Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Homily for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, which brings us another step closer to the start of Great Lent. The parable begins with “A man had two sons…” Immediately the stage is set for a story which is intended to teach us something not only about God but also about ourselves.

The interesting thing about today’s Gospel parable is that it is so down to earth and so believable. The so-called prodigal son wants to leave home, wants to go his own way, and wants independence from his family. This is something most of us have experienced and it is a very natural and acceptable thing. But in this particular instance, the desire of the son to leave home was not motivated by a desire to make it on his own. On the contrary, he wanted to go out and enjoy life. His was a great search for immediate happiness, fulfillment and gratification. He thought he could find happiness in a wanton and carefree life, satisfying his every desire whether moral or immoral, without any responsibility or thought of his future. This eventually led him to living with pigs in a pig pen, feeding off the husks of corn that were given to them to eat.

As I said, the desire to leave home and have our own life is absolutely normal and at the same time even necessary. Sooner or later, we all have to leave the nest, to take flight from the comforts and confines of our parents or guardians. But the problem with the prodigal son is that he threw caution to the wind. He did not properly prepare himself to live on his own. Further, he rejected the values which his parents had spent so much time and effort trying to help him acquire. Had he used this treasury of lessons to his benefit, he would not have ended up squandering all his inheritance and living a life of squalor with pigs. Like most of us today, we think we know better than our parents or those who possess more wisdom what is best for us. Unfortunately, this is not the case. No matter how old we are, unless we have a good moral foundation, our lives can easily end up like that of the prodigal son.

The duty and responsibility of every parent is to give their child or children a good grounding in life and a good grounding in Christian values, so that when the break occurs, any mistakes the child makes will enable them to learn a positive lesson without being so devastating as to ruin their entire lives. 

Today’s parents and guardians have a real challenge on their hands. They are required to give their children good grounding in moral values and instill in them an appreciation for the virtues while at the same time allowing them the necessary freedom to make their own life choices. This has become, in this day and age, no less than a true balancing act which can be very stressful.

One of the biggest challenges any parent faces is to allow their children to fall flat on their faces while at the same time being there for them to welcome them back into the family, even though they may have screwed up and even given the whole family a black eye. Today’s parable points out that there is no shame, or should be no shame, in returning home. No matter how bad a situation is, no matter how bad the thing is a child has done, love and mercy know no bounds. Oh yes, there is such a thing as “tough love” but even tough love does not shut doors.

The younger son, the prodigal, is very characteristic of the struggle of society today. We are a “me” people. That is to say, we are only concerned about ourselves, what’s best and good for us and how we can obtain all the things we want at any cost. Many of us have been successful in getting what we want. We work hard to acquire material possessions but the reality is that material possessions to not bring enduring or lasting happiness. In seeking to acquire and build up earthly things, we are never satisfied; we always want more. Our appetites are never satisfied.

Sadly, there is a great spiritual famine in our country at the moment. And because of that, a good number of us have ended up like the prodigal son, squandering our material resources and ending up living among the pigs. We could think of the instances of drug and alcohol abuse, all the fraud and stealing in the workplace, corruption in the Church and in civil government, murders and violence, marital infidelity, priestly infidelity, wars and civil unrest; the list can go on and on. Why would we want to continue living among the pigs when we could go back home to our Father and live lives filled with true riches and happiness?

In the parable, we are given one of the most beautiful descriptions and images of God our Father. He is outside of his house waiting for his younger son to return. When the father sees his son off in the distance, he runs out to meet him. He embraces him, kisses him, brings him home and throws him a banquet, with a sumptuous feast. Not only does he come out to greet his prodigal son, he goes out to call his elder son into the celebration.

The older brother in this story also teaches us a lesson. Just because we may play by all the rules and do as we are told, this does not entitle us to all kinds of perks or special treatment. In some ways, the older brother in this parable comes off as being more selfish than his freewheeling brother. But even in his bad behavior, the father says to his elder son, “All that I have is yours.” So too does God our Father speak those words to us. In our bad and oftentimes selfish behavior, God welcomes us back with the promise that all He has is ours.

Whether we are the prodigal son or the elder son, Jesus gives this parable to us to show us God’s limitless love for all His children, even though our actions may call for less than a loving response.

God gives us all the independence we crave. He opens His treasury and gives us more than our share when we want to set off on our own. And He is there, waiting to welcome us with a loving embrace, whenever we are ready to return to Him.

The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. There are many temptations and attractions in the world that distract us and lure us away from a truly good and happy life. We hear many voices and messages telling us, “Follow me!” or “Follow your desires and you will find happiness.” But the best and most fulfilling offer of happiness is the one that comes from God our Father, who says to us, “All that I have is yours.” God our Father is just outside the door waiting for us to come home to Him. When we return, He runs to greet us. He takes us into His arms and invites us to come back into His house, where He has set out a magnificent and sumptuous feast to enjoy to the fullest.

