January 3, 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am very glad to report to you that the state of our church is strong.
We have been through our first year at the new location, a year filled with a lot of hard work, more than a few difficulties, and significant struggles. We lost some of our attenders when we changed locations in January 2011. There were a few who did not make the transition. The loss was unavoidable but no less sad. On the bright side, we gained many new families throughout the year. Attendance has doubled since we were in the trailer-chapel. We usually have 30 even on the lowest-attended Sundays, and from 50 to 60 on the better-attended Sundays and some Feasts. Together with this influx of new people, our choir has enjoyed a significant surge. Last Sunday the singing was again both beautiful and prayerful. Children's education is getting a beginning at the church, plus the moleben for the start of the school year was very well attended. A food bank was begun and has fed the poor. All this is made possible when people appear at the church for divine service and make church a real part of their lives. We are commanded and required to attend divine service on Sundays and feast days; therefore, let us be faithful.
In September, Dominica McGinnis' family suffered the complete loss of their home and belongings to the Bastrop fires. The family is safe, but the loss was devastating to Dominica and her girls, and they are still in a period of recovery--still rebuilding their lives. Pray for them. I am deeply appreciative of all the kind souls in our parish, in neighboring Orthodox parishes, and others, who learned of this family's need and responded with tremendous generosity. The outpouring of support from our Church, locally and nationally, Russian, Greek, Antiochian, and American, exceeded what I'd imagined possible. And that's as it should be.
Another tragedy struck on December 19, when Katherine Trujillo, Nathan and Michael's mother, suffered a massive heart attack. As of this writing Katherine remains in a coma, and she may not be long for this world. We must be mentally and spiritually prepared for the possibility we will lose our sister, even as we still pray for her health. In 2011 these two situations reminded us that although we Orthodox appreciate the richness of our tradition, and the beauty of God's House, the church is actually the people who retain Christ and His faith in their hearts. Even if we were forced to congregate in a dark cave in the dead of night, we would still form the sacred Body of Christ. Why, it was in a cave just like that, that the Son of God was born on earth from a virgin Mother about 2,000 years ago! The real riches of the Church are our brothers and sisters. They are created in the image of God as surely as any Icon of Christ depicts our Master and Lord. "Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess..." This love is the heart and substance of our spiritual life and church life. Without love for people, we can't genuinely love God.
Many of our church family suffered hardship in 2011. Jobs were scarce, some individuals received bad financial news. Some lost jobs, some had their hours cut. The whole nation's having a hard time of it. But I observe that with faithfulness to Christ there comes mutual aid, strength, consolation in troubles, and second chances. These good things were also manifest in the past year, to the praise of God.
The new ikonostas Icons have all been installed. Now it will take years to finish with carvings and ornaments, but the ikonostas is already very beautiful, and complete enough for the bishop to bless. His Grace, Bishop Peter of Cleveland, will arrive at our new church with his deacon and subdeacon on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012. Bp. Peter will be with us for that Saturday's vigil service, then on Sunday morning Jan. 22, he will be greeted at the church door (9:30 sharp, people!) and celebrate the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. Bp. Peter will bless our new church and ikonostas, establishing our church on a firm rock of apostolic grace. After the service will be a banquet and all are welcome to meet Vladyka. Instructions on how to behave towards a bishop of our Church were included in the January Schedule emailing. It is hoped Vladyka will tell us something of his remembrances of St. John Maximovitch, since he was an altar boy for St. John years ago. Well, that is up to Vladyka...
All year long, our sisterhood--the Sisterhood of the Myrrh-Bearing Women--cared for and beautified the holy church, baked the bread which became the Body of Christ our God, and filled and warmed His people with nourishing and tasty meals. God sees this, and He will reward you for your labors, sisters. You don't need praise from me, when God Himself has blessed the work of your hands.
One misfortune of 2011 was the disappearance of Saturday vigil services due to the clash with my secular job. But I won a new shift, and am pleased to inform you that Vigil will be served every Saturday at 5:00 p.m., effective immediately Thus we shall greet the arrival of the Lord's day, cleanse our souls, extinguish time-wasting and shallow sins with the fiery shield of Vigil prayer, and confessions can be heard without rushing or worrying about the clock. Glory to God!
A State of the Church Address must address finances. I am happy to report that 2011 donations were $35,047.81, expenses $31,400.87. When you count the insurance premium paid, plus $1,099 towards next year's premium, we had a positive 2011 income, minus operating expenses, of $4,745.94. We tithed to the diocese this year, and God blessed our sacrifice. But the economy is uncertain, so in this 2012 year, consider making a donation dedicated to the principal on our bank note. Let's retire the mortgage early, while we can. Donations are easily made online from our home page via PayPal.
In closing, I would like to remark that we all have our sins. They are very real and they cause harm. But also, I see us striving with sincerity to draw close to God the Most-Holy Trinity, in the way taught to mankind by our Saviour Jesus Christ and preserved with exactness by the Holy Orthodox Church. We are trying to live our lives in communion with God. This spiritual activity is the purpose of life itself, and brings with it peace of soul. To acquire peace in the fullest way, we have got to forgive one another all offenses (no matter how bad), humble our prideful minds, embark on prayer, and then, then, sanctify our whole body and soul with the Most Holy Mysteries--the very presence of God with us. In this way, we can live in true peace. And, in the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, "Acquire the Spirit of peace, and a thousand around you shall be saved." Now is that not worth the effort?
Brothers and sisters, the state of our Church is strong, for Christ promised the gates of hell would not prevail against it. May you work zealously and give daringly, in this God-created Year of 2012. May the Dayspring from on high shine in your hearts. May the protection of the Most Holy Mother of God never leave you.
In the love of Christ for all, I remain,
Your intercessor before the Lord, but just a sinner,
Rev. Fr. Hieromonk Aidan (Keller)
cell 512 696 6890