gift from God -- a wholesome way to look the past in the eye, confess it for what it is, and leave it behind. On, then, to a new start. 

St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians 3:4-11 that we heard earlier this morning is of great significance

as we prepare for Christmas.....in summary: 

"Brethren, when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:

fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. . . .

..... anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth.

Do not lie to one another,

seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature,

which is being renewed in knowledge  . . . . 

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hummm- beautiful words..."RENEWED KNOWLEDGE"

Think deeply about those words beloved

a)  better knowing

b) returning to the good things we once knew

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St Paul presented his message in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion, a matter of fact - just do it / do it now.....

somewhat similar we could say to an automobile salesman who bargained faithfully for a time, then said,

"This is my last offer," and, as he said it, walked away.

Perhaps it is a good sales ploy - certainly

"I have something great to offer,"

"and you'd better grasp the opportunity now that it has come to you."

WHAT IS THE "NOW"

YES - CHRISTMAS IS "THE NOW"

 AND

CHRISTMAS LENT IS A GOOD TIME TO REPENT AND LIVE LIFE BETTER

IN OUR ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN WALK

 

What is the opportunity that St Paul is talking about this morning? ? ?   THE BIRTH OF CHRIST  . . . when Christ who is our life, APPEARS.

And he asks us these days of Advent (we can say) to - BE RENEWED IN KNOWLEDGE. 

 

- Yes the Christmas Lent calls for renewal, just as does the Easter Lent.  So many of us do well during Great Lent before Pascha with this awareness, but we seem to be overpowered with the frills of the Christmas Season and overlook the KING'S INVITATION TO THE GREAT BANQUET.

 

We define the word "banquet" to be literally "the Eucharist", BUT ALSO I would add, it is more --

 

It is the religious "attentiveness" for these current 40 days and the remaining 9 days ahead.  (Never too late for good growth). Why is there such excitement, such beauty during Christmas?  It is of course our response to God's love for us through His coming to earth in the flesh and this event should make us "ATTENTIVE" to being  sure that we return this love to Him and that we spread His love to others, through our good living and giving.

These days are also days of remembering the prophesies of old announcing the Lord's Coming to earth - and today in particular -  the grouping of people known as the forefathers and foremothers. The lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that leads to Jesus  - who comes to SAVE mankind as St Paul wrote (Gal 3:16) 

 

In particular so many Old Testament personalities of great acclaim. The wondrous Enoch for lived on earth in a wonderful manner and was taken up to heaven, Noah, Samson ...Eleazer, Job, Samuel, David. Righteous women as well, such as Hannah, Judith, Deborah, Esther, Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Ruth, the noble minded ones.  We should strive to be like them.

 

There is a long history before the coming of Christ that needs to be remembered and honored. When God becomes incarnate, taking on human flesh, heaven and earth become reunited.  For He is true God, the second person of the Trinity, who sits in heaven at the right hand of the father.  Yet - HE IS AT THE SAME TIME, true man, the second Adam. 

- But for this miracle to take place, man must accept God....referring back to today's epistle /  to  - PUT OFF our weakness and evil ways.


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The coming of Jesus brings to the world, for all persons, a presence of God which formerly was experienced

only by a select few on special occasions.  

Our Lord is coming with a winnowing fan, to separate the wheat from the chaff;

 and he will burn the chaff "with unquenchable fire" we will read as we approach Epiphany.


Perhaps we should remind ourselves that Jesus (as an adult) often spoke of himself in the language of judgment.

We are so taken with the image of Jesus' compassion (which is a major element in his person and ministry certainly)

that we forget the sterness he showed to hypocrites and to unworthy religious leaders as we hear in Holy Week

 and the fearful language He used in describing the day of judgment.  

We shouldn't hide these things about Jesus. Instead, we should seek to understand it and respond to Him.

HE who has come as the ultimate expression of God's love is also an agent of judgment,

then the judgment itself must be seen as an act of mercy;

and "mercy" is love.

Just as a parent to their children at times is stern (for their good), this sternness is love for their betterment.

So is Christ with us.

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This brings us back to our theme of the day. . . . .

Repentance is the grandest expression of opportunity, because it is the door by which our Lord comes into our lives; and with him, all the favors of mercy and grace.

- As we repent, we sweep out the accumulated, burdensome rubbish of our lives and clear the way for God's love to fill us. 

- Repentance is a particular gift to us believers; we know by experience what benefits it brings. We ought, therefore, to be all the more ready to put this good gift to use.  

Right now we are in the best season for repenting. How better can we prepare for the celebration of Jesus' coming than by clearing away the trivia and troubles of past days, to make clear a pathway for our God to enter our heart a-new?  

This is our season of opportunity. We can repent at any and every hour, but here we are at the best of all hours. Now is the time, here is the place, and opportunity knocks. Repent, the voice invites us, and begin afresh and anew. Thanks be to God for such an opportunity. 

 

Let us not miss the opportunity as did the 3 people in today's Gospel,

but rather use the opportunity to it's fullest to be with Christ

and have Christ in us to change us and keep us focused

on what is good and proper in life!



From the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

"Potholes on the Way to Bethlehem: Navigating the Stress of the Nativity Season" 

https://www.goarch.org/-/potholes-on-the-way-to-bethlehem-navigating-the-stress-of-the-nativity-season

Please Click Blue Link (Above) to Go to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Article

REFLECTIONS ON THE NATIVITY FAST - "In The Beginning"

BY- Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis

Unlike our American culture, which celebrates from now until Christmas, with celebrations ending promptly on December 26, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Nativity throughout the year. Our joyful part of the celebration in this season is supposed to be from December 25 through January 7.

