The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving - 11/28/13
Jahaziel, Jehoshaphat, Judah
and the Real Meaning of Thanksgiving
One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is in the Second Book of Chronicles (II Paralipomenon, LXX), Chapter 20. It’s the story of Jehoshaphat and his priest and prophet, Jahaziel when attacked by the Moabites and Ammonites. It is the strangest “victory” in Scripture. When King Jehoshaphat’s advisors come to tell him of the impending attack, everyone is fearful that their enemies will overtake them. Jehoshaphat prays to God and says, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you." [v.12b] His prophet and priest, Jahaziel, declares an even stranger word to the people when he says, “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.” [v.17] What did he say? Don’t fight? Just stand still? Well, the people of Judah were faithful in nothing else, and so they did just as the priest commanded. They went out the next day, led by the choir and those in “holy attire” (read priests), and as they went they sang, "Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever." [v.21b] When they arrived at the place where they were to fight, they beheld a valley with not one living warrior. It took them three days just to take back the spoils.
What is the point of this story and what does it have to do with Thanksgiving?
Mostly, our idea of Thanksgiving is in relation to our greatness as a nation. We see our prosperity as a blessing, part and parcel to that great American idea of “Manifest Destiny”. But what lay underneath the surface of our bounty is an almost invisible, Godly-imaged people, who are suffering in silence from all manner of manifestations of affliction, evil and sin. Poor in commerce and health, they are the have-nots in a land of plenty. Save their underprivileged lot in life, they are exactly the same as us.
I submit to you that it is exactly this modern type of “thanksgiving” in which we find so many people attracted to feast over family, sales over salvation, and greed over glory for God, that we have missed the point. In fact, we do not know what to do about the disparaging differences in our society. In this day and age where invasions on the fleshly desires are constant, in this time of heightened consumerism and self-satisfaction, we need to remember and give thanks to God that He realizes our limitations, our own weaknesses, our inability to know what to do in every case, and at all times. We often become so self-assured we seldom think of God unless we are in deep trouble. Sometimes we just need to stand still and realize we don’t have all the answers.
Like the attacking hoards against Judah, we find a worldly attack on nearly everything we hold sacred. At the same time we have not found a way to justly treat the needy and the ill and infirm. In short, we don’t know what to do. To admit that would be a step in the right direction. Even better would be for us to trust God first, and not try to think we know how to “fix” everything. This season we will be bombarded with advertisements telling us how to do just that. If we look at the answer Judah gave, I think we can find a way to begin our proper thanksgiving. Notice how Judah went out against their adversary, the armed forces didn’t lead the way, the choir and priests did, singing as they went, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His steadfast love endures forever.” [v.21b] How amazing an approach to life, first give thanks to God for His steadfast love, and then wait for His results?
Jehoshaphat told the people of Judah, “believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” [v.20b] That same truth exists today. Success depends on our ability to give Him thanks, not the other way around. Thanks to God begins with remembering why we are here. To show God our gratitude means to express it to those who need a reason to be thankful. To show God we are grateful for our blessings, we are called upon to share our bounty in as many ways as possible. The choices are many; the decision is ours. If you want to succeed, believe what we have been told by the prophets and preachers and teachers of God.
This week our church began a campaign to add 300 “Stewards of the OCA”, at the last Diocesesan Assembly I announced our own “G.L.O.R.Y. to God” campaign, and we will soon announce a way to help Religious Education in Alaska. This past week I called upon all our parishes to take up a collection to help the IOCC with relief aid for the Philippines and the response has been outstanding. In addition to this are all the local food pantries and kitchens that need our help and support. God provides the ways to help others, we provide the means, and that is what it means to be thankful. The Lord is steadfast in His love for us, let us be steadfast in our stewardship of thanks for His many gifts to us.
As you gather with your family and friends this Thanksgiving, I pray God will bless your gatherings with His love and peace; and that you will all receive a most generous return from God for your many gifts of thanks to others who are less fortunate. God bless you in this Season of Thanks, and may you have a Spiritually rewarding Nativity Fast.
In Christ’s love, your servant,
Archimandrite David (Mahaffey)
Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Sitka and Alaska
For Seasonable Weather... - 11/15/13
For Seasonable Weather, abundance of the fruits of the earth, and peaceful times let us pray to the Lord, and Give Thanks!
Our hearts and our prayers go out this week to those who have been impacted by the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan. We see the reports streaming in and watch the headlines outlining the grim and violent destruction that weather has had on our neighbors in the Philippines. As Alaskans, we know all too well the impact that severe weather and other natural disasters can have on individuals, on families, on communities and on our Parishes. Even as I am writing this, many of our brothers and sisters on the Aleutian Islands and Western Coast of Alaska are suffering severe winds, rains, flooding
In times such as these it is always easy to ask “Why?” Why must this happen? Entire books have been written on this subject. This topic of debate could go on forever. While this is happening, while we are in the midst of this, and these images are fresh in our minds, let us consider another question this season. “What?” What can I do to help my neighbor? What can I do to be prepared in case my own family or someone I know is impacted by a natural disaster?
