Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scyth’ian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. 

Colossians 3:11 

Welcome on this Solemnity of the Circumcision and the start of our one-hundredth year of service here in Schenectady, New York.

The Solemnity of the Circumcision, noted for the shortest gospel reading, one verse, Luke 2:21 and particularly noted for its importance in understanding who Jesus is – the fulness of His reality.

Unfortunately, many Churches have gotten away from this Solemnity. They’ve locked it far away, in some attic or basement. Not really sure why. In the early Church this was considered a great feast. Artists interpreted it in various ways through the centuries in painting and murals. But suddenly, it is mostly gone.

I suppose that in the last fifty to sixty years people have stored this feast way due to the yuck factor. Who wants to talk about Jesus that way, circumcision, penises, foreskins, blood. Yet by locking away this celebration people, and Churches, miss out on connecting to the reality of Jesus.

Consider the words of St. Paul, Christ is all. Let those words linger. Think on them, and see what they convey. Christ is all. Jesus, true God deigned to come down among us and to fully take on our humanity without surrendering His Divinity. Christ is all. Today we might say things like Jesus is awesome, Jesus is wonderful, Jesus is super, He is the most, and it is great to praise Him in those ways, yet the words Christ is all bear greater weight. They convey the fullness of His reality, His being.

In the fullness of His eternal reality and union with the Father and Holy Spirit, Christ is all. In His humanity Christ is all. Jesus did not come among us with conditions. He did not tell the Father, I’ll go, but… I’ll go, but no pain – He did not say that. I’ll go, but no circumcision – He did not say that. I’ll go, but no hunger and give me a comfy bed – He did not say that. Look at the manger – that is His truth.

Jesus came fully God, fully human. On this day He showed forth His humanity in this suffering and by doing so acknowledged His human nature as a true son of Abraham and David. We cannot set that aside or gloss it over. Similarly we cannot set aside or reject His Divinity. To do either is to denigrate who Jesus is and to rob ourselves of understanding.

By His coming, by all He encountered and endured in His humanity, Jesus lifted humanity to heaven. In His Divinity He broke down artificial barriers and as St. Paul so keenly observed, He removed distinction.

There is no more Jew or Greek (AKA gentile). No more circumcision or uncircumcision – it DOES NOT MATTER. What we are now is Christ in the world. Jesus is in us no matter our state or status in life. You are a barbarian – no problem – Jesus is for you. You poor, rich, married, unmarried, man, woman, menial worker or executive – those differences are of no account. Do not allow yourself to be labeled for Christ has removed those things.

In our one hundredth year here in Schenectady we celebrate this message – that this place is for all. Christ is for you without condition. The One Who is all came for you. Accepting Him He is in you without distinction. Christ is all – and has come specifically for each and every one of us. Come, be lifted to heaven bearing His Holy Name.

Elevation.

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior was revealed, He saved us. It was not because of any good deeds that we ourselves had done, but because of His own mercy

Much in the realm of Theology has been written about elevation, the ability we have, because of Jesus, God among us, to approach God and to become like Him.

In Orthodox Theology, this process is called Theosis (also referred to as deification, or divinization, or illumination). It is in essence the transformative process by which we grow into likeness to, or union with, God. Human beings – that’s us – can have real union with God and become like God in the way we love as well as in our holiness. 

Our goal is to become perfect in our love, to love as God does, through His grace and the awesomeness of His redemption. We might also call this sanctification – a process of growing godward.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote: 

He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine…

St. Paul, writing to Titus, goes on to say: God poured out the Holy Spirit abundantly on us through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that by his grace we might be put right with God and come into possession of the eternal life we hope for.

Today we encounter the feeble and filthy – the Humble Shepherds stationed out in the field. Like us, God poured out His grace upon them, revealing to them this opportunity to not only go and see, but more so to become, to be elevated.

As with us, they had the choice. Literally, chill in the field or go and see. By trusting God and going, by saying yes, they came to see and understand.

Those Humble Shepherds were elevated. They became dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating with energy, joy, wisdom and love. What a great model to follow.

We have been called, and I also offer a special word in this moment to all those called in a special way to be priests and deacons of our Holy Church. Each of us must decide whether we will go and see. If we say yes, we will see and understand. Having seen and understood, we will become dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating with energy, joy, wisdom and love.

