Saturday, December 22, 2012

In Memory of Kenneth Falvo

Today, I had the honor of being present at a Mercy Dinner in memory of a man who obviously was deeply loved by a great many people. Although I did not know Kenneth Falvo personally, I did have the opportunity to meet his sister Judy and her husband and his brother-in-law John a couple of weeks agoat the Italian Cultural Center, when they were making arrangements for Ken's Mercy Dinner. We got to talking and I was happy to learn so much about this man who touched the lives of everyone in his family and extended family so positively and thoughtfully. We talked about the many things that were dear to Ken, espcially his love for family and children. During the course of our conversation I told Judy and her husbnad about the Cathedral parish's work with the children of Head Start and how we were in the midst of our annual Toys for Children Christmas project. It was then that they said they would like to be a part of the project and asked if they could do something in memory of Ken. I was very humbled and very honored that they saw merit in our small efforts and graciously accepted their generous offer. It was discussed and decided that they would ask all those who were going to attend Ken's memorial dinner to bring one or two unwrapped new toys to donate to the children of Head Start in his memory. When I walked into the Italian Culural Center earlier tonight after Great Vespers and Jody showed me all the toys that had been donated, I was awe-struck! A colorful assortment of toys and games were piled high on one of the tables and also on the floor. It was a very uplifting and moving sight to say the least. I am very grateful to Judy and her husband John for this generous act of kindness. We will be wrapping the presents after Western Christmas and continue our gift distribution right up to our celebration of the Nativity on January 7th, when we begin our Twelve Days of Christmas celebration.
 
I would also like to thank Diane Piazza, President of the Santa Rosalia Society who, on behalf of the Society, made a generous donation to our children's annual Christmas project in Ken Falvo's memory.
 
To Judy and her husband John, to Ken's family and friends, and to Diane and the Santa Rosalia Society, who have always been dear friends and supporters of the Cathedral, I wish to thank you all for your kindness, generosity and love. I wish all of you the grace, peace and blessings of the Nativity and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. May Almighty God keep you in His love and under His mercy always and forever.
 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Lycia. There are few saints better known and more popular in the Church than St. Nicholas, who lived in the fourth century. Very little is known about St. Nichloas, but what we do know paints a picture of a man who was known for his compassion, generosity and abiding love of God.
 
Shortly after becoming Bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas was arrested and imprisoned during the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Diocletion (245-313 A.D.). When the Emperor Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., giving tolerance to Christianity and making it the official religion of the Empire, St. Nicholas was released.
 
Tradition places St. Nicholas at the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.), though the oldest lists of bishops in attendance do not include his name. It is said that, during one of the more heated moments of the Council, St. Nicholas walked across the room to the heretic Arius, who denied the divinity of Christ, and slapped him in the face. We have no reason not to believe the story and while some may say that Nicholas' behavior in this instance contradicts his reknown for gentleness, it can be understood why he would do such a thing. St. Nicholas was very firm in his orthodoxy and Arius' false teachings stood to create great confusion among the faithful and was a threat to their souls.
 
The legend of St. Nicholas tells us that he became an orphan at a very young age. Though his family was very wealthy, Nicholas decided to give away all of his possessions to the poor and dedicate himself to serving Christ. It is said that he would toss little pouches of coins through the windows of poor people's homes, and that sometimes the pouches would land in the stockings that had been washed and were hanging on the windowsill to dry. Once, finding all the windows in a particular house shut, St. Nicholas tossed the pouch up on the roof, where it went down the chimney. Our modern day Santa Claus is actually based on St. Nicholas. While Santa Claus is a loved and endearing part of the Christmas tradition, it would be more meaningful if parents taught their children the story of St. Nicholas and how Santa Claus is actually based on his life. 
 
St. Nicholas is said to have made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land as a young man. When a storm arose, the sailors thought that the ship was doomed to sink and that they were all were going to drown, but through St. Nicholas's prayers, the waters were calmed. Returning to Myra, Nicholas found that news of the mircle had already reached the city and was spreading like wildfire throughout the region. The bishops of Asia Minor, hearing of Nicholas's holiness and sanctity chose him to replace the recently deceased bishop of Myra.
 
As bishop, Nicholas remembered his own past as an orphan and kept a special place in his heart for orphans and all young children. He continued to give them small gifts and money (especially to the poor). He also is said to have provided dowries to three young women who could not afford to marry (and who were in danger, therefore, of entering into a life of prostitution).
 
After his death, St. Nicholas's fame continued to spread throughout Eastern and Western Europe. He is affectionately known as St. Nicholas the Wonder-worker because of the miracles attributed to him, many of which occurred after his death.
 
In the Italo-Greek tradition, on the eve of the feast, after the Festal Great Vigil,  the parish priest visits the homes of the children of the parish to leave small gifts; and after Divine Liturgy, on the Saint's feast-day, a member of the congregation dressed as St. Nicholas enters the parish church to bring the children some more gifts, which are intended to be given by them to the poor, and to instruct them in the faith.
 
Since my election and enthronement as bishop of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church in 2004 I have always encouraged our people to show faith in action. Prior to our first celebration together of St. Nicholas's feast day as a diocesan Church, I asked all of our people to consider celebrating and honoring the memory of St. Nicholas not just by going to Church, but by making the day a "random acts of kindness" day. Since that first celebration, the random acts of kindness project has grown by leaps and bounds and has since become a permanent part of our St. Nicholas Day celebration. The stories I have heard of some of the many things that have been done are truly heart-warming and inspiring. I am very proud of each and every one of you who has taken your faith to the streets. There is no greater joy one can experience than the joy of giving to others. That is what love is all about.

Annual Toys for Children Project Underway

Well, our 8th Annual Toys for Children Project is almost over with two days of deliveries left. I and the Cathedral parish and our partners, including the Troopers from Troop D - Zone 1 of the New York State Police look forward every year to this project. As many of you know, we take care of over 900 kids (ages 1-4 years old)  from Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency's Head Start program in Oneida and Herkimer Counties.
 
We start collecting toys in early November and individually wrap and label each toy with a child's name. Every child gets between two to three toys which I and a Trooper personally deliver to each of the Head Start classrooms. We spend about 20-30 minutes with the kids, just talking with them and savoring the experience of their laughter and happiness. Words cannot express the joy we experience while we watch them excitedly rip the wrapping paper to reveal their gifts.
 
This week's deliveries were even more special in light of what occurred at Sandy Hook Elelmentary School in Connecticut last Friday. We were all more keenly aware of just how precious these little ones are...the beautiful faces, the wide beaming smiles, the brightly shining eyes...they all combined to magnify the beauty of God's work in creation and the wondeful gift of human life. The kids didn't know it but the gifts we giving this week we are giving in memory of those 20 little children who lost their lives so tragically last week.
 
I wish you could have been with us to experience what we have been so honored and privileged to experience this and last week. So that you may share in our experience to some degree, I have posted a video of one of our visits. I hope you enjoy it and that it touches your heart in the same way it affects us. If it moves you in the way I think it will, maybe you will consider helping us continue making our annual Toys for Children project an expression of love and kindness for our children. If you are interested in helping out, just drop me an email at metropolitan@igoarch.org
 
 
 
  
God bless you and keep you in His love always and forever.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Statement on Sandy Hook School Shooting

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On behalf of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas and Canada, we offer our prayers and condolences in a profound sense of grief, shock and loss upon hearing the news of the tragic shooting this morning at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The circumstances or reasons for the senseless killing of 27 people, including 20 children, may never be known but one thing we can be sure of is that these massacred innocents are now with our loving God in heaven.
 
Our hearts go out to the families and the entire community of Newtown during this most difficult time. May those whose hearts are now heavy with sorrow and pain be comforted by their faith in Jesus Christ, who Himself is the Prince of Peace and the sure hope of all mankind.
 
We hold the victims and their families; members of law enforcement and emergency service responders: firefighters, EMT's, paramedics, counselors, and others who rushed to the aid of the victims; and all who are affected by the shooting, in our prayers for healing, comfort, consolation and strength.
 
I ask all of our congregations to pray without ceasing for those who have died and for those who have lost their children, both in your private prayers and as the Body of Christ. I ask especially that as you gather together this coming Sunday, you take the time to remember the children who died and as their identities and names become available that you hold them up in prayer by name in the Divine Liturgy or Typica Service. On my part, we will remember them in the Divine Liturgy this coming Sunday and in a special memorial service to be celebrated after the Divine Liturgy on Wednesday, December 19th, the Feast of St. Nicholas, in the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace.

Let us unite our hearts and minds with those of our brothers and sisters in Newtown who are struggling to deal with this aweful and horrific tragedy which has changed their lives forever. Even though we may be hundreds or even thousands of miles away from them, we share in their grief and sorrow as members of the human family and as the children of God.

As funeral arrangements of the victims become known, take a moment to send a card or note of condolence to the families of the dead through the funeral homes who have been entrusted with the care of the deceased or through their particular church or house of worship. Let them know they are in your prayers and that they are not alone in this, their time of sorrow, mourning and grief. Let us put faith into action and let us resolve to work together to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.
 
My dear friends, I believe with all my heart that out of every tragedy comes something good and lessons to be learned. Before you go to bed tonight, hug your children and tell them you love them; and do the same to your spouse. Never miss an opportunity to say "I love you." True love conquers all evil.
 
May Christ our true God give rest to the souls of those who have died, preserving them in the blessed life where all the Saints repose, and may their memory be eternal!