50th Anniversary Banquet

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V. Rev. Timothy Baclig, Pastor

St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church

Van Nuys, California

January 26, 2019

Your Eminence, Father Michel, my dear brothers, Reverend clergy and Khouriyet; Council General Myrna Khawly; Roger David and members of the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch; Council Chair, Michael Mitchell, CoChair, Don Meena; beloved Founders, you the faithful of St. Michael and friends of our parish community, Christ is in our midst!

My purpose is to take a moment to share with you my pastoral vision for the future before introducing His Eminence who is the main speaker. I will begin by reminding you of what we have heard our Metropolitan repeatedly say in his messages from the start of his becoming our Father and Chief Shepherd of this God-protected Archdiocese. Sayidna has repeatedly described his ministry and consequently reminded us that our ministry: both as clergy and laity is: “the salvation of souls.”

The saving of souls is the message of the Gospel that describes the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. But when we consider: the part that we have in the salvation of souls, we tend make it difficult because of our many preoccupations or distractions, and what St. John Chrysostom calls our “worldly cares.”

Salvation involves our youth and elderly. It pertains to our role as parents. It is our message as Pastors and teachers. And by working together as a team, both laity and clergy, you and I are better able to worship and praise God in the offering of our gifts, talents and skills in this shared ministry. Simply stated: our future as Christians, and the members of St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church in particular, is about our personal relationships.

It began with the relationship that our loving God initiated with man and continued through generations. It was part of the relationships that were forged by the immigration of our faithful to this land many years ago, and the successive waves of newcomers to our country that continues to take place in our day, and includes some in our parish.

It involved the commitment of the early Founders of our Los Angeles Cathedral that succeeded the very early community in our City of St. George Church. It continued with the founding of our very own St. Michael Church in the San Fernando Valley on January 12, 1969; the historic reception and Chrismation of nearly 200 converts from Southern California Evangelical Christian communities that took place in our old “A” frame church building on February 8, 1987; the growth and development of 20 parishes in the Southern California Deanery that includes the birth of St. Simeon Mission in Santa Clarita, and the many new relationships that have begun with inquirers and catechumens in all of our churches this very day.

Salvation, therefore, is about our relationship with Christ and with each another—all of us who share in a Holy Tradition of Faith that we dearly cherish. Second: Salvation is our mission in the relationships we build with “our neighbor.” And who is our neighbor? Do I really have to tell you? Surely, you know who our Lord described in the Gospel as “our neighbors.” Our neighbors are not only who we evangelize but who we respond in caring for; all who share in the created image and likeness of God.

Our future, dear brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents, godparents and teachers is about what we teach, by what we live, that tells others what we really believe. It is not only what we say, but how we say it, that tells others if we really mean what we say, and is clearly evident by how we conduct our lives.

Our salvation and our relationships also involves our obedience, but an obedience that is rooted and grounded in God’s steadfast love; a love that compels us to desire and to please Him with all of our heart mind body and soul. It’s a kind of romantic relationship. It’s compelling; becomes unavoidable; and ultimately undeniable. It’s discovering and finding what is true; and knowing that it is real. It is not an illusion or fantasy, nor is it temporal, but an eternal relationship that builds up, that raises up; does not tear down; one that respects, and is honorable, a relationship that is patient, kind, not proud or rude, not boastful, loud or self-centered.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, the church we are building is about our relationships and the salvation of souls! Our building is not only about steel or concrete, Byzantine iconography or well-sung music. It’s about our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, His Mother, the saints of all the ages; our parents and loved ones; and the eternal bond that we share with those who have gone before us, and those who we are even yet to meet and get to know.

50 years ago many of us were still children! I was 14 years old and in my first high school year. Several of us in this room were not even born!

You just heard on our video the beautiful testimonies of our Founders and members who described their experience. Our dear Father John Reinhold of blessed memory was right. It’s all about love. For the Holy Apostle Paul said, and “they will know you are Christians by your love.”

