Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Orthodox Church Membership and Stewardship

By Fr. Shnork Souin, Pastor

God has blessed us with many gifts and talents through which we can bring glory to God. These gifts are manifest most perfectly when they are shared for the common good, for God and for the sake of God’s people. The Holy Scriptures and the tradition of our church fathers encourage us to share of all that we are and of all that we have — Of our Time, and of our Talent, and of our Treasures.

It is at times hard to see past our own needs and wants, and to focus on our deficiency. Nevertheless, God empowers the faithful to do His will and in discernment and with spiritual maturity, realize that the gifts are His and we are merely their stewards. “But who am I and who are my people, that We should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and We have given you only what comes from your hand.” 1 Chronicles 29:14. St. Gregory of Datev (1346-1440) teaches that “We must offer to God a portion of everything we possess. A human being is made of soul, body and possessions. The soul offers prayers; the body; prostrations; and from our possessions a portion to God.”

Many will say, “but I am a member of the church.” Who are members of the church and who are the stewards? Members are those who commit to the annual membership dues of $175 or $125 for students and seniors. Membership has its privileges and responsibilities. Recognizing the significant role, the church plays in your life, you want to support her mission. As a member, you have the privilege of participating in the decision-making process by attending and voting at the Annual Parish Assembly (dues must be paid in full by year-end in order to vote). Our parish provides outstanding scholarship opportunities for the children of members to Diocesan summer camps and St. Nersess as well as a partial qualification for the annual Jerusalem Pilgrimage for young adults. Members can also qualify for full scholarships and academic scholarships through the Diocese and Sports Committee as well as qualify to receive reduced sacrament and offering fees as well as reduced fees for church hall and facility rentals.

Stewards are members who contribute to the church over and beyond the standard membership dues of $175 per member each according to their ability. You may ask, “Why should I become a steward?

As a steward, you participate in the implementation and realization of programming and projects which support the church’s ministry and mission. Our Lord Jesus Christ says, “Give, and it shall be given to you. . . For with the measure you use, it shall be measured to you.” Luke 38

Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams. Mal. 3:10

Christian Stewardship is a grateful and responsible use of God’s gifts in the light of God’s purpose as revealed in Jesus Christ.  Christian stewards, empowered by the Holy Spirit, commit themselves to conscious, purposeful decisions. Stewardship is lived out in living and telling the Good News, sharing with God in seeking justice, peace, and the integrity of creation, wisely employing God-given human resources, abilities, and relationships, sharing the material resources we hold and giving them in service, justice, and compassion, providing for future generations, sharing in the life, worship, and responsible stewardship of the Church and of its mission. Stewardship for both the individual and for the community, is a joyful act for the sake of God’s world.

Stewardship of God’s gifts can be easily demonstrated in the management of Time, Talent and Treasure.

The Gift of Time – The Great Commission is the normative mission statement for the church.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a RSV).  It is through our Missionary giving of time that we can make Christ known to those who know Him not.

The Gift of Talent – Christian stewardship is using the gifts God has given us, to do the work God is calling us to do.  Discerning and carrying out God’s purpose is the primary purpose of our lives.  The primary role of the church is to guide individuals in discernment of the mission for their lives and the use of their resources in accomplishing it.  Do you hear a call to be truer to your Christian beliefs? What gifts do you have that can be offered to Glorify God?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Romans 1:1-8

Gift of Treasure– How we use money says more about our value system than anything we say or do.  Some would think that the way we handle our money is a window into our souls.  There is such great joy and comfort in giving. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

In funding ministry, there are three faces of financial stewardship.  Annual giving (ordinary stewardship) is the regular practice of returning to God a portion of all that God has given us.  Capital giving (extraordinary stewardship) involves the special occasions that arise in the life of Christian communities that call us to give beyond our ordinary habit. Legacy giving (legacy stewardship) is the way in which we address the matter of disposing of the accumulations of our lifetime or by remembering the church as a beneficiary of a will.

The giving of monetary gifts, from the treasury of our labors, is a most tangible way to express our love and thanksgiving to God. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7.

Please consider the many options and diverse ways that you can include the church in your stewardship. You can choose any amount according to what you purpose in your heart. You can handle it on a regular basis, periodically or all at once. You may wish to add an amount to your regular annual dues and or you might even begin thinking and praying about the long-term establishments of wills and bequeaths. If you have any questions about your many options, please feel free to contact me for a very confidential conversation about stewardship. You may notice that on this year’s dues statement, there is a section for a stewardship contribution if you choose to proceed this way.

The scripture teaches that the greatest joy comes from giving, for “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35) for “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.” Deuteronomy 15:10, Amen.

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Aiming for God’s Righteousness in My Weakness.

Fr. Shnork Souin

II Timothy 2:15-26

[15] Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

[16] Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness,

[17] and their talk will eat its way like gangrene. Among them are Hymenae’us and Phile’tus,

[18] who have swerved from the truth by holding that the resurrection is past already. They are upsetting the faith of some.

[19] But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let every one who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

[20] In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for noble use, some for ignoble.

[21] If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work.

