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The Blessings of Epiphany

“King of all, you accepted also to be baptized in the Jordan by the hand of a servant, so that, having sanctified the nature of the waters, you, the sinless one, might make a way for our rebirth through water and Spirit and re-establish us in our original freedom.”
~Prayer from the Blessing of the Waters

It is most providential that God authentically and completely understands us; our emotions, struggles, life and even death, as He experienced them through taking human flesh by the incarnation and birth of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Beyond our understanding and experience of humility is the offering that God made to His creation, in the form of His Son. As recipients of this Divine love and compassion, we are obligated to recognize and offer glory to our Father in heaven for His love and all the forms we receive it.

In the month of January, we recognize and glorify one particular event where Christ’s humility and love for us may be witnessed, His baptism! January 6 the Holy Orthodox Church celebrates the Theophany of our Lord — His baptism at the hand of Saint John the Baptist! (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:29-34). In the sacrament of Holy Baptism, water, which we experience and equate in daily life to a means for cleansing, is transformed by the Holy Spirit so that it may be used for a cleansing of the soul and a renewal of life in the Body of Christ.

It is Christian tradition that baptism only happens once in an individual’s life; therefore, at the feast of Theophany, rather than recognizing it with repeated baptisms, the Church offers the service of the blessing of the waters. Regular water is again transformed by the Holy Spirit, through the prayers of the Church, into a medium of blessing – Holy Water. This transformed water is to be drunk by people of faith as an experience of particular blessing, and sprinkled through environments where people of faith dwell; homes, work places, etc.

From the Epiphany Blessing of the Waters Celebration, Holy Water is taken into the homes and work places of the faithful by clergy to bless these environments that they may support the quite Christian pilgrimages of the faithful who dwell with in this space, and those who visit therein.

As a community of faithful, let us offer glory to our God, the God who loves us to such an extent that He chose to humble Himself beyond measure or understanding, for us! This January 6, as we celebrate the baptism of our Lord, let us truly and authentically offer the Lord our thanks, and experience the abundant blessings that He extends to us through His Church.

Thanksgiving—Let’s Make Sure!

“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” 

“What we’re really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets.  I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?”
~Erma Bombeck

Bewildering at best to be in mid-October, and already see the store fronts filled with Christmas decorations, and various winter-themed sales promotions, when we have not yet even reached Thanksgiving!  One must ponder if the substantive roots of the Thanksgiving holiday have been lost in a whirlwind of self-aimed consumerism or perhaps even ambivalence, where we have likely accepted Erma Bombeck’s satirical quote as a new reality.

“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.” 
~Theodore Roosevelt

Our Nation’s pioneers, together with the people of local tribes, understood their dependency upon our Creator, who blessed them with the opportunities to not only live, but flourish through faith, dedication, and hard work.  Together the great cultures joined to prepare and offer a beautiful experience of hospitality and fellowship—manifesting their thankfulness to God who had provided for them.  Rather than a day of self-indulgence, the beginnings of this blessed holiday celebrated in the offering of hospitality, and the experience of fellowship in God’s name.  Giving was the spirit rather than receiving—because it was recognized that they already had received from our Father who is in heaven.

“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.”  ~Cicero

When we truly find the courage to live a life of virtue, we begin an amazing pilgrimage of freely living for the benefit of others.  The strength to embark upon this journey must be initiated by first recognizing that we already are endowed beneficiaries of the abundance of God’s grace.  Without recognition and thankfulness for what we have received, we lack true motivation in Christian pilgrimage, and run the risk of slipping into the cynical world of satire rather than substance. 

 “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
~ Colossians 2:6,7

Let us in this Thanksgiving season return to the wise and virtuous experience of virtuous celebration rooted in hospitality and fellowship, as manifestation of our faithful thankfulness to God.  This is not simply a tradition initiated by our nation’s pioneers, but rather it was their adherence to ancient wisdom, and humble offering of faith… it was not random that God continued to continues to allow His grace to flow upon this great nation.

Give thanks!  The Lord is with you!
Offer hospitality!  The Lord has offered it to you!
Seek fellowship!  The Lord seeks fellowship with you!

May our Lord bless you, our Nativity family, this great nation, and all of mankind as we faithfully give thanks to Him!

For Everything There is a Season

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (Eccles 3:1)

In the Gospel reading for the 12th Sunday of St. Luke, the healing of the Ten Lepers, we hear and see manifested God’s tender mercy and healing power and the grateful response of the one leper who was cured, and the ingratitude of the nine, who were also cured, but failed to express their thanks.

In a very beautiful and meaningful prayer read in preparation for Holy Communion, we read the following: “As You did not scorn to enter and to dine with sinners in the house of Simon the leper, scorn not to enter into the house of my humble soul, although I, too, am a sinner and leper.”  Through repentance and humility, we are cleansed by our Lord of the leprosy of sin, and we confess our gratitude for His bountiful love and forgiveness granted us through His death and resurrection. Gratitude is such an essential ingredient in our relationship to God and to each other.

With much gratitude and thanks for the love, mercy, and long-suffering patience God has shown to me – and continues to show to me - in my life, I also want to express to you my thanks and gratitude.  I have had the privilege to serve you as your priest for the past 26 and one-half years.  Presvytera, my family, and I, are deeply grateful for those years.  We have been partners in the Gospel for a long time, praying together, planning together, working together, and, I hope, growing together in our love for God, in our faith in Him and in our service to others.  They have been years of growth, of joy, of challenge, and at times of disappointment and anguish, but always filled with God’s love and bountiful mercy and forgiveness.

It says in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. (Eccles 3:1)  Indeed there is a time and a season for everything, and for me the season has come to retire and to pass on the reigns of pastoral ministry of the parish to another.  For the last year and more, I have prayed and thought at length about my decision, and feel it is time.  I conveyed my decision to our Parish Council at our meeting on January 11th, and shared that decision with those of you who were in church for Divine Liturgy on Sunday, January 16th.

I have spoken, of course, with His Eminence our Metropolitan Gerasimos, and he will be in communication with you regarding the assignment of another priest.  I will continue to be your pastor until the end of August, at which time, God willing, I will complete 27 years of ministry to you in this parish, and a total of 45 years of pastoral ministry.  The newly assigned Priest, will begin his ministry to you starting September 1st.

Until then, of course, we will continue to pray and work together, as we have in the past, with gratitude and thanks to God for all He makes possible and for the continued growth and progress of His Church, of our parish, and the ministries of worship, service, outreach, evangelism, education, and philanthropy, which we offer in Christ’s name and to His glory.

In announcing to the Parish Council my decision to retire, I read the following quote from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  It expresses most eloquently what I feel for you all.

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, … in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.  For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.  And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”  (Phil. 1: 3-11)

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Fr. Constantine

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