I want that. Do you want that?

God’s grace and mercy are such that this opportunity is ever present. Elevation, illumination, becoming like unto God is a chance awaiting our yes. Let us pick it up and move forward with energy, joy, wisdom and love just as those Humble Shepherds did.

The following is our schedule of Holy Masses and special blessings throughout the forty days of Christmas.

  • Wednesday, December 23: Rorate Holy Mass at 7:30am.
  • Friday, December 25: Shepherd’s Solemn High Holy Mass/Pasterka at midnight
  • Friday, December 25: Holy Mass of Christmas Day at 10am.
  • Sunday, December 27: Solemnity of the Humble Shepherds. Also St. John, Apostle & Evangelist. Holy Mass with Blessing of Wine (bring a bottle or two to be blessed) at 10am.
  • Friday, January 1: Solemnity of the Circumcision. Holy Mass at 10am.
  • Saturday, January 2: Solemnity of the Holy Name of Jesus – Holy Mass at 10am. Start of our 100th Anniversary Celebrations.
  • Sunday, January 3: Feast of the Holy Family. Holy Mass at 10am.
  • Wednesday, January 6: Solemnity of the Epiphany of our Lord. Holy Mass at 7pm includes blessing of chalk, charcoal, and incense.
  • Sunday, January 10: Solemnity – Baptism of our Lord. Holy Mass at 10am.
  • Tuesday, February 2: Solemnity – Presentation of our Lord. Holy Mass at 7pm includes blessing of candles/gromnica.

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

December, Christmas, New Year’s Eve. That’s our secular calendar for December. Whether we get our calendar at the bank, the local liquor store, or online – we can find all those things. But if we happen to have picked up a Home Liturgical Calendar (there’s still a few available), we find a bridge, the start of a new Church Year with the season of Advent. Advent is about hope and expectation of a brighter future. In Advent we at once commemorate the waiting of the Jewish people for the promised Messiah and connect with our urgent expectation of His return. We are first and foremost called to look forward with hope. Henryk Adam Aleksander Pius Sienkiewicz, the Nobel prize winning author, wrote his “Trilogy” of historical novels – set in the 17th-century Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth – in the late 19th century. In this series of books (and I recommend you get the translation by W. S. Kuniczak) he points to people looking to the sky in the midst of Poland’s wars and sufferings, and declaring ’It must be the end.’ Certainly they did. Yet the world did not end in the 17th or 19th centuries. Any among the people of that time expecting the end lost the opportunity to hope forward. For us as Christians, the call is not to sit around contemplating the end, biting our nails and hoping we get to heaven, but to offer hope today, and thus to be heaven, the breaking open of the Kingdom of God, for our brothers and sisters. We all long, that cannot be helped. We have all been challenged, and especially in this year. For us, Advent longing and the challenges of the time must not be met with dour, sad, and forlorn attitudes but rather with hope filled and bright faith looking forward. Each Advent, let us look forward, not in a delusional way, but with ready faith. Let us look forward expectantly, with active faith. Let us never lose the opportunity to live and share hope. Grasp it so we may meet Jesus, the Hope of humanity.

December is here and so is our newsletter. This month we focus on looking forward with hope as we walk through the Advent Season into the new dawn of Christmas.

Read about our Advent charity programs and Pastor Jim’s Christmas greetings as well as his thankfulness on the 6th anniversary of his ordination to the Holy Priesthood. Join us for weekly Zoom calls so we can face these days Together in Faith and Love. Stop by Wednesday mornings for a Rorate Holy Mass (Holy Mass by candlelight only). Offer a Memory Cross for our Christmas trees. Get your Christmas wafers/opłatki. See our Christmas season schedule of Holy Masses. We continue planning for our 100th Anniversary, observed in 2021. There is a great reflection On Holy Communion. Want to be on the Parish Committee? Time to get your name into running.

Read about it in our December 2020 Newsletter.

Gifts from heritage.

“Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that He said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Today, our Church celebrates Heritage Sunday. Scripture provides reasons to celebrate this particular aspect of God’s creation.