[22] So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.

[23] Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.

[24] And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing,

[25] correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth,

[26] and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

God’s Strength is Manifest in my weakness.

For all I’ve been through over the past four months, some of the darkest hours have blossomed into the greatest blessings. I recognize fully that the horrors of losing a month of my life and being in a state of confusion and uncertainty due to the massive amounts of drugs and narcotics to keep me sedated have truly served to strengthen my resolve and my faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. This may seem strange to some people but I pledge with certainty that in fact this whole experience has made me stronger in my faith and has transformed me into a better person, more patient, more kind and probably more compassionate. Additionally, I could say that I am certain that I will be a better husband and a better father as well as a better pastor. The devices that have been placed in my chest which are replacing the pump of my heart from the left and right ventricles, make meI feel better than I have in the past five years. I truly feel like a new man and one who has experienced, at least dimly, the miracle of resurrection. It’s been clearly pointed out to me by many doctors that I was in fact on death’s doorstep. Not only was I very ill when I went into the hospital retaining upwards of 50 pounds of water, due to the weakness of my heart and the ensuing heart failure, but my kidneys were failing as well as my liver. The devices which are placed in my chest have allowed the free flow of oxygenated blood to all the organs of my body, places that were sorely deprived for so long. I have been given a clean bill of health where my organs are concerned and my liver is functioning at practically 100% while my kidneys, which were near complete failure requiring dialysis, are now considered “pristine” by one of my nephrologists at Tufts University Hospital.

What is so exhilarating about having this new lease on life is not only the opportunity to begin to truly enjoy my family and being the kind of husband and father that I always dreamed I could be but that I look forward to continuing my ministry with a renewed sense of passion and purpose. The Epistle reading appointed for today from the hand of St. Paul the apostle tells us to present yourself as one approved and rIghtly handling the word of truth. There is no greater imperative for a pastor and a preacher then to handle God’s word correctly. He even goes on to say that one should avoid useless chatter and controversies but to be gentle in their approach to proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. The promise associated with this imperative is that some might be granted the opportunity to repent and turn to the truth of the Gospel escaping the snare of the devil.

Imagine how challenging it is for one who was called by God to render this miraculous service to the church and to be deprived of this privilege for over a four-month period.

This time has given me the opportunity to take a self-assessment and to psychologically rid myself of those things which are superfluous to faith and in some cases even work against the activity of faith and serving as a hinderance. The apostle says, stay away from stupid controversies and be kind to everyone. In spite of myself, I find that the miracle of faith has given new birth to a sense of peace and love for not only my family and my parish but also for those who are known and unknown or have come into my life recently. When I tell nurses and healthcare workers that I love them and appreciate them I can say with all honesty that I truly mean it from the bottom of my heart. The Miracle with which I have emerged more hole physically than I have been in five years has shown me once again the hand of God in my life. I owe everything to him and I thank him for the honor to share, albeit dimly, in his suffering through my own suffering through which I passed with God’s presence and help. I sense without a doubt that our Lord Jesus was with me every step of the way and continues to sustain me. This experience overall has given me a much stronger resolve to battle against the forces of spiritual enemies, the work of the devil and to arm myself with the shield of faith through which I can accomplish all things in Christ Jesus my Lord. I pray that this Lenten period, which will begin in just a few short days will be a time for even greater reflection and preparation to strengthen our souls in the struggle to ward off evil and to set our minds on good deeds, calling on the Lord from a pure heart.

The Prodigal Son

The story of the Prodigal Son is one not only of repentance but of faith. Conversion is dependent on both repentance and faith which together effects regeneration and with it the new life in Christ. Repentance alone is insufficient as it comprehends not the presence and the energy of the Holy Spirit to effect a life oriented and pleasing to God. Aversion to sin must be accompanied with a desire to turn from sin and to seek the Divine Will and the power of the Holy Spirit. “Godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10), is not mere regret but a desire for regeneration, owing from faith.In essence, the Prodigal Son could not have been redeemed from his lost state by a mere aversion to it, but with a desire for a return to his Father’s home and a yearning for his forgiveness. Maybe unexpected, was the generous outpouring of love with which his father greeted him. The scriptures clearly teach that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”(Luke 15:7) The joy in heaven, is expressed by the Father’s welcome and the feast prepared for his returning son, who says, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”(Luke 15:24)
Regeneration, is therefore not only forgiveness but a new life and the power of the Holy Spirit in transforming our will, strengthening us in our resolve and our desire to live a life of blessed comfort in the presence of God in whom we “move and have our being.”(Acts 17:28) The Lenten journey, continuing today, leads our souls along a path redeemed by Christ’s life and the transforming will of the Holy Spirit.

I’m a survivor by ancestry.

Sometimes you meet someone who says something in a conversation that strikes a chord with you and enlightens the way that you understand yourself.

This morning while getting ready for my day, I was speaking to my nurse who said that she is amazed by how well so many people do who come into rehab with a very positive attitude. She also said that people who tend to be negative and do not see a bright future typically do worse.

