Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Photos from our Patronal Feastday Liturgy

On November 16 we gathered for our first Patronal Feastday, commemorating the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew.

Pictured on the left is one of our icons of Saint Matthew, adorned with a scarf from the Ukraine given by one of our members, Vera Rogachenko Nuschler.

Divine Liturgy was served by Father Matthew Jackson of Christ our Saviour Church in McComb, Mississippi, who was also celebrating his nameday. Father preached on the life of Saint Matthew, inviting the mission congregation to follow his apostolic example.

Father Matthew was accompanied by Matushka Xenia and their children, the Varnado family, and Subdeacon Jonah. The Varnados have been very encouraging and a wonderful source of inspiration for us here in Baton Rouge.

It was profoundly gratifying to hear the additional voices...

and have servers assisting the priest at the Holy Altar.

Counting the members of our mission community, along with guests from Lafayette and McComb, we had about twenty people for the Thursday morning Liturgy.

After Liturgy, we shared coffee and light refreshments. Then, a significant contingent enjoyed lunch together at a Mediterranean Cafe not far from the Church.

It was a wonderful gathering - many thanks (and many years!) to all who participated.

Holy Apostle Matthew, well pleasing to God, pray for your mission in Baton Rouge, for you are the sure helper and intercessor for our souls!
Convert Testimonies

We have a number of new resources in our bookshop that offer the spiritual journeys of converts to Orthodox Christianity. Perhaps the best known is Father Peter Gillquist's Becoming Orthodox. Also available are two collections of shorter essays, Coming Home and Our Hearts' True Home. The first is an anthology of testimonies by Protestant pastors; the second is entirely by women converts.

Ancient Faith Radio, an online Orthodox radio network, has recently posted an interview with Father Stephen Freeman, rector of Saint Anne Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Some of you may remember when Father Stephen visited with us last summer. In this interview, Father Stephen relates the trials and joys of his conversion.

To listen to the interview, click here.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Jesus Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Explanation from Fr Thomas Hopko's The Orthodox Faith: Spirituality

The most normal form of unceasing prayer in the Orthodox tradition is the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer is the form of invocation used by those practicing mental prayer, also called the "prayer of the heart." The words of the prayer most usually said are "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." The choice of this particular verse has a theological and spiritual meaning.

First of all, it is centered on the name of Jesus because this is the name of Him whom "God has highly exalted," the name given to the Lord by God Himself (Luke 1:31), the "name which is above every name." (Philippians 2:9-10, cf Ephesians 1:21)
...for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
All prayer for Christians must be performed in the name of Jesus: "if you ask anything in my name, I will do it." (John 14:13-14)

The fact that the prayer is addressed to Jesus as Lord and Christ and Son of God is because this is the center of the entire faith revealed by God in the Spirit.
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you...for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven...and on this rock I will build my Church..." (Matthew 16:16-18)
That Jesus is the Christ, and that the Christ is Lord is the essence of the Christian faith and the foundation of the Christian church. To believe and proclaim this is granted by the Holy Spirit. one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:3)

... every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:11)
In calling Jesus the Son of God is to acknowledge God as His Father. To do this is, at the same time, to have God as one's own Father, and this too is granted by the indwelling Spirit.
And when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father!" (Galatians 4:4-6)

When we cry "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God ... (Romans 8:15-16)
Thus, to pray "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God" is already to be a child of God, and already to be certain that the Holy Spirit is in you. In this way, the Jesus Prayer brings the Spirit of God into the heart of man.

"Have mercy on me a sinner" is the publican's prayer. When uttered with humble conviction it brings divine justification. (cf. Luke 18:9-14) Generally speaking, divine mercy is what man needs most of all. It is for this reason that the numberless repetition of the request for the Lord's mercy is found everywhere in the prayers of, the Church.

And finally, all men are sinners. To know this is a fact, and to confess it with faith is to be justified and forgiven by God. (cf. Romans 3:10-12, Psalm 14:1-3)

Read it all here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Archpastoral Letter from His Eminence, DMITRI, Archbishop of Dallas and the South

Nativity Fast 2006: In His love for man God chooses the method, time and place for revealing His will. This is true for each of us personally, having ‘eyes to see and ears to hear.’ This has been the case with regard to the life and history of the Church. It is true with regard overall to our Lord’s saving dispensation. St. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, reminds us that from the beginning God made Himself known through creation itself (1:19-20). In days of old, within the specific context of His plan of salvation, God spoke to Moses as to a friend and conferred the Law upon him. In addition the inspired prophets declared God’s will to the Israelites. All of these things, however, pointed to – were preparing the way for – a greater revelation of God through the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ: “But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). The Messiah came to make God’s will known as fully as is possible for men to receive it. He appeared “to give knowledge of salvation unto (God’s) people…to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide (their) feet into the way of peace” (Isaiah 9:2, Luke 1:77,79). This light is the radiance of the Nativity Season, “the light of Christ which illumines all.”