We know that as Orthodox Christians, we can start with Prayer. We can be present at the services of our Church. Every Vespers Service we pray to the Lord for our cities and every city, town or village. We pray for Seasonable Weather, for the abundance of the fruits of the earth and for peaceful times.
We can also help and prepare in other ways. Perhaps while shopping for canned foods we should start thinking about buying an extra 1 or 2 cans. Consider picking up an extra one for your house and an extra one for the food bank. We should also consider assisting those organizations that assist in these disasters, like the Orthodox organization International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). During this time of preparation for the Advent Season let us prepare our hearts and our homes. Let us give thanks for what we have, and let us help those we can who are suffering.
I call upon all the Parishes in the Diocese to make next Sunday, November 24, a Sunday of giving for the victims of this tragedy. I ask each priest and Parish Leader to let everyone know this collection will be taken and to send your donation to the IOCC. Be sure to mark your donation for Philippines Typhoon Disaster Fund. You can give online here at www.iocc.org and clicking the Donate Now button, or you can mail your donation to their physical location in Baltimore, MD.
Post Office Box 17398
Baltimore, MD 21297-0429
May God Bless You and keep you safe this season,
Bishop-elect, Diocese of Sitka and Alaska
Holy Synod elects Archimandrite David [Mahaffey] as Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Sitka and Alaska - 10/15/13
Archimandrite David [Mahaffey] was elected by the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America to fill the vacant Episcopal See of Sitka and Alaska on Wednesday, October 16, 2013.
The election took place during the fall session of the Holy Synod at the OCA Chancery.
Delegates to the Assembly of the Diocese of Alaska on September 15, 2012 had nominated Father David, who has been serving as the diocese’s Administrator and Chancellor, to fill the vacant See. His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin, Locum Tenens of Episcopal See of Sitka and Alaska, presented his name to the Holy Synod for canonical election.
Born in Altoona, PA in 1952, Father David was received into the Orthodox Christian faith in 1975, two years after his marriage to the former Karen Meterko. He received his Master of Divinity degree from Saint Tikhon’s Seminary, South Canaan, PA in 1997. In 2003, he graduated from the University of Scranton with Bachelors degrees in Theology and Philosophy. Two years later, he received his Master of Arts degree in theology from the same school.
He was ordained to the diaconate in 1981 and served throughout the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1993, he served as rector of Saint Michael Church, Old Forge, PA until 2006, when he assumed the pastorate of Holy Trinity Church, Pottstown, PA. In 2009, he was assigned rector of Saint Nicholas Church, Bethlehem. He and his wife, who fell asleep in the Lord in 2007, raised four children.
Father David served as a graduate assistant in the Theology Department of the University of Scranton, adjunct lecturer at Saint Tikhon’s Seminary, and adjunct lecturer in theology and philosophy at Alvernia University, Melrose Park Campus, Philadelphia, PA. He has served in a wide variety of capacities in the Diocese of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, including dean of the Philadelphia Deanery.
The dates of Father David’s consecration to the episcopacy are Thursday, February 20th - Friday, February 21st at St. Innocent Cathedral in Anchorage. His installation will take place on Sunday, February 23rd, at St. Michael Cathedral in Sitka.
Memory Eternal ~ Reader Herman Squartsoff - 12/10/13
We greet the departure from this life of Reader Herman Squartsoff with a profound sense of loss, but also with deep gratitude for his life and ministry. Working with Reader Herman for close to eighteen years as “his priest” (as he called me, unworthy as I am) has been an honor and true blessing. We shared many joys and sorrows together from burying village elders to baptizing babies and joyfully celebrating our Lord’s Holy Resurrection—followed by delicious duck soup. He was always a warm and generous host in the village and we spent a lot of time together around the kitchen table. Reader Herman was probably the most generous man I have ever met. He would literally give you the shirt off his back if you needed it: “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” (Mt. 5:42) He would often give hundred dollar bills to unsuspecting seminarians with children. He would take village students on welcome fishing trips and hunting expeditions to get a breather from the big city life of Kodiak.
He was a friend and confidante but also a true mentor, teaching a young, newly-ordained priest about Christ and the traditions of village Alaska. He was a fantastic teacher who could introduce a new world and way of life not by complicated words but by being a living example of what is Good, True and Beautiful. He taught me as a novice priest, but also was a good father to his children. Whenever I found myself in struggles and difficulties he would help and encourage me like a father or older brother. We served our first funeral together on Afognak Island for a long lost man whose bones had been discovered by an archaeologist. We served Divine Liturgy one Ascension in the sunny and peaceful forests of Monk’s Lagoon with a sizeable number of villagers. Some years, he would serve the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete virtually alone in the Church. Last year we did not serve together for Holy Week and Pascha, because he served in the priestless village of Karluk, so that they to could experience the joy of Our Lord’s Resurrection.
