A PILGRIMAGE to the HOLY LAND: April 26-May 12, 2017, led by Archpriest Peter Perekrestov

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Sermons
Theophany PDF Print E-mail

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This Sunday we will be celebrating the second major holiday of this month. Less then two weeks ago we celebrated the Nativity of our Savior or the birth of our Lord. Upon celebrating His birth, we then lose sight of the God-Child as the Gospel writers totally overlook all details about His life except for one episode when the twelve year-old Jesus is forgotten by His parents and left alone in Jerusalem. The details on His life begin again when He turns thirty and by Moses' Law is of age to begin teaching. Due to the fact that by this time in history, the general spiritual level of humanity had degraded to such a low level that it would have been impossible for people to understand and accept the profound teachings of the Savior, a forerunner was needed to prepare them. Such a forerunner, St. John the Baptist, is sent by God for this mission. He is the greatest of all the prophets and the only prophet to see the Savior with his own eyes. St. John spends three months teaching and baptizing, leading to the moment when the Savior is to appear.

Before beginning His work, Jesus reveals to the world the essence of His Mission. It is founded on the greatest of spiritual virtues, humility. Despite being sinless, Jesus goes to where John is baptizing and asks for baptism. John is confused. His baptism is a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and although he does not yet know who is standing before him, in his pure heart he senses Jesus' great spiritual superiority. He understands that this stranger is the one who should baptizing him instead of receiving baptism. But Jesus insists, and St. John submits. At the moment the baptism is completed and Jesus is getting out of the water, an incredible thing happens. The Heavens open up, a Dove descends over the head of Jesus, and a deep voice is heard from above witnessing to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. For the first time in history, God openly reveals His true nature. He is the one God in three Persons, God the Father (the voice), God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit (the dove). St John only then realizes who Jesus is.

This is the momentous event that we will be witnessing on Sunday. And as a special blessing, there will be a major blessing of Holy Water which we are able to take home with us to drink from when we need or want to. This holiday also marks the time of the year when we are called to ask a priest to visit our home and bless it with the Holy Water of Theophany. Therefore, I encourage you to bring a clean empty bottle with you when you come to Church on Sunday to fill it with the  Holy Water. After this, do contact a priest to schedule a house blessing. Since our sins pollute our home environment, we are able to purify our homes with this blessing.

In conclusion, I greet all of you and pray  that you enjoy a most spiritually-satisfying celebration on this holy day. 

With Love in Christ,
Archpriest Serge Kotar

 
The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple PDF Print E-mail

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Giving an oath to God can be a very powerful spiritual act  that can bring us great benefit. However, making such an oath places on us a very grave responsibility. We must be sure that we will be able to complete what we are promising. Also, we must be sure that our promise is a holy and moral one. An example of an oath that resulted in evil was the oath given by King Herod which led to St. John the Baptist being executed. But on this coming Wednesday, we will be witnessing a fulfillment of a most holy oath which was made by the parents of the Mother of God.

The parents of the Mother of God suffered through most of their married life because they were not given a child by God. This was not only a great grief for them but also a tremendous stigma since not having children at that time was believed to be a severe punishment by God. But despite their grief, being very holy people, they never lost hope that God would sooner or later answer their prayers. They continued to believe and pray even when they became quite old and Anna, the mother, was too old to be able to naturally conceive. Then, to strengthen their plea to God, they promised that if a child was given to them, they would keep this child for only three years. When the child reached the age of three, they promised to consecrate the child to God and send it to live and grow in in the Temple. What an incredible self-sacrificial oath! After anxiously waiting for a child all their life, they were willing to enjoy it only for three years.

God heard their plea and performed a great miracle. A barren, elderly woman conceived and gave birth to a baby girl, who in time would become the Mother to the Savior. And when this child reached the age of three, the parents remembered their oath. They gathered their relatives and little friends of their daughter to accompany them to the Temple. With the singing of hymns and the little girls carrying large candles they approached the steps to the Temple where they were met at the top of the stairs by the High Priest. Anna placed her infant daughter on the first step. To the amazement of all, the little child began climbing the very large steps by herself without any help. Upon reaching the High Priest, she received his blessing. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he then did something completely unusual. He took her into the Holy of Holies. This was the third part of the Temple into which entry was strictly forbidden. Only the High Priest was permitted to enter it and only once a year for special prayers. God, through this entry, was showing the world who this wonderful child would become.Through her, Heaven, represented in the Temple by the Holy of Holies,  would be opened to people by her becoming the Mother of the Savior.