So as today’s pastor, I must ask: Have we taught our children what it means to love and to serve, and all that the Gospel teaches about the price of love and service? Have we also taught them about forgiveness, being merciful and compassionate. And how have we taught our children, grandchildren and godchildren about the practice and discipline of prayer and fasting, repentance and confession? And what have we done to fulfill our Lord’s call to provide aid, shelter and help, to feed the hungry, visit those in prison? Have we done our best to love those who hate us? Have we grown mature, and has the fruit of the Spirit manifested: love, joy, peace, patience, long suffering, kindness, temperance, meekness and self-control in our lives?

Let us be reminded of the words of St. John the Holy Apostle also said, “Love must be sincere.” We live in a very different time from the days of our Founders and must take heed to the words of St. Paul the holy Apostle who said: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned as a child; [but] when I became a man I put childish things behind me.” Have we grown up? Have we spiritually matured? How much have we learned from uncovering the great treasure of the Holy Tradition we have received?

So now let us be very honest about our need to be saved and the desire to be part of God’s team that saves others. It is a characteristic of Sayidna JOSEPH’s Archpastoral ministry: For in our quest for salvation we cannot deny or ignore that we all struggle with sin. We must identify it and confess it. We must also clearly understand that love is not permissive if it truly saves. And that to love and to forgive is not a sign of weakness!

You who are parents know this. It is true: “God is love,” but love is not God! You love your children, but love is not just an idea in your relationship with them. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That was not just an arbitrary statement. Jesus also said, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” It was the theme we taught our children and helped them to experience last summer at St. Nicholas Camp. They learned that there are relationships of our lives that really matter above all others, beginning with knowing our Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

In considering our future in our quest for salvation, you and I should fear no one but God Himself if we want to guard and protect our children from the wiles of the Evil One. And if we are really serious about the call to proclaim the Gospel, the good news of salvation, we have to tell others the whole story, not just what they want to hear or what helps them to feel good before the next unexplainable and unexpected event occurs in their life. The Holy Apostles warned their listeners that their days were evil. If they were evil some 2,000 years ago, (that was long before 50 years ago), how do you think they would describe the world that we are living today?

Being a Christian has been and will always mean self-sacrifice; martyria. That is because we follow the example of the One whose life was the supreme Sacrifice. Being a Christian has been and will continue to mean loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and loving our neighbor as ourself. It will also continue to mean service; diakonia. It will also involve our trusting Him to lead us where we may not want to go; and let’s be honest, doing what we may not want to do; or perhaps, even for now, what we have difficulty in doing! But the good news is that our future in the Church will include, for as long as the Lord will allow, time to be forgiven, to forgive others, and time for healing. As your priest and pastor this is my prayer for our future. This is my ministry with you!

Sayidna, as a convert to Holy Orthodoxy, I must confess, that there have been times in my personal experience, that I have wondered: Is this Tradition the tradition of men or of God? Is this Tradition truly Holy? Is this truly the Faith that was delivered to the saints? I mean how far does God want us to go? Does He really expect us to do all that He asks? I remember being once asked during a coffee hour, “Father, aren’t we really asking for too much?” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “…when we pray: “that the whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless…” And as I recall from the conversations our Lord had with his disciples, they also wondered, “What is He saying?” He speaks in riddles…” or could you imagine what it was like for our Lord, who in specifically answering the rich man’s question on: “What he needed to do to inherit eternal life?” [Luke 18:18] hearing back from him: “Yes, I have done all of that since my youth!”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, take it from me: someone who has not just studied books, but who has been truly blessed to have good teachers who were good examples and whose lives demonstrated our Faith; as someone who has struggled with many personal griefs and sorrows; who has also shared the pain of others: There is great joy in a relationship of knowing the Lord as our Saviour! Yes, our’s is a very Holy Tradition that included the blood of martyrs even in our day. It was not created by men and is not to be taken lightly. It is not for quitters. It is truly the Faith of the saints, our forefathers and mothers. And it is the experience within the full context of our Holy Orthodox Church that you and I have a sure hope of salvation. It is a salvation of our souls that also means the healing of our of mind and body.