Herman came from an Orthodox family from Spruce Island. He could date his Russian-Alutiiq family back to St. Herman’s time on the island. His father was the Starosta for Nativity of Our Lord Church, which he served his whole life. Herman was raised in the Orthodox faith by pious parents. Herman was reader in Ouzinkie following the death of the ever-memorable Ilarion Ellanak who taught Herman the order of services. Herman felt himself to be the caretaker of the traditions of these elders, but also knew how important is to pass the Orthodox faith to the new generation. Herman knew he lived in a holy place blessed by St. Herman, but also a place that experienced particular struggles and spiritual temptations. He attended St Herman Seminary where he learned more about services and the Orthodox Faith, and after two years of studies remained another year as seminary cook.
Not only was Reader Herman a man of God, but also a traditional village man. He was a skillful hunter and fisherman. From sun up to sun down he led an active, purpose-filled subsistence lifestyle rooted in prayer. He chopped wood, smoked fish, shot rifles, captured octopi, baked pirog, collected birds’ eggs from remote islands, drove skiffs and mended fishing nets. His days, months and years followed the traditional rhythms of the liturgical year and hunting and fishing cycle. He sat on the Native Corporation Board and ran a charter business. He was good at all these things, but his first love was Christ and His Church. He was well aware of his spiritual struggles and imperfections. Many times he exhibited profound repentance.
Reader Herman’s deep concern was for the future of the Church and his village. Like St. Herman of Alaska, he was not afraid to bluntly speak difficult truths if it would help his people or the Church. He was not always popular because he would stubbornly stand for Christ and the Church in the face of growing apathy, greed and secularization. He would often quote the frightening words from St. Matthews Gospel: “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” (Mt. 24:12) He felt that Orthodox Christianity should stand at the heart of the community. When he was village health aide, he placed icons in all the village clinic’s rooms. Together we anointed and blessed the newly constructed Ouzinkie Native Corporation building. Herman taught that Christ should be everywhere throughout the community—He is not bound by the four walls of the church structure. He felt we need to bring Christ into our everyday lives and not act like “Sunday Only” Christians. He deeply believed we need to transmit Christ and the Orthodox faith to our youth. Jesus Christ is the same “yesterday, today and forever,” (Heb. 13:8) and to be faithful to our past we must give to future generations. He helped start the village’s St. Peter the Aleut Youth Camp for this very purpose. He wanted to make sure the village never drifted from its Orthodox Christian roots. He wanted to make sure future generations would enjoy the blessings of the subsistence lifestyle that he, his parents and grandparents had enjoyed.
Christ said the words, “Well done good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Mt. 25:23) I believe Herman was a good and faithful servant who taught us by his words and deeds to love God and our neighbors. He taught not by complicated words and phrases, but by faith and generosity rooted in prayer and the Church’s liturgical and spiritual life. We pray that now he is rejoicing in Christ’s Kingdom with his beloved St. Herman and all the saints. May his memory be eternal!
Archpriest John Dunlop
Dean ~ Saint Herman Seminary
Prayers for Archpriest Macarius Targonsky - 11/18/13
A Holy Unction service was served at the bedside of Archpriest Macarius Targonsky on Sunday, Nov. 17th. Bishop-elect David with, Frs. John Zabinko, Michael Trefon, Thomas Andrew went to the Central Peninsula General Hospital and served the Mystery of Holy Unction for Fr Macarius. Matushki Taisia Andrew and Dolly Trefon also helped to sing the service. Fr. Macarius has been having health issues for some time now and we felt the prayers would help. Please keep Fr. Macarius in your prayers.
Seminary Appeal - 10/21/13
From the Orthodox Church in America:
In a letter dated October 18, 2013, the deans and administrators of the Orthodox Church in America’s three seminaries invite the faithful of all parishes to embrace fully a resolution passed at the 2011 All-American Council calling for a consistent approach to the schools’ financial support.
Download the PDF letter here.
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2013 Diocesan Assembly - 10/20/13
On October 17-19, 2013 the clergy and faithful gathered at St. Innocent Cathedral in Anchorage for the annual Diocesan Assembly. His Emminence Archbishop Benjamin formally announced to the gathering the election of Archimandrite David as Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Sitka and Alaska. This news was received enthusiastically by the clergy and faithful and a consecration date in late February 2014 is being planned with the consecration taking place in Anchorage and the installation in Sitka.
In addition to the administrative business at the meeting, highlights included; Archpriest Philip Alexie being honored by his fellow deanery clergy for his many years of service as dean in the Kuskowim deanery. Fr. Leo Walsh joined the assembly representing the Roman Catholic church and his Eminence expressed gratitude at the return of the historic bell to Kodiak.
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