November 15 through December 24 is a period of fasting and reflective preparation.

The focus is neither shopping nor decorating, but meditating on the awesome miracle of the Son of God taking on flesh and becoming one of us. This is why we call the holiday either the Nativity (to commemorate an historical event) or,  the Incarnation (to recognize the spiritual significance of the Nativity).

Each day of the forty days, we  examine the scriptures of the Nativity. My hope is that we take this journey together in a prayerful and purposeful way.

Why did God send His Son to be among us? To answer this question, we go back to the beginning. 

- In order to believe in God, one has to first believe that God created us; someone greater than us created us. Whether one interprets Genesis 1 as seven literal days or not (most Orthodox theologians affirm that the seven-day creation is an allegory), or whether one believes that God created everything, or that He created the first thing and a chain-reaction of evolutionary outgrowth was the result, the most important verses of Genesis 1 are the first three:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning, there was God, there was nothing else but God. And God created everything from nothing. God, however, is not created, but existed from the beginning. In order to believe in Christ, one has to believe that He too, existed from the beginning.

- Genesis 1:3 reveals all three persons of the Holy Trinity, present and working together for the creation of the world. In the beginning God (the Father) created the heavens and the earth. The Spirit (Holy Spirit) of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said (the voice of God is God the Son), Let there be light.

After the creation of the Light, God (in Trinity) created the heavens, the earth, the moon, sun, and stars, the plants, and the animals. At every stage of the creation, God looked upon what He created and saw that it was good. (Gen. 1: 4, 12, 18, 25).

On the sixth day-

God said -  Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness . . . So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them

- And after creating the man, God looked on what He created and saw that is was VERY good, the only time that this superlative is used in reference to the creation. God gave man the Garden of Eden, where he lived in a state of Paradise. However, God gave the man free will. He did not force man to live in union with God. He gave him a choice. He told man,....

You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die (Gen. 2:16).

But man was not content.

Instead of feeling thankfulness for all that God had given to him,

man was ungrateful.

And tempted to eat from the tree, he did so.

And God cast mankind out of Paradise, out from the Garden of Eden.

Instead of living in unity with God,

the human being now lived in a state of chaos, a victim of his own mistakes,

victim of the mistakes of others, and victim of a broken creation filled with naturalness (in reality, unnatural, because God made nature perfect).

A wall of separation, separated man from God. In Genesis 3:24, we read, and God drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden He placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

But God did not abandon His people.

-  He made a covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:13-17) that He would never destroy the earth with a flood again.

-  He made a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15) that God would be a Father to Abraham and all of His descendants. The sign of the covenant was circumcision (Gen. 17).

-  God gave deliverance from famine through Joseph (Gen. 41).

-  He gave deliverance to His people, the Israelites, from the oppression of Pharaoh (Exod. 14).

-  God gave order to the people of Israel through the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20). He gave His people judges, kings and prophets in every generation, to let them know that they were not forgotten by Him.

-  Throughout the Old Testament, there are prophecies foretelling of the coming of Christ the Messiah, who will save His people from their sins.

Then when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son to redeem those under the Law (Gal. 4:4).  This is the Feast of the Nativity.

The story of the Nativity is told in Prophecy (Old Testament), the Gospels (New Testament), the Epistles (New Testament), and hymns and prayers (from the liturgical tradition). All will be used on our journey to the Nativity.

As we begin our journey, remember these three things:

1)- God made us in His image and likeness;

2)- we fell through sin;

3)- and through the Incarnation (which begins the earthly ministry of Christ that culminates in His Passion and Resurrection from the dead), we are reunited with Christ, as the Creator comes to live among His creation and redeem us from our sins.

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A hymn from the Vespers of Christmas, which tells us that through the Nativity the wall of separation between us and God came down.

"Come, let us rejoice in the Lord, as we tell about this mystery. The middle wall of separation has been broken down; the fiery sword has turned back, the Cherubim permits access to the tree of life; and I partake of the delight of Paradise, from which I was cast out because of disobedience. For the exact Image of the Father, the express Image of His eternity, take the form of a servant, coming forth form a Virgin Mother; and He undergoes no change. He remained what He was, true God; and He took up what He was not, becoming human in His love for humanity. Let us cry out to Him: You who were born from a Virgin, O God, have mercy on us."

(Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes.)

We encourage you to participate in this journey guided by Fr. Stavros.

Purchase the book "Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections for Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany" by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis

https://www.orthodoxmarketplace.com

"Let All Creation Rejoice" has been written to be read on a daily basis from November 15 (the beginning of the Orthodox Advent season), through January 7 (the Feast of St. John the Baptist which falls one day after the Feast of Epiphany, which is held January 6).

These reflections of Advent focus on a verse or two from the scriptures on the Nativity, taken from Matthew 1 and 2, and from Luke 2. The reflections that follow the Feast of the Nativity focus on other scriptures related to the early life of Christ, culminating in His Baptism and the endorsement of St. John the Baptist.

Each reflection concludes with a hymn or prayer from Orthodox Christian services held for the Feasts of the Nativity and Theophany.

Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos (Presiding Priest) at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL