Our Great Fast Meditations have meditated on the sinfulness of living with feelings of entitlement. Today’s Gospel tells of how two apostles who blatantly asked Jesus to sit on either side of him when he comes into his glory. It brought out feelings of animosity among the other ten apostles. Is this not true of life – our life, when we strive for being regarded as in some way superior and thereby more entitled to life’s privileges than others? It occurs among all of us, between people of all ages, ethnic groups and races, people with different levels of education, amidst hierarchy, clergy, faithful, and so on. It causes dissension, envy and brutality amidst us. Jesus was calling his apostles to a change of mind, to live with a new vision. It was not easy for them to understand that greatness meant becoming a servant of others. Like the apostles, we are slow to grasp Jesus’ vision of joy and peace, slow to accept the truth that sets us free. Can we grasp the hand of Jesus Christ with His promise that we will not walk in darkness if we follow Him? Jesus taught that “whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all” (Mk 10:45). Our Holy Father recently reminded us not to be hypocritical in the celebration of our faith. As we make plans for Easter celebrations, plan to make the entire journey with Jesus Christ, by participating in the Vespers and Exposition of the Holy Shroud on Good Friday and entering through His sacrifice into the celebration of Pascha, the glorious Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I urge you not to be hypocritical with God by choosing to enjoy the blessing of Easter foods and participating in Easter Sunday services without having entered through the door of Christ’s passion and death on the cross.
The Gospel tells us of a time when Jesus returns from the mountain top to find his apostles baffled, helpless, and ineffective. The apostles had fallen into despair and could not help the father with his ill son. Jesus later explains to them that this kind of cure demanded prayer. The apostles had been equipped with power, but needed prayer to maintain it. Great Fast awakes us to rekindle our relationship with God through more fervent and steadfast prayer.
Do we take our relationship with the Lord for granted, seeking Him when we are challenged or hurting, and presuming His presence in times of stability and joy? Do we harbor doubts as to the power of the Lord’s help? When coming face to face with Jesus, the father of the ill boy exclaimed, “I do believe! Help my lack of trust!” (Mk 9:24). To approach anything in the spirit of hopelessness is to make it hopeless. To approach anything in the spirit of faith is to make it a possibility. Participating within a community of faith which is vibrant in its prayer life is the surest way to ensure living in the spirit of hope. Your parish offers the gift of growing and sharing in prayer life. We come to realize the need for one another in our journey of faith. We come to realize the power of Christ’s presence and His healing when journeying with others in shared prayer. Rekindle your relationship of prayer with Christ together with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ within your parish this Great Fast!
The mid-point of our Great Fast journey calls us to venerate the Holy Cross in a special way as it lays adorned on the tetrapod or small altar in our Churches. We bow and kiss the cross with deep reverence. It is a profound act of humility. Meditating on the significance of the cross, the instrument of Christ’s death and resurrection, confronts any feelings of superiority or attitudes of entitlement. Jesus Christ’s supreme gift, freely given, offers freedom from the bondage of sin. We hear the striking words of Jesus, “Whoever wishes to follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt: 16:24).
We are continually refreshed with this challenge to deny our own preferences in favor of that which is pleasing to God and to God’s creation. When you and I bless ourselves with the sign of the cross, we affirm our faith in the deepest mysteries of our faith, namely the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the saving work of Christ on the cross. Blessing ourselves with the sign of the cross is a very intimate affirmation of our faith. Tradition says that when we Eastern Catholics touch the right shoulder first, we are reminded of the two thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus. The thief on the right was the “good thief” who professed faith in Christ and whom Christ promised “This day you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). Next time you cross yourself, ensure that it reflects your profound humility before God, and your expectant faith in your salvation in Jesus Christ. St. John of Damascus teaches: “For wherever the sign shall be there also be He”.
The Great Fast is a gift to you and to me, offering us an opportunity to examine the way we follow Jesus Christ in our day-to-day life. A meaningful journey through Lent ought to unsettle our comfort zones. One of these comfort zones might be an attitude which can overtake us all, that of living in a manner which reflects an attitude of entitlement. Recall how Jesus was tempted three times by the devil. In the first temptation, Jesus was asked to turn the stones into loaves of bread. Jesus replied, “Man does not live by bread alone”. In the second temptation, Jesus was asked to worship the devil. Jesus answered, “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve Him alone”. In the third temptation, Jesus was told to throw himself off the top of the synagogue so that God would send his angels to save him. Jesus answered, “You must not put the Lord your God to the test”.
Three times Jesus was tempted to make himself equal to God. Three times he rejected the temptation and chose God’s way of doing things, God’s will for him. And what about us? When we choose to live as if more is better, and that luxuries are really necessities, which are we choosing, God or ourselves? We can also believe that with power and resources, we can accomplish much more. Who are we choosing, God or ourselves, when we get what we want in less than desirable ways as long as we have a good purpose in the getting? Do we count on our prayers to God to make everything right after having ourselves contributed to the development of difficult situations, perhaps by choosing to ignore our own or others’ needs? Let’s remember Jesus’ answer, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”.
Great Fast is a gift to continually ask ourselves, “God or ourselves?”
Although our Church traditionally prescribed abstention from meat and dairy products in days gone by for the entire duration of the Great Fast, the following are the minimal Lenten regulations today:
Abstinence from meat and all dairy products on the First Day of the Great Fast and on Good Friday.
Abstinence from meat only on all Fridays of the Great Fast as well as Holy Saturday. It is also traditional to abstain from meat on Wednesdays during the Great Fast.
Reception of the Holy Mysteries of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist during the period from the onset of Great Fast to the Wednesday before Ascension Thursday.
The Fasting and Abstinence regulations are not binding on persons 60 or older, the very poor, sick, nursing or pregnant women, children below the age of 14, and those who engage in physically very hard labor. However, all are urged, if able to do so, to observe the fasting and abstinence regulations.
All the faithful are urged to attend the Lenten services such as the Presanctified Liturgy and the Commemoration of the Deceased (Sorokousty).
Such good deeds as almsgiving, visitation of the sick, Bible reading and praying for vocations to the priesthood and religious life are most earnestly recommended to all the Faithful.
Great Fast Liturgical Guidelines
The weekdays of the Great Fast are aliturgical meaning no Divine Liturgy, even for funerals, should be celebrated except for the Feast of the Annunciation. On Wednesdays and Fridays of the Great Fast, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is to be celebrated. Typika may be used the other days. For funerals, the liturgical text used by the New Jersey Protopresbyterate or St. Michael Church in Frackville may be utilized. The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is to be celebrated for Sunday Liturgies during this time.
During Holy Week, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is to be celebrated Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. There is no Divine Liturgy celebrated on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. On Holy Thursday evening, Vespers with Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great should be celebrated. On Holy Saturday evening, Vespers with the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is to be celebrated.
National Catholic Schools Week will be observed from January 29th to February 4th at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic School in Minersville, PA, St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic School in Passaic, NJ, Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic School in Perth Amboy, NJ and St. Basil Academy in Fox Chase, PA.
This year’s theme “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.” celebrates who every person involved in a Catholic School is called to be. Jesus, the Good Shepherd “came that they might have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10). We are invited to an abundant life in Jesus Christ. When we fully live and breathe this faith, we live in His abundance. It cannot help but raise the standard of all of life around us.
Our heartfelt gratitude is offered to all who are part of the family of our four schools. We acknowledge and thank the clergy, religious Sisters, the administrators, teachers, and all of the support staff for their sharing of this giftedness in their skills through their person. This enables each school to reflect abundant life in Jesus Christ.
Special thanks to the parents who seek the best for their children and offer their love and support for the school staff and students. You do it because of your living out your inspired desire for abundant life. We admire your tremendous personal and financial sacrifices to ensure a high standard of education and religious formation for your children.
Uppermost are our admiration and best wishes for every student in each school family. The highest ideals of a Catholic school can only encourage each student to strive to be their best in the pursuit of the abundant life offered to all by Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We pray for each student as each grows in the skills and understanding of achieving the best in your Catholic School family. May all grow in closeness with Jesus as we strive to be fully who we are called to be as a faithful student of a valued Ukrainian Catholic school.
We are particularly grateful for the meaningful example of excellence each school provides for the Church and for the community of which they are a part. The striving for high standards in Catholic education positively encourages others to excel in who they are and in how they live within the community. A Catholic School which raises its standard is fulfilling its mission of inspiring others to excellence, and thereby living the abundant life in Jesus Christ.
Especially helpful are the individual organizations and businesses who offer financial help to our Ukrainian Catholic schools. Donations by persons and groups who desire to support the high standard of education and religious formation in our schools are enablers. Such valued donors truly breathe Jesus Christ’s call to abundant life. Can there be a better way to share one’s wealth and blessings than with children growing in knowledge and faith? Choose to financially help our Ukrainian Catholic schools to fulfill their sacred mission to teach and prepare our children with high standards and ideals.
All involved in our Ukrainian Catholic schools will be especially remembered in prayers offered throughout National Catholic Schools Week. May your hearts be filled with gratitude as you reflect on your achievement at raising the standard of education. May all of us continue to be inspired to be our best providing the optimum example to those whom we serve and to those among whom we attempt to raise the standard of education.
God bless you richly in ways only He can!
Clergy Carol for Metropolitan Stefan
A video of the Clergy of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and their families singing Christmas Carols for Metropolitan-Archbishop Stefan Soroka at his residence on January 9, 2017. This video is just a sample of the festivities; clergy arrived all throughout the afternoon and evening to celebrate with Metropolitan Stefan.
Blessing of Water on the Feast of Theophany on January 6, 2017 at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception with Fr. Roman Pitula, Fr. Roman Sverdan and Fr. Roman Petryshak. Video by Teresa Siwak, “The Way”