We live in a day and age that yearns for a safe haven and place of refuge from a world that has gone mad. We are in a time that Archbishop DEMETRIOS has called, a “post truth era.” Do you know what that means? It means that whatever might be true doesn’t really matter. It has caused much of our thinking to believe that we can achieve whatever we want, however we choose to do it. Don’t buy it!

Trust me when I say: The Church is for our families “the eye of a hurricane;” It is a safe haven for our young people. In iconography we see the church depicted as “The Ark” that saved Noah who was obedient in gathering all who were with him and were saved from the flood. One day I told Michael Malouf, you are building an Ark! But you are not Noah. God has called you to help build His Church!

The space of our Holy Altar will one day depict the Mother of God as the Platytera, “She who is more spacious than the heavens.” And it is she who is the image of salvation, whose life was joyful obedience, and of whom we are called as humans to emulate as “God-bearers.” The church today is also where hope is found for our families. But not as an escape, rather: the Church is where we are renewed, where we are equipped, where we are empowered, and most importantly, where we find forgiveness as the co-laborers of God’s Kingdom. But we have to desire it. We must earnestly seek to find it.

For the Church is where we enter the true light and the fullness of light; and it is where healing begins. It is where we come to know peace, unlike what many seek to find in the world, but what only God can give. Our Holy Orthodox Church, by its intentional education of our young people, by our service to the elderly, our ministry to the needy; through our worship, our prayer services and the Holy Sacraments, provide us the full and complete vision of what it means to be human. And through the experience of repentance, you and I are not only able to ascend to God, we actually touch Him!

Our Lord Jesus Christ has united us with our heavenly Father as members of His Kingdom. Our destiny as members of His Kingdom is by the way repentance.

Working together for the common good of the church we have heard in the testimonies on our video tonight is only the beginning of kinonia or Christian fellowship. Being united with Christ by discerning His Body and Blood and taking very seriously what it means, is to enter the fullness of fellowship with one another, and IS kinonia.

And so beloved, the Church is where we not only share by being colaborers with each other. The sacred space of the Church is where we discover what being holy is all about. It is where we “in the fear of God and in faith and love” draw near to touch Him, to partake of Him, and it is how we truly become His partners in the salvation of souls. That, my dear brothers and sisters, this is why we are building a holy sanctuary. God deserves our very best and nothing less. And I am very, very thankful that He has brought us this far, not only in what we have begun to do in the construction our new Temple and in fulfilling the dream of our beloved Founders, but in discovering the answer to why we are doing it. There is still a great deal to learn, but I am confident that if we remain faithful, God will bless us. For He said, “My yoke [or harness] is easy and my burden is light; take my [harness] upon you and learn of Me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find salvation for your souls.”

Therefore beloved in Christ, let us concern ourselves about real relationships, good Christian relationships, if only for the sake of our children (who are our future); beginning with our love of God as He has loved us, our love for our brother and sister; those near and dear us, and the love of our neighbor who is still to be known in the days which are to come.

Let us be devoted in our obedience, diligent in our study, vigilant in our prayers, putting away all frivolous “talk,” laying aside every cumbersome weight on the path of salvation, understanding that time is short, and that God’s Kingdom is not of this world, except where we honor, worship and glorify the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; He who is not only in our midst, who meets us where we are—just as we are, but is HE who has come to make His dwelling place in us and cleanses us from all sin. May He forever be glorified with the Father and His life-giving Spirit.

Now my beloved, it my true honor and privilege as your Pastor to introduce to you our spiritual Father and Metropolitan JOSEPH whose continued guidance and love leads us into our future.