February 2012
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The Messenger of Sts. Theodore Orthodox Church
A Parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
96 Los Robles St., Williamsville NY 14221 (716) 634-6712

Vol. XIII, No. 2
February 2012
Regular Services and Classes
Saturday Vigil        5:00pm
Sunday Divine Liturgy    9:30am
Sunday School        during sermon
Sunday Bible Study:     after coffee hour
Wednesday Akathist    6:30pm

Moleben for the Conversion of the Non-Orthodox: first Sunday of the month, at the conclusion of Divine Liturgy.

Confessions are heard at all evening services.

Feast of the Meeting of the Lord (Candlemas)
    Vigil: February 1/14, 6:00pm
    Divine Liturgy: February 2/15, 9:00am

Candles will be blessed at the end of Divine Liturgy.

Commemoration of the Departed

On Saturday, February 18 at 4pm, we will serve a general pannychida for all Orthodox reposed. All of the commemoration books kept in the parish will be read, but you are welcome to bring lists of other Orthodox reposed as well.

Name Days This Month

 January 22/February 2: Ina Kramer (Holy Martyr Inna)
 January 20/February 4: Timothy Damiano (Apostle Timothy)

Многая Лета!                Many Years!


Parish News

 Congratulations to the newly-baptized Amy Moczerniak, her parents Michael and Kathleen, and her godmother Sophia (Emmie) Hammond! Many years!

 The Annual Parish Meeting will be held on Sunday, February 5, at coffee hour. We will be voting on the annual budget and electing new parish council members, specifically the position of treasurer, currently Natalie Moczerniak, and the lay position currently held by Anthony Damiano. All may attend the parish meeting, but only dues-paying members in good standing may vote. There will be no Bible study that day.

 On February 12 and 19 we will be taking up our annual collection for Holy Trinity Seminary. Please give generously.
 Please remember in your prayers those traveling: Galina Bahanovich, Silouan Dudley, Valentina Jaffri, and Vadim Zharkoff.

 Looking ahead to March: Theodore Saturday, March 3, the first Saturday of Great Lent, is one of our parish’s annual feast days, so everyone should make it a priority to attend the services and the festive meal.

 Our friends from Houghton College will be visiting again this year on March 25.

New Martyrs of Butovo
The New Martyrs of Butovo were Orthodox faithful who were martyred at the Butovo Shooting Range during Stalin's purges of the mid 1930s.
Seventeen miles south of Moscow, there is a place that is known as the Butovo Shooting Range, which was an execution ground and mass burial site near the village of Butovo, used by the Soviets during Stalin's purges. This site is often referred to as the "Russian Golgotha". Executions took place there on an industrial scale during the Great Terror. On some days they executed 500 people or more. Records show that 20,765 people were executed and buried at Butovo between August 1937 and October 1938, during the peak of Stalin's repressions, of that number, about 1,000 people were known to have been executed because of their Orthodox faith. There is now a church dedicated to the New Martyrs on the site. In 2004, Patriarch Alexei II, and Metropolitan Laurus jointly laid the cornerstone of this Church, which was the first joint liturgical action of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad since the 1920's, and on May 19th, 2007, they consecrated the Church together, two days after the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion, which formally reconciled the two parts of the Russian Church. The Synaxis of the Martyrs of Butovo is celebrated on the 4th Saturday after Pascha.

The Origin of the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord

According to the Mosaic law a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain three and thirty days "in the blood of her purification"; for a maid-child the time which excluded the mother from sanctuary was even doubled. When the time (forty or eighty days) was over the mother was to "bring to the temple a lamb for a holocaust and a young pigeon or turtle dove for sin"; if she was not able to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtle doves or two pigeons; the priest prayed for her and so she was cleansed. (Leviticus 12:2-8)
Forty days after the birth of Christ, Mary complied with this precept of the law, she redeemed her first-born from the temple (Numbers 18:15), and was purified by the prayer of Simeon the just, in the presence of Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:22 sqq.). No doubt this event, the first solemn introduction of Christ into the house of God, was in the earliest times celebrated in the Church of Jerusalem. We find it attested for the first half of the fourth century by the pilgrim of Bordeaux, Egeria or Silvia. The day (14 February) was solemnly kept by a procession to the Constantinian basilica of the Resurrection, a homily on Luke 2:22 sqq., and the Holy Sacrifice. But the feast then had no proper name; it was simply called the fortieth day after Theophany. This latter circumstance proves that in Jerusalem Theophany was then the feast of Christ's birth.
From Jerusalem the feast of the fortieth day spread over the entire Church, and later on was kept on the 2nd of February, since within the last twenty-five years of the fourth century the Roman feast of Christ's nativity (25 December) was introduced. In Antioch it is attested in 526; in the entire Eastern Empire it was introduced by the Emperor Justinian I (542) in thanksgiving for the cessation of the great pestilence which had depopulated the city of Constantinople.
                            (from the Catholic Encyclopedia)