May I joyfully invite all of you to participate in this event with me on Tuesday evening at 6:00 PM for the vigil and on Wednesday at one of the liturgies, at 7:30 or 9:30 AM. We will be able to walk through the streets of old Jerusalem together  with these holy people, watch how the holy child climbs the steps into the Temple to begin her preparation to become the mother to the Savior, share together with her saintly parents this most holy moment which changed history and opened up to all people the promise of Salvation. I sincerely hope that you will be able to accept my invitation so that together we can celebrate this holiday.

With Love in Christ,
Archpriest Serge Kotar

 
Elevation of the Holy Cross PDF Print E-mail
September 23, 2013

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

For the world, the image of the cross is a very strange and confusing symbol. But for an Orthodox Christian, the cross is something precious. The world teaches us to love ourselves. We are told to make ourselves #1 in our life, to do first of all that which pleases us or what we think that we need. The message of the cross, however, is very different. It is a symbol of divine love and a rejection of worldly teachings. The cross gives us the power over sin and victory over death. It teaches us to emulate our Savior by living a life of self sacrifice, the type of life that opens to us the doors to eternal blessedness. Therefore, because the cross is something completely foreign to the values of this world, it is not surprising that the world could not tolerate the presence of Christ's cross and needed to both defame and hide it from view. It was dumped into a garbage heap over which was built a pagan Temple. In this way it remained lost for several centuries.

When persecution of early Christians by the pagan world was finally ended by the Roman emperor, St. Constantine, his holy mother, St. Elena, desired to find this most precious relic. Her son supported her both morally and materially and sent her to the Holy Land on this holy mission. Her search at first was fruitless. Then, through God's Providence, she was informed of a person who knew the secret place where the cross could be found. The pagan temple was identified and torn down, and the Christians began to dig under the watchful eye of the empress and the patriarch of the Holy City, Jerusalem.

The excavation led to the discovery of not one cross but three crosses. Now the problem was to determine which one of the three crosses was Christ's cross. The problem was solved by a miracle. A deceased person was being taken for burial near the place of excavation. His body was taken and placed on each cross. He was resurrected when his body was placed on Jesus's cross. Patriarch Makarii then blessed the multitude of Christians who had gathered to witness the search by raising the cross and blessing the people with it in all four directions. At each raising, the people fell to their knees singing the hymn, "Lord have mercy". In this manner, the possession of the Cross of Christ was restored to the Christian Church.

This Friday, September 27, the Orthodox Church celebrates the memory of the glorious finding and Exaltation of the Cross. This day is both a festive and a lenten day. It is festive because of the joy of having the cross as our defense against the forces of evil. It is a lenten day because the cross reminds us of the great sacrifice of our Savior who voluntarily died on the cross in order to save us. Thus, we honor His sacrifice by keeping the fast on that day. The vigil service on Thursday evening which begins at 6:00 PM is exceptional as we see during it a reenactment of the raising of the cross to the singing of "Lord have Mercy" which will be done in the middle of the church by our archbishop. The liturgies on Friday morning are at their normal times of 7:30 and 9:30 in the morning. I pray that all of you will be able and will want to celebrate this holy day with me in the church services.

With Love in Christ,
Archpriest Serge Kotar
 
Sts Peter and Fevronia PDF Print E-mail

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This Sunday, September 15, has been dedicated by the Church to the memory of Sts. Peter and Fevronia. The theme for this celebration is "Family, Love, and Faithfulness", standards on which a Orthodox marriage, family and communal life should be built on. Contemporary societal mores have fallen to such a low level that our loving Mother, the Church, fearing for the salvation of Her children, utilizes the memory of these saints on this Sunday  to reawaken in us a correct understanding of true Christian morality. The life of Sts. Peter and Fevronia  teaches us how to realize these standards in our personal lives.

A healthy and moral society is built on the foundation of the Christian concept of family, which is under direct attack today. The enemy of our salvation understands this and does his evil best to destroy in our minds and hearts any understand of true family life. This attack starts with distorting the image of authority. It is shone to be either something evil or comical.  In media today, the fathers in modern families are presented as inept or silly individuals, one who destroys,  rather then someone that gives the family cohesion and strength. The children have no respect for the parents and at best tolerate their presence. Other persons of authority are also pictured as either tyrannical, inept, or corrupted. There is no unity in the family as each member basically lives for his/her own selfish wants and desires. To correct the dysfunctional family, society wants to entrust the welfare of the children to school or social services. Parents are often denied their parental rights in making decisions concerning the behavior and welfare of their child.

