Beloved Brothers and Sisters,
I pray that everyone is finding some time for peace, quiet, and reflection even in the world-wind holiday activities that can become a source of stress and tension.
At this time, the Church invites us to slow down a bit and to reflect upon the meaning- the true meaning- of the season we are beginning to celebrate. This is especially true regarding the Scriptures which the Church calls us to read at this time of the year. During the Nativity Fast, our scriptural focus begins to turn to the ancient prophecies concerning the promised Messiah as well as to the first two chapters of the Gospels of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke. It is within these Gospels that we find the story of the Lord’s entrance into our world in the mystery of His Incarnation. We are well aware of the story the first two chapters of these gospels tell: our hymns, carols, iconography, our Christmas traditions, and even our seasonal decorations highlight the very same story.
In the second chapter of the Gospel of Saint Matthew, we read the ancient account of the wisemen who came from the east, “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him.” These wise men – kings, astrologers, astronomers, magi- had left the comfort and routine of their daily lives to follow a star that would take them on an adventure and eventually lead them to the newborn King of the Jews and Savior of the World.
The star of Bethlehem was a sign sent from heaven, a part of God’s creation which played its unique role in the story of our salvation. This is even acknowledged in our liturgical hymns. As we sing in the Troparion of the Nativity: “Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom! For by it, those who worshipped the stars, were taught by a Star to adore Thee, The Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Orient from on High. O Lord, glory to Thee!”
Throughout the centuries, men and women have studied the stars, their placement in the skies and their movement, seeking in them something greater, something different, looking, at times, for some source of life’s meaning. Even today, scientists look to the skies seeking answers to scientific questions and theories and hobbyists and amateur “star gazers” embrace astronomy as a valued pastime and relaxing diversion. If you have ever tried to use a telescope in a metropolitan area the size of Phoenix, you are well aware of what is known as “light pollution,” i.e. artificial light that is produced by street lights, buildings, cars, etc. Light pollution brightens the sky so much that it also dims the brilliance of the stars and makes it more difficult to see and appreciate their intensity, sometime even to locate them. It is only with a high-powered telescope or by traveling out into the desert or to some remote, unpopulated area that the stars can be seen in the intensity of their great numbers.
And so it is in our spiritual lives. We look beyond ourselves seeking the “Light of Christ which illumines all,” as is proclaimed in the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts during Great Lent. However, even in our seeking, we permit our spiritual vision to be dimmed by our own egos, self-will, lusts and passions, pettiness, and any number of “things” that are not beneficial or helpful to us. Only by going “into the desert” of our hearts where such tendencies and things can be left behind that we can find the source of the Light that will never dim. Only by ridding our lives of the false and artificial lights that distract us can our vision be clearer and more focused. It’s my prayer that all of us will use the remainder of the Nativity Fast to leave behind the “artificial light” that distracts us from the true Light of Christ.
In these difficult and sometimes dark days, as we strive to live lives of peace and harmony with all our brothers and sisters, and as we seek meaning in our daily lives and human exchange and experiences, let us all keep our sights on the heavens, looking to Christ, whose Light illumines all. As we recall the Star that led to the Newborn King and imitate the Wise Men on their journey, let us acknowledge that our only true goal is life lived in the Light of Christ- now and in the life of the world to come.
As we soon celebrate the birth in the flesh of the Son of God, be assured of my prayerful best wishes for you, your families and friends, and all your dear ones. May your hearts and your homes be filled with the Light of Christ. Let us pray for one another, for our parish, for this nation, and for all who seek peace on earth.
With love in Christ our Savior,
TIME FOR THANKS: As we enter the season of the Lord’s Nativity, we pause and give thanks for the many blessings we have received throughout the year, especially the blessings received because of the generosity in time, talents, and treasures of our parish community. There are too many people to name individually. The Lord knows you all… and all you do for the glory of His Holy Name. But please be assured also of the gratitude of Archbishop BENJAMIN, Bishop DANIEL, Father David, Father Mihai, Deacon John, Deacon Rodion, and all the clergy and faithful of our parish community. May the Lord Himself, He Who is “God with Us,” be your reward!
What shall we offer Thee, O Christ,
Who for our sakes hast appeared on the earth as a man?
Every creature which Thou hast made offers Thee thanks.
The angels offer Thee a song;
The heavens, their star;
The wise men, their gifts;
The shepherds, their wonder;
The earth, its cave;
The wilderness; the manger;
And we offer Thee a virgin mother.
O Pre-eternal God, have mercy on us!
Saturday: Vespers, 5:00 pm
Sunday: Divine Liturgy, 9:00 am
1614 E. Monte Vista Rd.
Phoenix, Az 85006
Monday, December 6
Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker
Divine Liturgy, 9:00 a.m.
Monday, December 13
Saint Herman of Alaska
Divine Liturgy, 9:00 a.m.
SERVICES FOR THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST:
Friday, December 24
Great Compline, 5:00 p.m.
followed by Holy Supper
Saturday, December 25
The Nativity of Christ
Divine Liturgy, 9:00 a.m.
There will be no evening Vespers
Sunday, December 26
Synaxis of the Theotokos
Divine Liturgy, 9:00 a.m.
CONFESSIONS- Everyone seems to be busy at this time of the year: busy traveling, busy working, busy getting ready for Christmas, busy making or purchasing gifts. Busy. Busy. Busy. As the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity draws near, do not forget to also take the time to prepare yourself spiritually before receiving the Holy Gifts on Christmas morning. An essential part of our spiritual preparation is the confession of our sins and receiving the Lord’s forgiveness. Confessions are heard before the Divine Services or by arrangements with Bishop DANIEL, Father David or Father Mihai. Social distancing and masks are worn for confessions.
CHURCH DECORATING- Please mark your calendars and plan on joining in decorating our church on Tuesday, December 21, at 10:00 a.m. Plan on being a part of the joy as we come together to adorn the church for our celebration of the Lord’s Birth. The more, the merrier!
NEW YEAR’S DAY- We begin the New Year by invoking God’s blessing upon our families, our parish, the Church, and the world. Divine Liturgy (Feast of the Circumcision of Christ and Commemoration of Saint Basil the Great), 9:00 a.m.
NATIVITY FAST - The annual Nativity Fast begins on Monday, November 15th. This annual period of fasting, prayer, and repentance offers us the graced opportunity to enter more deeply in our relationship with Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh. We ask the Most Holy Theotokos, Mother of the Incarnate God, to intercede for us in this season which is filled with all too many worldly distractions. May She watch over our families and loved ones and accompany us as we prepare to welcome the Lord Who comes to save us!
ARTS AND CRAFTS – The nuns of Saint Macarius will offer their handcrafts for sale, (mounted icons, handmade prayer ropes, crochet and knitted works, etc.) On Sunday, December 12. They will set up their tables in the parish hall. Please patronize the monastery, a monastery of our Diocese of the West and have this on your planning list for Christmas gifts!
HOLY SUPPER- Mark your calendars now! We will be returning to our practice of celebrating the Holy Supper on Christmas Eve, following the Service of Great Compline. This annual pot luck (fasting foods) is a beautiful way to celebrate the Feast with family, friends, and fellow parishioners. More to come about the details.