When our Church was organized, it took care to stress the fact that God makes Himself and His teaching manifest through the use of nations and peoples.  Each nation is given gifts, unique perspectives and charisms that, when shared, enrich our faith in Jesus and teach us more about Him. We are called to respect, cherish, and celebrate what God has created and to learn from it.

Jesus came to God’s own people, the Jewish nation, to reveal all that God is and to call them to walk in the Way of the Gospel. They were called to see kingdom already but not yet fully present. Then, they were to cooperate in bringing the Kingdom of God to completion.

Paul, in writing to the Church at Galatia, reminds the gentiles that the Gospel preached to the Children of Abraham contained within it the promise that through them, all nations would be blessed (Galatians 3:8). The scriptural promise is fulfilled in that Abraham becomes the father of many nations.

While each nation has: allotted periods and boundaries, as well as the call to seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him (Acts 17:26-27), scripture also calls us to use great care in recognizing that we are citizens of heaven. Thus, we are never to place nation over God, or over the Holy Church, or over our call to first a foremost find our way toward God.

So, our Church set out to do exactly that. We honor heritage and all nations as a gift and as a means by which we find our way to God and build His kingdom.

Instructive in the way God works through nations is our first reading. Cyrus was called by God to free the people of Israel. Cyrus did not know God. As ruler over many nations he saw many gods and forms of worship. Cyrus himself likely worshiped Marduk. Yet, God used him and his nation to free and restore Israel.

Jesus understood that we will be established in nations as a means by which the Gospel is known and experienced. No one nation is good, and in all cases, we are to maintain perspective. Practical societal requirements (like taxes), are not what is important. Our growth in knowing God, appreciating His gits, and in building His kingdom, which has no coins, is what matters.

Power of together.

God said, “let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.”

The early Church understood the power of community. The Book of Acts tells us, right from the get-go, after Jesus’ Ascension: All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer. In other words, they were together, of one heart and mind, one in prayer, one in love and support for each other. Even in the face of all they feared, they were together as One in the Lord! 

Pentecost came and thereafter the community grew. People were added, not at distance, but in community. Led by the Holy Spirit, a pattern of life developed: They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life… All who believed were together and had all things in common; Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

We may find it hard to fathom, but they could not get together by phone, Skype, Zoom, or Facebook. They could not support each other by sending a check. In fact, to learn from the Apostles, to pray, and to do what Church does, required them to be together. This togetherness brought them a power and influence beyond human comprehension.

What did this togetherness do? It brought them favor with all the people, i.e., the people saw their goodness, it was apparent and every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. People wanted part of what the Church had and were brought to salvation in Christ exactly because of the together they observed. That’s real power, power from together.

Now, many a preacher could launch into the lack of togetherness in today’s world and heap laments on all of us, but it is not true. The vestiges of the early Christian together life, that power, remain still today.

It starts here in our together and the together we have with every Sunday worshiping Christian. It comes from our baptism into the one body of Christ. It comes from our sharing in the bread and cup, the Lord undivided.  It comes from our reading the Acts and Epistles and reading the ‘you’ therein as the plural ‘you.’

From here, we bring the symbols and signs, the sacrament of together to the world as families. This is where our Christian growth, maturity, and discipleship are most often seen. It is the place from which will come favor with all the people. And those who are being saved. It is what we specially celebrate today.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

This month, along with the celebration of the Solemnity of the Christian Family, we also celebrate Heritage Sunday (October 18th). Why? Reading through the documents created in the Church’s organizing years we see so many references to humanity, established in nations, to be bearers and sharers of the gifts God has given them. In the Tenant and Aims Document it is recorded: “The most important objective of the Church… is to maintain, enrich and develop the life of God in the soul of man…” Likewise, the Confession of Faith, our Creedal Document. Familiarize yourself with these statements, for they are a call to us and to the world. We are to recognize the dignity and value of each person and nation in their contribution toward helping us know God. These documents from the early 1900’s a sure cure to the inequality we still face today. We are not called to division, but to celebrate each other in unity and equality. We celebrate heritage because God has given us gifts, attributes, and experiences that when shared adds to our collective knowledge of God. A paraphrase of the Preamble to our Constitution sums this up: “Religion is the source of life and regeneration. Religion [that] possess the character of a nation [transmits innate] moral principles from which we achieve real freedom and stature.” As we celebrate let us each experience God more fully in each other and in what we share of ourselves.

