Dear Friends in Christ,
2011 drew to a close here in Greenville, and on a very positive note as we welcomed several new people who have begun to attend regularly. This builds upon the growth we had already experienced this year, making 2011 our best year yet! It’s a testament to all of your dedication, and I am blessed to be pastoring such a great group of people.
Late in December 2010, we moved in to our new building, which we have worked hard to maintain and to beautify. At Pascha this year, we saw twice the numbers as 2010. We had our first parish picnic in August, at which we hosted members of the community beyond our own parish as well, we had several extremely large turnouts at our clothing giveaway, during which hundreds of needy people were helped, and we made it on to the news twice! We baptized four people in Greenville and also my own newborn daughter Sophia, and we have four more people preparing for baptism at present here in Greenville (and two more at my chapel community in Raleigh!) We’ve seen both growth in numbers and spiritual growth in our own lives, and we are really excited to find out what 2012 has in store!
As I did last year, I won’t be speaking about personal New Year’s Resolutions in this message. You all have heard a lot about this topic already, and we know that most of those resolutions do not come to pass, anyway. Instead, I want to issue “Fr. Anastasios’s 2012 Pastoral Challenge” which will help us all continue to grow personally, and as a parish. The following four challenges (five for those of you who attend infrequently!) are not overly complicated, nor are they revolutionary—as Orthodox Christians, they are things we should be doing anyway regularly—but sometimes it helps to have a focus and a goal, and to reflect, so with that in mind I have developed my challenge.
Personal/Family Prayer Devotional. All good works begin with prayer. We pray at Church, and we should be praying our daily prayers. But do we ever go beyond the call of duty, beyond what is “required”? In 2012, I would like each of you to commit to praying a devotional service once a month, whether it be a canon or Akathist to Our Lord, His Holy Mother, or one of the saints. Devotional prayers are often more personal in nature, tender in composition, evoke a sense of connection with the individual being prayed to, and garner for us great blessings. The more that we pray personally and as a family, the more we will live in harmony with our neighbors and will help our parish grow as well. There is a clear link between prayer and our parish’s well-being.
Increase in Knowledge. Some of us know a lot about our Orthodox faith, while others have a basic understanding. What we all share in common is a need to delve deeper. There is an ocean of material available to us, which could never be fully consumed in this lifetime. Yet each small measure that we put in is repaid greatly. We do not seek to grow in knowledge just for the sake of being smarter, but rather education is a path to greater faithfulness. Ignorance of the faith can lead to spiritual problems, while time spent learning leads to deeper faith. In 2012, I would like to challenge each of you to read two books: one saint’s life, and one historical book which addresses some aspect of the Orthodox Church in history. I am available to make suggestions and to lend books!
Evangelism. What’s the point of receiving all of these great blessings, if we don’t put them to good use? Let’s not keep this great treasure a secret. I frequently preach on outreach and the need to bring others to Christ and especially His Church, and we should all be sharing our faith with everyone who will listen. In order to focus our effort, however, I would like everyone to commit to inviting (and bringing if it will facilitate it) at least one person to Church this year. A family member, a friend, a neighbor, or someone we meet in our day-to-day life. Pamphlets about the Church are available in the vestibule area, and further titles will be produced throughout the year. They are always available for you to take and use.
Greater Integration. Our parish does not exist as an island, but is part of one diocese (a network of parishes under our bishop, Metropolitan Pavlos), which in turn joins the other dioceses as the one local Church of Greece, which in turn with the Russian and other Orthodox Churches forms the one, true Church of Christ. Some of us have never seen another parish or met anyone else from one of our other parishes. In 2012, let’s bring about greater integration of our parish with others. In the Fall, there will be another Youth Conference, and I encourage all the families with children to start planning now. If finances are a problem, we can plan a fundraiser at the Church. For those without families, perhaps on a vacation, make an attempt to attend another parish. For those who cannot travel, connect online to members of our Church and perhaps volunteer for one of our Metropolis-wide initiatives.
Finally, an extra one for those of you who don’t attend regularly: The Once a Month Challenge! Now, we should all be attending liturgy every time it is celebrated. Some of us have circumstances which interfere with that. There are legitimate reasons, but there are also not-so-legitimate reasons. “I’m busy” doesn’t cut it! If we are to have time for the Church, we must budget that time just like we would a doctor’s appointment or a trip to the grocery store. We all go shopping for food, but do we neglect to go “shopping” for the bread of life, which is only available at the Church? None of our New Year’s Resolutions matter one bit if we never attend Church. So to get started, for those who have frequent difficulty coming to liturgy, instead of focusing on coming every week, let’s commit to come at least once a month in 2012. Once we are used to coming, we will want to come so much that the other weeks will fall in to place.
As 2012 progresses, let’s take these four (five) challenges seriously, and keep track. I guarantee that the more we do, the more that God will bless our parish, and we will see the results in more growth, more harmony, and more opportunities. Given how great 2011 was for us, I can’t even imagine what will happen in 2012!
God bless you all!