An Import Press Release from the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America
Record of Protest against the Infringement of Religious Liberty by the Department of Health and Human Services
The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, which is comprised of the 65 canonical Orthodox bishops in the United States, Canada and Mexico, join their voices with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and all those who adamantly protest the recent decision by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and call upon all the Orthodox Christian faithful to contact their elected representatives today to voice their concern in the face of this threat to the sanctity of the Church’s conscience.
In this ruling by HHS, religious hospitals, educational institutions, and other organizations will be required to pay for the full cost of contraceptives (including some abortion-inducing drugs) and sterilizations for their employees, regardless of the religious convictions of the employers.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. This freedom is transgressed when a religious institution is required to pay for “contraceptive services” including abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization services that directly violate their religious convictions. Providing such services should not be regarded as mandated medical care.  We, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, call upon HHS Secretary Sebelius and the Obama Administration to rescind this unjust ruling and to respect the religious freedom guaranteed all Americans by the First Amendment.

Christian Education Retreat at Annunciation Church

What: "Bringing Life to Faith to Life" Christian Education Retreat

When: Saturday, February 11 - 10am-2:30/3pm

Where: Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church - Buffalo, NY - 146 West Utica St. Buffalo, NY 14222

Who: Sunday School Teachers, Parents, and anyone interested in Christian Education

Details: Special guest speaker: Dr. Anton Vrame, Director of Religious Education for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. A $10 donation is suggested to help pay for the retreat. Lunch will be provided. Please RSVP w/ Beth Mellas - bthmellas@yahoo.com by Sat, Feb 4.

How do we face the River of Fire?

Three old men came to see Abba Sisoes, having heard about him. The first said to him, “Father, how shall I save myself from the river of fire? He did not answer him. The second said to him, “Father, how can I be saved from the gnashing of teeth and the worm which dieth not? The third said, “Father, what shall I do, for the remembrance of the outer darkness is killing me? By way of reply the old man said to them, “For my part, I do not keep in mind the remembrance of any of these things, for God is compassionate and I hope that he will show me his mercy,” Hearing this, the old men went back offended. But the old man, not wishing to let them go away hurt, said to them, “Blessed are you, my brothers, truly I envy you. The first speaks of the river of fire, the second of hell and the third of darkness. Now if you spirit is filled with such remembrances, it is impossible for you to sin. What shall I do, then? I who am hard of heart and to whom it has not been granted so much as to know whether there is a punishment for men; no doubt it is because of this that I am sinning all the time.” They prostrated themselves before him and said, “Now we have seen exactly that of which we have heard tell.”

One of the Sundays before Great Lent is devoted to reminding us of the Last Judgment. Many of the hymns that day refer to the “River of Fire”, the same which is referred to in this story of St. Sisoes. What is this River of Fire? For Christians outside of the Orthodox Tradition, this fire is understood as place, specifically a place where God is absent. But such a place cannot exist, because God is “everywhere present and fills all things”! In our Orthodox Tradition, this fire is not a place at all, but is actually Christ Himself. For those who are accustomed to thinking of heaven and hell as locations, this is difficult to understand. But the Holy Fathers teach us that the Fire is the uncreated Divine Energies which proceed from God, in other words they are God Himself, and when God comes to us we can receive Him in one of two ways, depending on our spiritual disposition. If love the Lord, then we experience this Fire as Divine Light: warm and comforting. But if we are in rebellion against Christ, disobeying Him, not walking with Him or keeping His commandments, then we experience Him not as Light but as a burning, consuming Fire. This is torment, but it is a torment that we create ourselves.

This is why St. Sisoes’ first response was to remind the three old men about God’s compassion. St. Sisoes was holy and walked in God’s love. He knew the comfort and joy of Christ’s love as a constant daily experience. But this response scandalized the old men, who felt that the only proper pious mindset is to constantly remind oneself of hell, even though this was “killing” them! St. Sisoes in his humility condescended to where the old men were at and reassured them that the remembrance of hell is positive so long as it is used as a tool to keep us from sin. But this must also be balanced with the remembrance of God so that we can dwell constantly in His love.

If we remember that the River of Fire is Christ Himself, then contemplating hell should always bring our thoughts back to Him and not make us hide from Him. Think of it this way: When a man and woman are in love, the thought of being separated from each other is almost too unbearable to entertain. But this very thought makes them appreciate each other all the more and delight in each other’s company. It also pains them to think of ever doing anything to hurt each other. So it is with our relationship with Christ. Hell is not a place but simply the state that results from turning our back on Christ. Think of Adam and Eve hiding in the bushes from God after they had sinned. God came calling after them, but they were too ashamed to seek Him themselves.

St. Silouan the Athonite, who lived in the early 20th century, would say, “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.” Like St. Sisoes, he knew that the remembrance of hell is an important tool to lead us to repentance, but that it should not be a morbid thought that leads us to despair.

May God grant that we learn to live our lives in the true repentance that leads us to know Him, love Him, and walk with Him moment by moment.

                                Fr. Peter
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