Sunday of Orthodoxy - 2016
Read the 2016 Letter from the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops.
Message of His Grace, Bishop David on the Beginning of Great Lent 2016
Let us begin the fast with joy!
Let us prepare ourselves for spiritual efforts!
Let us cleanse our soul and cleanse our flesh!
Let us abstain from every passion as we abstain from food!
- Forgiveness Sunday Vespers
Each year we begin our Lenten journey by singing this verse from the Vespers of Forgiveness Sunday. It reminds us that we undertake the fast “with joy” as we recall our Lord’s words to us Matthew 6, and not be like the hypocrites. And St. Paul cautions us in his Epistle to the Romans to not condemn those who do not keep the fast properly. Taken together, they serve to teach us an important lesson, one of control both inwardly and outwardly. And it gives us an answer to the question, “What is so important about fasting?”
It is with this concept of control in mind that we can truly understand the purpose of fasting. Some people think of fasting as a way of imitating our Lord who made the ultimate sacrifice for our benefit and for our salvation. So they give up “something” for Lent. Or they look at the fasting rules of the church as a type of sacrifice since they are not partaking of certain foods for the length of the fast.
This is not really an Orthodox approach to fasting or to Lent in general. For the Orthodox Christian is called to fast within the context of control, control of our will. A control that governs not only food, but all the passions that we may encounter on a regular basis. For it is not what goes into the mouth that causes one to sin, but what comes out of it. In this way, gossip, false accusation, lust, anger, and nearly anything we can think of that arouses our passions can lead to sinfulness. It could be the seeking of pleasure from social involvement, the various media resources at our disposal today, or the social media itself can also lead us into temptation and a fall from grace.
So the true reason to fast is not found in the sacrifice, but in the control of the self-will and the self-willing of what we chose to do or not to do, say or not to say, eat or not to eat, and so on. For true fasting is as much a source of instruction to ourselves as it is the abstinence from things. We can learn how to control our desire for certain foods or drinks, our participation in events and even conversations, and by this practice of control of the self that we also learn our true nature.
The real purpose of practicing a fast is to discover the real person that God created us to be. When Adam and Eve transgressed the Lord’s command not to eat from the tree, they lost the ability to see themselves as the image of God or His likeness. They desired the fruit because they thought it would make them like God, for they did realize they already were like God. That deception of the serpent was exactly this, for he said “If you eat it you will be like God, knowing good and evil. [Gen. 3:6] So we can see why this makes our effort of fasting so important, for fasting was the only command that God gave Adam and Eve, and they could not do it.
So the truest purpose of our fasting is to restore the mastery of our own will, not just in fasting from food, but in control of our desire for worldly pleasures (which are fleeting), from improper thought (which can lead to even more sin), and from laziness (the failure to practice the increased life of prayer in Great Lent). Nor can we simply think that struggling with fasting is all we need either, for there is also a all to do positive things in Lent as well.
This past Sunday of the Last judgment shows us what we are also called to do in the positive light as well. Care for those less fortunate than ourselves is paramount in restoring our life in Christ. Clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned are also acts that help us on our Lenten journey.
So we see the three callings of Lent, Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving are all necessary for us to accomplish our goal in Lent of drawing closer to Christ, of being more like Him in our own life. Practicing these three callings will help us gain knowledge of our true image and likeness; it will help us become the real person we were created to be, a living example of Jesus Christ to others.
It is my prayer that each of you will find this path towards the true image and likeness during this Great Lent and by that path discover who you really are in Christ. May you all be blessed with joy and strength to complete the fast with joy and rejoice in the Holy Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
+ David, Bishop of Sitka and Alaska
Sowing Our Tithe
A Homily on II Cor. 9:6-11
By Bishop David of Sitka and Alaska
Today you heard St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, telling them the one who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully shall reap bountifully. What is it about the Corinthians that caused St. Paul to talk to them this way? What point is he trying to make to them? Were they farmers that needed to grow more crops? Were they rich financiers from which he wanted money? We know that St. Paul had so many problems with the Corinthian Church that his two of his longest Epistles are written to them. Corinth was a city free from persecution, it had pagan temples, its Christians were weak spiritually; they were surrounded by people of greed, lust, drunkenness, polytheism, freethought and divisiveness. In short, it wasn’t that different from the land we live in today.
St. Paul had asked them at different times to help raise money for the suffering church in Jerusalem. Because of its status and freedom, it was also wealthy and capable of helping others, if taught to do so. So it is that we have this revealing passage on his thoughts on the relationship between giving and God’s response.
It is simply stated, but true. It is stated in a way that shows the relationship between the giving and receiving in Faith, and it tells us how it is to be done by all of us.
When we give to God, we are not just giving something away. We are not exchanging one type of bounty for another. We are not doing something because we are looking for a reward, although we could, in reality be doing all of these things. St. Paul makes it clear we should be doing so with real joy, cheerfully, because we want to, and for no other reason. Orthodoxy does not believe in the so-called “Prosperity Gospel”, the belief held by many of the televangelists that if you give them what they ask you will be highly rewarded in a financial way. If fact, St. Paul is careful to present his idea about giving in a way that demonstrates the way our Creator has always operated in relation to his creation.
