EVER THANKFUL FOR ALL THESE YEARS.
By Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos.
Editorâ€™s Note: Fr. Ted delivered these words at his retirement celebration on Saturday, October 13, 2012 to almost 200 people in Hellenic Hall. This is the final issue of Fr. Tedâ€™s monthly message.
It was April 1978 when I first arrived in Keene from Boston. The Bishop had assigned me to the community of St. George to conduct Holy Week services. I had no idea that I would continue for any length of time. Because Presvytera Faye needed the only car we had, I had come by Greyhound bus. Christ Tasoulas, then parish council president, greeted me at the bus station and acted as chauffeur for my priestly calls. Christ and Anna hosted me warmly at their home throughout the week. By Godâ€™s grace, the week turned into months and the months into years and the years into decades!
As I look back on all these years of my priesthood at St. Georgeâ€™s, my heart is filled with gratitude. I thank you, all the wonderful faithful, for welcoming me and my family, and for making us part of the parish family. All these years, St. George parish has been a home for us through your love and kindness. Your faithfulness to God and your love for the Church have been sources of strength and inspiration to all of us. We have prayed and worked together. We have eaten and celebrated together. We have shared joys and sorrows. Many of you opened your homes to us in warm hospitality. For all these things I am deeply thankful to you and give praise to â€śGod from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and to the one lord Jesus, through whom are all things and through whom we existâ€ť (1 Corinthians 8:6).
Being unable to be with you during the week, the Divine Liturgy on Sunday mornings has been the heart and soul of our community. This is most appropriate because the Divine Liturgy is the main sacrament of the Church, a payer event actualizing Godâ€™s kingdom in our lives through worship, teaching, and fellowship. The Divine Liturgy is called Eucharist (â€śThanksgivingâ€ť) because Jesus, having gathered His disciples at the Last Supper, gave thanks to God and said: â€śTake eat, this is my Body . . . Drink of [this cup] all of you, for this is my Blood of the new covenant, for the forgiveness of sins.â€ť So we, too, have gathered around the table of the Lord, again and again all these years, and partook of Holy Communion, uniting us with Christ and with each other as brothers as sisters. There is nothing more powerful than the bond of love between Christians who love the Lord and love each other. St. John the Evangelist writes: â€śWe know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers and sistersâ€ť (1 john 3:14).
November is the month of Thanksgiving Day. But we know that thanksgiving is a way of life. It is a way of loving God, being thankful for the gift of life, and counting our blessings in good times and hard times. While at the beach a man found a quarter in the sand. He sifted the sand with his fingers but found nothing more. Another man came by with a metal detector. He said he usually found many things with the detector. A thankful heart is like that detector, a magnet that passes over the paths and byways of life, finding and rejoicing in Godâ€™s blessings. It is our Christian privilege and an expression of the true spirit of Thanksgiving to show our gratitude to God both by means of prayer to Him and generosity to our needy brothers and sisters together with whom we call God â€śourâ€ť Father.
It is in the spirit of thankfulness and the Lordâ€™s love that we seek forgiveness from each other. No one is without weaknesses. Our shortcomings keep us tied to the earth, because sin runs through the heart of every human being. Sometimes we offend and hurt each other without ever realizing it. Before Holy Communion the priest himself confesses to the congregation: â€śMy brothers and sisters, forgive me, an unworthy priest.â€ť It is in this spirit that I ask for your prayers and ask for your forgiveness for my shortcomings. I offer forgiveness to all and humbly ask to receive it from all. We read in the Epistle of James: â€śConfess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healedâ€ť (James 5:16). It is through love and forgiveness that we find true comfort, freedom of the spirit, the joy of the Lord, and not least we prepare ourselves for the life of eternity.
All of us together, clergy and laity, are co-workers, servants and stewards in the vineyard of the Lord. St. Paul writes: â€śAs servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God . . . it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy (pistoi)–faithfulâ€ť (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). At a time of national uncertainty, world crises, the erosion of faith, and the distortion of truth and justice, let us be irrevocably committed to faithfulness–to Christ, to the Church, to the gospel of salvation, to the work God has given us in our own journey of life, and to each other. Beyond personalities and particular viewpoints, let unflinching faithfulness and Christian love that never fails be the ground of our unity; the anchor of our inspiration and strength to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow; and the foundation of hope and grace to carry on Christâ€™s mission in the world. Brothers and sisters in the Lord, â€śbe watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in loveâ€ť (1 Corinthians 16:13). Sisters and brothers, remember us and pray for us, just as we will remember you and pray for you. Be well in the Lord. To the Lord be praise and glory forever. Amen.
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