“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Christ calls his disciples to set their sights on something even higher than the law of the Old Testament. He promises that if we seek first the Kingdom of God, everything else will fall into place. In short, Christ calls us to a leap of faith: to set aside our preoccupations and instead look at everything from the perspective of eternity.
What does this mean for our parish? How do we look at everything from the perspective of eternity?
First, we strive above all to please God, who has been so gracious and loving to us. He has given us the precious gift of life, and even though it is a mixture of joys and sorrows, He stands with us through it all, using everything to our benefit and preparing us for life in His Kingdom. So everything we do, every breath we take, should be referred to Him, the “Treasury of blessings and Giver of life.”
Second, we aim to live in harmony with the saints, our brothers and sisters in Christ who have received their eternal reward. They are the true leaders of the Church in every time and every place. Through their courage and bravery, the Apostolic faith was handed down even to us. They cheer us on as we struggle for salvation, showing us how Christians of every age, race, and station have faithfully served Christ. We are called to imitate them as they imitate the Lord, following the words of St Paul: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
Third, we should always be mindful of the work of the founders of our parish, rejoicing in the great gift they have given us. Every beam, every icon, every lampada, every vestment and sacred vessel is here because of their love for the Lord. They have handed the baton to us – now we must run with it so that their work will not be in vain.
Finally, we must consider not only our children or grandchildren, but their children as well. How will history speak of us? Our time is filled with so many temptations that try to pull us off the straight and narrow path that leads to Christ. Indeed, we may be heading for turbulent times as we see our society increasingly divided. But God has not withheld His grace from us. We want our earthly and spiritual children to be grateful for the work we did, with God’s help, in the face of great difficulties.
And so, as we go through this, our first meeting together, I ask our beloved and parishioners to set their sights on eternity. Thinking not only of the past, but also of the future, may we work together to guide our parish in a God-pleasing way, to be a bridge uniting generations of faithful Christians, and to join our brothers and sisters in the heavenly Kingdom.
Coming to Paramus
This time last year Archbishop Michael asked me to consider coming to Christ the Saviour. It was a shock to hear about Father David’s retirement, though now we understand that God gave him the opportunity to care for his mother in her final days. It was also difficult to consider leaving St Gregory’s, a parish with wonderful people.
After a great deal of prayer and discussion, however, Matushka and I decided that we could not pass up this opportunity. I especially looked forward to living near the church, serving daily services, and devoting all my energy to parish ministry. I also knew this would be a unique opportunity to learn from our founder, Father John, who still has great vitality and enthusiasm for priestly work.
And so we agreed that, with God’s help, we would accept the offer of His Eminence in the hope that it was God’s will for us.
Father David went above and beyond the call of duty to welcome us and arrange everything to facilitate a smooth transition. I must confess that any problems we have had this year have been due to my weaknesses and failings. Father David was so thorough in his preparation that I could teach a class on Parish Administration based on what he did in his final months here. He did this not only to help me, but out of his great love for you. He and Matushka Mariam labored mightily when the temptation to leave things undone must have been greatest. He is a wonderful priest and I don’t presume to be his equal in any way. May God richly reward him and Matushka for all the work they did that otherwise would go unnoticed.
My First Year
Immediately after moving here, we began with the Feast of Theophany and the attendant house blessings. It was my honor and joy to visit so many homes. You extended great hospitality to me even though I was still a stranger – this is a testament to your graciousness and generosity.
Over the first 11 months, I had the special privilege to Baptize and Chrismate two infants, Cecilia Angelina and Christian John. They are now enrolled in the great company of Christians and united to the Body of Christ. Now it is our joy to hear them join our “second choir” – the children of the parish who bring great enthusiasm, and who deserve our utmost care and attention.
We not only received children but adult converts as well. These opportunities are always special for a priest, as he is involved in catechism, spiritual guidance, and intercession for the catechumens. On Holy Saturday, we received Mr. Joseph Stura by Chrismation. On September 17th, the feast of St Sophia and her three daughters, we received Mrs. Brittani Brasowski by Holy Baptism and Chrismation, sealing her with the name, Sophia. May there be many more to follow in their steps!
Similar work and preparation are necessary for the sacrament of Crowning. And so it was a great blessing for to see Mr. and Mrs. Steven Fiedeldey and Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Brasowski united in marriage. May their love and commitment to Christ’s Holy Church remind those of us who are married of our high calling, and may they be bright examples of the joy of Christ-centered marriage to our young people!
It was with great sorrow that we said goodbye to Aquilina and Theodore Hamouz. Yet our entire parish community came together to “sing them away” and intercede for their repose in a place “where sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away.” Theodore and Aquillina were generous, devout parishioners who made Christ the Saviour the center of their lives. May their example remind us to see everything from the perspective of eternity and to consider our own end.