Read it all on the diocesan web site here.

Monday, November 20, 2006

About us...

Saint Matthew the Apostle Orthodox Church is a mission of the Orthodox Church in America's Diocese of the South.
As Orthodox Christians, we are devoted to cultivating the historic faith of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, founded upon Apostles and Prophets, with Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. We proclaim Christ crucified and risen, who reigns from heaven and is ever-present in the mystery of his Church.

Founded in the Spring of 2006 under the supervision of Father Ted Pisarchuk, we are committed to regular, weekly gatherings for services in English. Our congregation is made up of persons from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. At a service you're likely to meet people with Russian or Arab ancestry, as well as converts and inquirers. The younger children are sometimes active and restless during services. Nonetheless, all are welcome - the worship of God is for all people.

Most of our services are sung - we have service booklets for those who would like to sing along. We typically stand for much of the service. However, we do have chairs and you are welcome to sit as needed. You will notice considerable diversity in the way worshippers engage what is going on during our services. Making the sign of the cross, kissing icons and crosses, singing, standing, sitting, bowing, prostrating - each person engages the service personally, even as we all are worshipping together. One of the most delightful aspects of Orthodox worship is its "child-like" quality. Again, we are all children of God and we only enter His Kingdom when we become like little children.

For more reflections on Orthodox Christian worship, see this essay by Frederica Mathewes-Green, entitled "Twelve Things I Wish I'd Known..."

As of June 2008, we worship in the chapel of our book and icon shop located at 8775 Jefferson Highway, in Country Club Shadows, located between Essen and Drusilla. A map with directions is available on the left side bar of this site or by clicking here.

In February 2009, Father Mark Christian was ordained to the priesthood by His Eminence, Archbishop DMITRI of Dallas and the South, who appointed him as priest-in-charge of our mission.

Visitors are always welcome. Come and see!
November 21: The Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple.

According to Holy Tradition, the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple took place in the following manner. The parents of the Virgin Mary, Sts Joachim and Anna, praying for an end to their childlessness, vowed that if a child were born to them, they would dedicate it to the service of God.

When the Most Holy Virgin reached the age of three, the holy parents decided to fulfill their vow. They gathered together their relatives and acquaintances, and dressed the All-Pure Virgin in Her finest clothes. Singing sacred songs and with lighted candles in their hands, virgins escorted Her to the Temple (Ps. 44/45:14-15). There the High Priest and several priests met the handmaiden of God. In the Temple, fifteen high steps led to the sanctuary, which only the priests and High Priest could enter. (Because they recited a Psalm on each step, Psalms 119/120-133/134 are called "Psalms of Ascent.") The child Mary, so it seemed, could not make it up this stairway. But just as they placed Her on the first step, strengthened by the power of God, She quickly went up the remaining steps and ascended to the highest one. Then the High Priest, through inspiration from above, led the Most Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest entered once a year to offer a purifying sacrifice of blood. Therefore, all those present in the Temple were astonished at this most unusual occurrence.

After entrusting their child to the Heavenly Father, Joachim and Anna returned home. The All-Holy Virgin remained in the quarters for virgins near the Temple. According to the testimony of Holy Scripture (Exodus 38; 1 Kings 1: 28; Luke 2: 37), and also the historian Josephus Flavius, there were many living quarters around the Temple, in which those who were dedicated to the service of God dwelt.

The earthly life of the Most Holy Theotokos from Her infancy until She was taken up to Heaven is shrouded in deep mystery. Her life at the Jerusalem Temple was also a secret. "If anyone were to ask me," said St Jerome, "how the Most Holy Virgin spent the time of Her youth, I would answer that that is known to God Himself and the Archangel Gabriel, Her constant guardian."

But there are accounts in Church Tradition, that during the All-Pure Virgin's stay at the Temple, She grew up in a community of pious virgins, diligently read the Holy Scripture, occupied Herself with handicrafts, prayed constantly, and grew in love for God. From ancient times, the Church has celebrated the Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. Indications that the Feast was observed in the first centuries of Christianity are found in the traditions of Palestinian Christians, which say that the holy Empress Helen (May 21) built a church in honor of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple.

St Gregory of Nyssa, in the fourth century, also mentions this Feast. In the eighth century Sts Germanus and Tarasius, Patriarchs of Constantinople, delivered sermons on the Feast of the Entry.

The Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple foretells God's blessing for the human race, the preaching of salvation, the promise of the coming of Christ.

(icon and text from the Orthodox Church in America)
Welcome to the new website of our mission congregation. Our original blog, Transfigure Baton Rouge, is still up and running. However, this site will be used for posts that relate specifically to our life as a congregation.

For general news and other reflections, please continue to visit our other blog.

Check back in for pictures and other congregational updates!