October, our next jam packed month of events and opportunities. We bless pets on Sunday, October 4th. We celebrate the Solemnity of the Christian Family, a feast unique to our Church as well as Heritage Sunday. We will pray the Rosary every Wednesday evening in church and virtually. And … Fr. Jim is in the kitchen cooking up a yummy take-out/take-away American Goulash Dinner for Sunday, October 25th. Your efforts at discipleship and evangelism are drawing people to church – keep up the good work in the ministries you each have. There are some great prayers for family and our nation and a wonderful reflection on Certainty in God.

Read about all it in our October 2020 Newsletter.

Others.

…complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.

Last week we considered the question of me, will God welcome me even if I am late in responding? We were reassured in hearing that if we have taken the opportunity to come, whether the first time, as a moment of return, or even for the 23,660th time, God and His people welcome us into the kingdom.

Today, our Holy Church takes time to reflect on the work of the PNU, Spójnia – and as God provides, we are given to hear Paul’s words about others.

This is the attitude of Christ’s Church, His very body on display before the world, that we are of one mind and action in love. Love moves us to encourage each other; to compassion, mercy, and singlemindedness toward others in our work.

Spójnia was founded in 1908, 112 years ago as the Church’s love response to the persecution its members faced for their faith. We seem to think that being persecuted for the faith is something that occurred in Caesar’s Rome, or perhaps in this and the last century in Communist or other oppressive regimes. Yet, the reality is that it happened here, in Schenectady, Albany, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Scranton and wherever we gathered to pray. Faith in Christ made us objects of derision and targets for active persecution.

As with the Solemnity of Brotherly Love, the Church did not declare war, did not respond in kind toward its persecutors. Rather, when we were cast out of fraternal organizations, banks, insurance companies; when savings were lost, and tragedies came to the faithful and their families – we built regarding others as more important than ourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.

In our day, this message resonates as perhaps it has not in years. How we live as the family of faith, how we treat others, respond, and build will be the markers by which our adherence to the gospel of Jesus is measured.

Paul goes on to illustrate the great sacrifice of Jesus for others – i.e., all of us. He laid it all down for us, to the point of death, even death on a cross

As Jesus has done, so must we for others. Therefore, let us set to work in the vineyard, for God will not regard our prior failure to act or respond, but our actual action today. 

Unless

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

…and we know the rest of the story. The lawyer quotes the Law of God correctly, love God and neighbor. Unfortunately, he could not connect that Law to his reality. As Jesus often does when people don’t get it, He attempts to teach the lawyer by illustration. He tells the story of a man in need of help. He increases the tension, the man is laying there in pain, unable to help himself, as a priest and Levite pass by ignoring him.  We can almost hear the man’s cries for help as he is ignored. Finally, someone comes along and stops to help.

The man who stopped to help fulfills the Law of God in the reality of his life. He doesn’t do it because he is an expert in the Law of God, he probably did not know any of its technicalities especially since he was not Jewish. He didn’t do it because it was convenient. It probably wasn’t, he was on his way to do business and this would kill his schedule. He did it because unless…

The one who stopped was answering God’s law written in his heart. As Jeremiah records: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts.

So the Law on his heart says to him: Unless I stop this man will suffer. Unless I stop this man may die. Unless I stop, I will add to the harm committed. Unless I stop, the world will be a worse place, for then no one will stop for me. Unless I stop, I will be less in my own conscience and eyes. Unless I stop, the Law written in my heart will convict me.

On this special Sunday, the Holy Church calls us to reflect upon our unless. We have all faced those moments, drive by, go on, or stop.  We have all faced our own consciences and any conviction due us when we fail to act in love.

The lawyer wanted a nice, neat, organized understanding of God’s Law and what he had to do. We like that too. No messes in his or our understanding, but then there’s this beaten man on the side of the road. The Law says to us, Unless. How do I act?

We must answer yes to love and love’s action when confronted with our unlesses. We cannot ignore the unless, nor minimize it, nor put what we want or need first. Our schedule or convenience really does not matter to God if it is put before love’s action.

St. John reminds us that anyone calling themselves Christian must respond to every unless with love.  If we do not, we will have no confidence for the day of judgment. Therefore, let us face every unless with love.