The second attack is on marriage, a God-established institution established by God to aid us in the pursuit of salvation. Marriage was established by God immediately after Eve's creation, still in the Garden of Eden. Jesus Christ confirmed the sanctity and importance of marriage, a sacrament of the Church, by performing His first miracle at a marriage celebration. But in society today, the concept of a true marriage is under attack.  A majority of people today live together without being married. Often a period of trial is entered into by the couple before they enter into a formal marriage. Being married in church is the major exception rather than the rule. Completely missing or heavily distorted is the oneness in marriage of two people becoming mystically one in the image of the oneness of God. In modern understanding, marriage works only if it is convenient. If not, we simply get a no-fault divorce. There is no understanding of the self-sacrifice needed for a God-blessed marriage. And finally, there is the complete desecration of the sanctity of marriage by the demand to legalize same-sex marriages.

Faithfulness is also something that is no longer valued by many people. Unfaithfulness is a very insidious thing. It destroys relationships and then easily translates to an unfaithfulness to God. The status of young boys is measured by how many girlfriends he has. Young women are often lured away by young men with dishonorable intentions. If before these behaviors were frowned upon, today they are easily accepted and often looked upon with admiration. Infidelity in marriage is rampant.  Friendships only work when they benefit the persons in the friendship. Trusting in another person often results in betrayal.

This is not the way that God wants people to live. We need positive moral role models to encourage us back to a God-pleasing life. Saints Peter and Fevronia  are such role models. In Peter we see a person of authority who understands  how to use this power correctly. He rules over his people with justice and mercy. He leads by example, using his authority not for his selfish, tyrannical wants but for the welfare and good of his people. He does not stubbornly, or at any cost hang on to his position of power and is more than willing to relinquish it when forced to choose between his wife or power. Fevronia is a wonderful example of a true wife and a true Christian. Her devotion is to her husband and to God. She selflessly is her husband's greatest source of moral strength and love, faithful to him in all things, and supporting him both in their marriage and in his responsibilities as the ruling prince. Their love and devotion to each other are so strong that no one is able to separate them either during their lives or in death. Several times their subjects attempted to bury their bodies separately from each other only to find their bodies mysteriously moved to share the the double coffin  that they prepared for themselves before their death.

Please do come to church this Sunday to share in the celebration of the life of these two saints. May they inspire and encourage you in making correctly difficult decisions that God tests us with. May their example lead us safely down the treacherous road on earth that we need to transverse in order to reach the Kingdom of God.

With love in Christ,
Archpriest Serge Kotar

 
Beheading of St. John the Baptist PDF Print E-mail

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This Wednesday, September 11th, the Church remembers one of the minor holidays of the Church calendar, but one that is very important. This is the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. On this day, we are honoring the greatest of the prophets, who was a most strict faster, subsisting on a diet of locusts with wild honey and never drinking wine. Remembering his strictness in fasting, we are called also to strictly fast on this day, denying ourselves even seafood, but may drink wine in celebration of the holiday. Everyone of us with no exception should take and read the Gospel for the day which describes what happened. The Gospel reading is found in the St. Mark's Gospel, chapter 6, verses 14-30.

The beheading of St. John teaches us some very important spiritual and moral lessons. It teaches us about the dangers of drinking alcohol, behaving in a morally loose way and giving oaths. While it is not forbidden to drink alcohol, even acceptable in the right measure and on the right occasion, over-drinking damages our will so strongly that it could allow us to do evil things. Morally loose behavior, so acceptable to young people especially, will also often lead to our participating in very immoral activities as we lose control over ourselves. Finally, the Gospel teaches us that we should not give frivolous oaths because as Orthodox Christians, we should be so honest that we would not need to give oaths in order for people to believe in the truth of what we are saying. What a great blessing to be able to learn such very important lessons found in a single holiday!

Even though the holiday falls on a weekday, when most of us will need to be at work, this does not prevent us from at least attending the vigil on Tuesday evening to share this day with our most-holy saint. Also, everyone one of us should honor the holiness of our great saint by keeping the fast very strictly during this day. May God grant you the will and desire to do this and celebrate the holiday in a spiritually joyous way.

With Love in Christ,
Archpriest Serge Kotar

 
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