He uses the term “sowing”, a farming term related to how a farmer plants his seeds to collect a crop in the fullness of time. As anyone knows who has ever been around farming, your yield from the seeds you plant is directly related to the quantity of seeds you put into the ground. In a given area of ground, a farmer knows how many pounds of seeds he needs to have a good crop yield. He also knows that if he skimps on the seeds, he’ll be looking at a poor harvest, but if he plants liberally, his chances of a bumper crop are much greater.
But the farmer also knows that it is not just the amount of seeds he puts into the ground, it is type of soil, the amount of rainfall, the warmth or coolness of the climate all are factors in the outcome. We may ask what has this to do with giving money to God? We find the answer in the further explanation that St. Paul when he states everyone has to give as he “purposes in his heart”, meaning as he intends to give because he has looked at all the needs around him and made a good choice. Its not just in giving the money away, its giving it away for the right reasons at the right time. And even more than that, it must be done cheerfully. In other words, we should receive joy in the act of giving.
When the farmer plants his seeds in the spring, he has no idea how wet or dry the summer will be, nor how warm or cool the weather will be, all he knows is that each time he did this in the past, he received his crops in their time. He realizes that if he lets the seeds remain in the sacks he will have no crop, he has to put his faith in the way God works, the way the seeds, the soil, the water and the wind work together to receive his reward in its time.
All of this brings us to our current situation we find ourselves in. God has given all of us a great amount of “seeds” for our benefit. We can use them however we want, we received it freely for one reason, we are citizens of Alaska. Nowhere else in the United States is there such an act of honor placed on its citizens. We didn't put the oil in the ground, nor did we create the oil companies that harvested the oil, we didn’t even formulate the system from which we receive this bounty. Only our act of being born, or moving to, Alaska made this possible for us. We can be thankful for a good governor, like Jay Hammond, and a legislature that had the foresight to make this possible, but in the end, it is almost entirely an act of God that has given us this gift.
So, seeing how little we have actually done to receive it, should we not be willing, with joy in our heart, return back to God a portion of what we have received? Is it not in our interest and for our own benefit that we should be willing to over back to God from this seed that is ours to plant for our own future, the same way that our state planted those first oil revenues as seeds for growth, so that they would multiply and make this blessing possible?
Beloved, with joy in our heart, let us plant the seed of faith, and do so not grudgingly, but cheerfully, so that we will be able to see the fruit of our efforts in due time. Let St. Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians be his prayer for us, and “May He who supplies the seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the sedd you have sown and increase the fruits of your won righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.
2016 Clergy Wives and Family Life Retreat
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Outreach Alaska announces 2016 Spiritual Travel – Walk the Path of the Saints. Taking reservations now!
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Fire Suppression for Kenai’s Holy Assumption Church
Many of you have seen the incredible preservation work that has gone into the Holy Assumption Church and National Historic Landmark in Kenai. Among the final work for this church is a state-of-the-art system to protect it from devastation by fire. The City of Kenai has generously appropriated a $20,000 challenge grant to help complete a fire suppression system for the Holy Assumption Church. This grant will match all donations up to $20,000 to help us reach our goal.
With the help of the Rasmuson Foundation, we are two-thirds complete with the installation of a Hi-Fog Mist system, the gold standard of fire suppression for cultural properties. We need your help to complete this project’s goal of raising $60,000 by May 1, 2016. Together we can protect the Holy Assumption and its historical artifacts which are part of our Alaskan culture.
We have come too far to lose Kenai’s National Historic Landmark to fire. In the recent past summers, we have seen the damage of fire on the Kenai Peninsula. The City of Kenai will match your donation dollar for dollar, thus doubling your gift.
Please make a donation today by using PayPal at the ROSSIA website www.rossialaska.org/support or by mailing a check to ROSSIA, P.O. Box 212315, Anchorage, AK 99521-2315. Blessings and many thanks for your support.
ROSSIA Board of Directors
What follows is a posting on FaceBook by the Dean of the Kuskokwim Deanery and Rector of St. James Church in Napaskiak, Fr. Vasily Fisher. It is well written, concise, and to the point. I pray we all heed his words and pledge a tenth of our PFD to our local Church.
Greeting in the Lord!
Today, and soon we all, will begin to be blessed with a free gift which is given to us each year, the PFD. It is a gift that we do not work to receive. It is a gift that is a blessing from the State of Alaska, and a blessing from God.
This is a rather touchy subject to write about but we need to remember that as Baptized Christians, tithing is what we do. Tithing is part of who we are. The scriptures speak of giving back to God that which is His. If we are Christians, we tithe. It's that simple. We give to God out of the joy of our hearts, give back to God with thankfulness for all the blessings He gives to us.
2 Corinthians 31.5 - "As soon as the command was spread abroad, the people of Israel gave in abundance the first fruit of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything."
Leviticus 27.30 - "Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or the fruit of the trees, is the Lord's; it is holy to the Lord."
We all as baptized Christians tithe: Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Readers, Choir, those who work in the church, and all laity. We all give back to God ten percent of what He blesses us with. It is an opportunity to feel the joy of giving back to God with faith and love. In this day and age, it is God who we must remember first, for the sake of our loved ones and our children, so that they too may know the true JOY of giving back to God as Abel did in the old testament.
Genesis 4:3-5 - "In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell."
Let us all joyfully give as Abel did, in thankfulness and prayer because that is who we are - Christians who give back to God. ALL of us. From this joyful giving our loved ones and children WILL learn about the joy of giving back to God. Glory to Jesus Christ!