As this year comes to a close, we are a parish of 108 regular adult communicants. We have two catechumens, Mr. Daniel Gigante and Mr. Jonathan Kuiken, who are preparing to be received this Lenten season. May their enthusiasm inspire us all to rekindle our love for the Church.
Finally, we were able to make material improvements to our parish. Theodore and Aquillina’s generous gift helped us to install a chairlift. Now all our parishioners can take part in the services and the fellowship. Our senior parishioners have sacrificed much for the parish and have a great deal of wisdom to share. We are grateful to God that we were able to make this happen.
We also updated our website and will continue to develop it to its full potential. Finally, we’ve begun to remake the counting room into an office.
The Coming Year
With all that has been accomplished, it would be tempting to conclude that we should “take things slow.” But God has blessed this community with generous stewards, talented parishioners, and a great deal of enthusiasm. We must take advantage of this opportunity now.
Looking at the history of our parish, we have gone from strength to strength because of your efforts and the vision of your priests. We all share in the responsibility to keep this momentum going. So I ask our faithful and dedicated parishioners to work together to accomplish the following goals with God’s help:
Identify opportunities for evangelism and bring in 3 new families (6-8 members). I hope to put together a small group of parishioners to 1) review the OCA’s resources on evangelism, making suggestions for events we can hold to attract visitors; 2) give regular updates on local events I can attend as a representative of the parish; and 3) develop relationships with organizations serving people in crisis, who need to hear the Gospel of Christ.
Continue to build on our great foundation of stewardship. We will create a stewardship committee to review the OCA’s stewardship resources, making suggestions on how to increase our stewardship and make giving more convenient.
Increase involvement in parish ministries. Just as a body has different members working together in harmony, our parish will flourish the more its members are involved in its work. Working together, we can do great things that otherwise would be impossible.
Complete an operational audit. We want to protect your labors and sacrifices while ensuring the health of the parish for years to come. An operational audit will ensure that we meet legal standards as well as best practices for tax-exempt organizations.
Coinciding with these goals for our parish are goals that I ask you, our faithful parishioners, to strive for in the coming year. Again, the health of the body is connected to the health of its members. Parish growth cannot happen without personal growth.
Attend Vigil on Saturday evenings. So many of you have demanding jobs and schedules that it can seem impossible to commit to regular attendance on Saturday evening. But the busier you are, the more you need to participate in prayer, both at home and in church. In the Old Testament, God commanded us to keep the Sabbath holy. This commandment is not just about our obligation to God. We need to put health limits on our time to keep life in balance. This balance is impossible apart from the liturgical life. Yes, something has to give – you’ll have to sacrifice something to attend regularly – but it won’t be missed.
Take part in all 12 Great Feasts of the Church year. Likewise, if you can’t make it to Liturgy because of work, try to make it to the evening service. You may not able to receive communion, but you can still participate in the feast.
Come to Confession regularly. Regularly communing members should go to Confession once every four to six weeks. These are the guidelines from our Holy Synod. I call on everyone to take concrete steps to move closer to the ideal. Otherwise, we are in danger of turning frequent communion into casual communion.
Establish a rule of prayer in the morning and evening. Prayer for us should be akin to eating, drinking or sleeping. We would never go a whole day without them – they are basic necessities of life. Likewise, going a whole day without prayer is a danger to our spiritual life. There are so many temptations that call us away from prayer – where do they come from? It seems that someone doesn’t want us to pray! When we are reminded of what is at stake, it is easier to force ourselves to begin to pray.
There is much work to do. An experienced priest once told me that in the Church, there are never endings, only beginnings. If you think about the arrangement of the Church calendar, you’ll see that it’s true: From Nativity and Theophany, we go into house blessing season; from there to Great Lent; from there to Pascha, and so on.
The goals that I’ve put forward for this year are, I hope, the beginning of something greater. I’m eager to speak with you during house blessing season about your hopes for our parish. How will we proclaim the Gospel here? How will we grow not only in numbers, but in our love for Christ and His Church? What will be our plan moving forward?
In short, my hope is that this year helps us to develop a vision for the parish. We all have a part to play in this. A fire can only catch from the bottom up. Our parish can only grow to the extent that its members are inspired to give more of their life to Christ.
All of you, as well as the parishioners who couldn’t be here today, have something offer the Church. No doubt, we need the Church – the Church does not need us particularly, and we are not greater than the body of Christ. But every single parishioner here has God-given gifts that Christ desires us to use in service of His Holy Church. How will you help? What part will you play? How will we build on the work of our founders? How will we show our love, across the decades, to the great-grandchildren of the parish that we will never meet on this side of life? How will we follow after the saints? How will we live in a manner well-pleasing to God?
I am grateful that God gave us to each other and has arranged for us to find salvation together. I rely on your prayers for the strength to serve at the altar, hear confessions, visit the sick, preach the Gospel, and administer the parish. In some feeble way I try to pray for you as well, trusting the God will make up for my weaknesses. May He help us all, blessing you and your families with every good thing, for many years!