As we draw closer to the start of Great Lent, my children, let us look at our life to see exactly where we are. Are we making it on our own? Are we truly happy? If the honest answer to these questions is “no”, then it’s definitely time to turn around and head back home and ask our Father’s forgiveness and help.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Holy Communion at the Cathedral

Dear Friends in Christ,

In the next few weeks, Divine Services, particularly the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, will resume at the Cathedral. In anticipation of this great blessing, I would like to provide this instruction regarding the reception of Holy Communion at the Cathedral.

First, let me say that in the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church, we do not practice "open" or "inclusive" communion. For Orthodox Catholic Christians, Holy Communion is an intimate encounter with Christ, in which we sacramentally receive Christ into our bodies, that we may be more completely assimilated into His. With the exception of the Catholic Church, and some Anglican communities, most other Christian bodies do not share our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

Because of the gravity of Jesus' teaching on receiving the Eucharist, we encourage the faithful to receive frequent communion. In fact, we mandate in the Italo-Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas and Canada that the faithful receive Holy Communion at least once a month.

In order to receive Holy Communion at the Cathedral, one must be a baptized Orthodox Catholic Christian who has received the Holy Mysteries of Initiation (Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation), Holy Eucharist). In addition, the individual must be in a state of grace. If one is aware of having committed sin, he or she must first seek sacramental forgiveness and absolution in Confession before receiving Holy Communion. In the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church, it is required that the faithful go to Confession at least once a month. Anyone who receives Holy Communion while aware of a serious sin or a number of sins commits the sin of sacrilege. Practicing Orthodox Catholic Christians must also abide by the Eucharistic Fast. The fast means that those who plan to receive Holy Communion must refrain from food and drink (with the exception of water). In the Italo-Greek Church, this means that one must not eat anything from midnight on, until after the Divine Liturgy at which they received Holy Communion. Only those Orthodox Catholic Christians whose health requires frequent food and drink, or who have other serious health issues, are exempt from this requirement. Fasting even for a brief time not only makes us hunger for food and drink, it helps us purify our bodies, turning our minds and hearts to God.

Orthodox Catholic Christians who are married outside the Orthodox Catholic Church and couples who are living in a relationship outside the Sacrament of Marriage are not permitted to receive Holy Communion. In addition, individuals who openly support or otherwise endorse abortion or who are "pro-choice" may not present themselves for Holy Communion as these beliefs and opinions are in direct contradiction to the Church's teaching on the sanctity of life.

Non-Orthodox Catholic Christians are certainly invited to participate in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy but are asked to refrain from the reception of Holy Communion since Communion presupposes union with the Church.

Orthodox Catholic Christians who are properly prepared to receive Holy Communion and are in a state of grace will receive Communion administered with a special communion spoon. In the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church, we do not use the same spoon for each communicant. Communion at the Cathedral, as in all parishes, missions and congregations of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas and Canada, is administered in the following way:

When you approach the priest, a server standing to his left will take a spoon from a basket he is holding and hand it to the priest. the priest will use this spoon to give you Holy Communion. Once you have been communed, the priest will then hand the spoon to another server standing to his right, who will place the spoon in another basket. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, all the spoons will be boiled for sanitary cleansing. The water in which the spoons are boiled is then poured down a special drain which empties directly into the earth.

We do NOT give Holy Communion in the hand.

When you approach for Holy Communion, place your arms across your chest crosswise, one arm over the other and open your mouth wide so that there is no chance of the Holy Eucharist spilling or falling out of your mouth. Once you have received, please allow the deacon to gently wipe your mouth or you may do so yourself.

Some people, when they approach to receive Holy Communion, genuflect before receiving the Sacrament. We do not discourage this act of piety and reverence toward the Eucharist, but we ask you to be mindful that there are people standing behind you. If you want to genuflect and it is feasible to do so without disrupting or causing harm to those behind you, then please feel free to do so. If you cannot genuflect, a profound bow from the waist will suffice and serve just as well. It is the intent of your heart that is important.

Because Orthodox Catholic Christians believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life and worship, members of those Churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Holy Communion. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians (members of the Catholic Church only) requires permission of the Metropolitan of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church and the individual's own diocesan bishop. 

Members of other Orthodox Catholic Churches who wish to receive Holy Communion at the Cathedral must first go to Confession so that the priest celebrating Divine Liturgy has reasonable assurance that the individual is in a state of grace.

All who are not receiving Holy Communion are encouraged to express in their hearts a prayerful desire for unity with the Lord Jesus and with one another. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which keep us apart.

With every good wish, I remain,

Yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Archbishop +Stephen
Bishop of Utica
Metropolitan of the Americas and Canada of the Italo-Greeks
Archbishop of Siracusa and All Sicily
Primate of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church