All these rely on their hands,
and all are skillful in their own work. 
Without them no city can be inhabited 

Today we gather in prayer as a start to our celebration of Labor Day. Labor Day is a rightful national tribute to the impact of workers on the strength and prosperity of our country. That is no more evident than in this year of pronounced challenge.

The very first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 in New York City, organized by the Central Labor Union. 

The Labor movement, through many trials, even attacks that resulted in the death of workers – remember just for instance the thirty killed in the 1894 Pullman Strike (my grandfather was a Pullman car painter) and the Lattimer massacre in Hazelton, Pennsylvania with the violent deaths of at least 19 unarmed striking immigrant miners in September 1897 – has stood strong in its advocacy for workers and their absolute right to fair wages and overtime, benefits, periods of rest, and so much more rightfully due.

Times of challenge call people of good faith together, in community, to stand beside each other and to do all things necessary, even to the sacrifice of their lives, so that their brothers and sisters might be treated equitably. So too in this year of challenge. 

As we celebrated last year, who would have thought that the work of those who are so devalued by their employers would hold the key to our survival? Grocery workers (I was a member of U.F.C.W., the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, when I worked at Tops Markets as a teen), delivery personnel, government workers, warehousers, janitorial staff, health care workers, especially nurses who bear the brunt of the work, manufacturing workers, the United Trades, and so many others. We thank God for them and we thank them for their work! We remain in the midst of this crisis and our Labor Unions are again in the forefront, fighting to ensure worker safety.

The Book of Sirach takes a walk through the various trades: the artisan, smith, and potter and by way of example tells us that they are key to our very survival as a community, city, and a nation. We depend on labor. We depend on the worker. Their hands and skillful work are the basis for the statement: Without them no city can be inhabited. Scripture fulfilled in our current crisis, for without the grocery, delivery, warehouse, janitorial, health care, and manufacturing worker – we would fall apart as society. No city could be inhabited.

This lesson, and all of God’s lessons on labor are foundational to the work of the Christian and the Christian Church. As St. Paul admonishes us, we must build with gold, silver, and precious stones, the things that will last, on the foundation of Christ.

When our Church was organized in 1897, our first Bishop and all its clergy and people united to fight for fair wages and proper treatment of workers. We did not fight just for the sake of fighting, rather because God demands justice for His people. God demands unity of action among believers to protect the rights and dignity of people. God’s call is for His people to be lifted up, to be given the opportunity to grow and become.  Our Church’s Creed states the following:

I BELIEVE that all peoples as children of one Father, God, are equal in themselves; that privileges arising from differences in rank, from possession of immense riches or from differences of faith, sex and race, are a great wrong, for they are a violation of the rights of man which he possess by his nature and the dignity of his divine origin, and are a barrier to the purposeful development of man.

I BELIEVE that all people have an equal right to life, happiness and those ways and means which lead to the preservation of existence, to advancement and salvation, but I also believe, that all people have sacred obligations toward God, themselves, their nation, state and all of humanity.

We had to bear witness to what we profess; purposes shown us by the Divine Master and Savior, Jesus Christ Who Himself was a tradesman.

We stood with workers in the face of abusive business practices, whether in the mines and steelworks of Pennsylvania, the rail yards, grain mills, steel and chemical factories of Buffalo, the auto-works of Detroit, or the great nexus of transportation in Chicago. We called for collective ownership of the means of manufacture. For this we were called communists and socialists. Our first Bishop was investigated by the FBI; you can request his file. That did not and will not deter us from building on the foundation of Christ with gold, silver, and precious stones, those things that will last.

Our work continues today and indeed must expand. The accumulation of wealth by the few while my neighbor suffers is unconscionable. The cries of those whose wages are stolen reach to the Throne of God, and we must act to stop that abuse. So many of our brothers and sisters suffer in an economy harmed by the current crisis. We must fight together for the sustainment of benefits so needed so that when we reopen, we are ready to get to work.

In doing this work we build up heavenly treasure for we support the dignity of each person and their opportunity for advancement.

This Labor Day, we honor all workers, from the front line, to those struggling for a fair wage and a safe workplace, to those striving to find a good job. In honoring and praying for them we resolve to set once more into the fight for worker justice and human dignity.