I for one have always in all situations been very positive by nature and have always seen the potential for greatness and the possibilities in things that for others may seem impossible. I’ve approached my illness with the same attitude. I went to my first surgery, for an implantation of a Ventricular Assist Device, with great hope and great expectation never having any fear. Clearly My body was so weakened that I had many complications throuout and following the surgery. Having woken up from the surgery and learning that all my muscles had atrophied over the one month of complete sedation and lack of movement, I went about the task of retraining my body and reconditioning my muscles. I was very enthusiastic about the process. I knew and believed that the devices placed in and around my heart, called ventricular assist device, would sustain me and allow oxygenated blood to flow to my organs thus allowing them to heal and to rest. This is in fact what has happened and I joyfully go to my therapy classes 3 to 4 times a day. I have a goal to complete every one of the prescribed exercises to completion. This is how I’ve always been in everything I’ve ever done. (https://www.biblehub.com/philippians/4-13.htm). This has been how I’ve approached sports, education, marriage, parenting and in my pastoral responsibilities.

I see vast improvements over the course of my rehabilitation and progress is made on a daily basis. I appreciate and love those who are caring for me and we have formed wonderful bonds.

This morning the nurse about whom I was referring, after I described my family history and how my parents were always so positive about everything they ever faced, Said “you are clearly a survivor.”

I told her that this was a very interesting and enlightening way of putting it and I explained to her how all four of my grandparents were in fact truly survivors being orphans and losing their entire family in the Genocide perpetrated against the Armenians. All four of them did in fact survive and went on to build new lives and see the children of their children. I have realized that in fact perhaps that survivor instinct may have been and possibly was passed down to my parents and in turn passed on to me.

I am so pleased to tell my friends and faithful of my church that from the perspective of my organs, I have healed and I’m responding extremely well. The process of conditioning my muscles and regaining my tone and ability to return home is coming to a close. I’m scheduled to be returning Home in the next couple of weeks. I’m very excited to resume my life and my ministry and I believe that this entire experience, as frightening and as horrific as it was both for me and for my wife and children, was a gift from God. I never once asked God through my entire illness, which was diagnosed nine years ago, “why me why is this happening“.

I believe and know that my Lord Jesus Christ was with me through the entire process and allowed me the privilege to begin to understand the depth of suffering and the grace which he endured during his passion, crucifixion and burial. He did this on my behalf, for my benefit and salvation. I believe that now having shared in the experience of his presence through this ordeal, He has made me a better person, more patient, more loving, more empathetic for those who are suffering, a better husband, a better father, and finally a better pastor.

I want to thank all of you who sent your love supported me and offered prayers on my behalf. Truly our Father in heaven has responded with kindness and granted me the great privilege of healing in order to continue the precious ministry to which He called me.

May God bless you all. Have a blessed Lord‘s day offering prayer and thanksgiving to the Almighty God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to whom is befitting glory dominion and honor, both now and always onto the end of time, amen.

Fr. Shnork Souin

Saint John wasn’t just seeing things. The feast of the Transfiguration.

In the prologue of his Gospel, John the Beloved Apostle de- scribes his experience in having a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, with the words “we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of God!” (Jn. 1:14)

There is no question that John often experienced the dynamic and divine power of Christ’s Word and Work throughout Jesus’ 3 year ministry, culminating in His glorious victory of death and burial, but, the denouement however, could easily be seen as the extraordinary and supernatural experience, of beholding Christ’s glory revealed on Mt. Tabor at His Trans guration where “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a ash of lightning.” This was an ominous wake up call for John and the 2 other disciples who had grown weary of climbing the mountain following a very taxing ministry in the Galilean countryside, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and proclaiming the Lord’s favor to the broken hearted. No doubt, this personal encounter with Christ’s glory was truly an awesome and transformative experience!

While John, along with Peter and James, overcome with the experience and vision of Christ’s Trans guration would have stayed up on the mountain, mesmerized by Jesus’ glory, they were in fact themselves transformed in the power of that experience and enabled to apprehend the commission to go and become the Lord’s witnesses. Dear beloved, we are all Christ’s disciples and are all recipients of the same wake up call. We have seen his glory!

Every Sunday is a confrontation with the glory of Christ, the manifestation of His power and the experience of a personal relationship with Him. Gaze upon His radiance, receive His light, be transformed by His gifts. Come see, “the glory as of the Only Begotten of God, full of grace and truth.

Sunday of the Unjust Judge

                God is long suffering and patient.  He seeks our salvation.  It is for this reason that He is not always quick to answer our prayers or even to necessarily answer them the way we’d like.  This does not always seem clear to us.  How many people have lost heart and grown unsure of God’s concern for their welfare?

                It is so important that we learn to be not only persistent, but faithful in our prayers.   We must never lose heart.  The widow in the parable stands as a symbol of humanity which feels itself weak and appeals to God for comfort.  The difference, of course is that while the widow incessantly pleads for justice from the unrighteous judge, the sinner pleads for mercy from the Righteous Judge.  

                We too, like the widow, must be persistent not only in our prayers but in believing that out of His infinite love for us and in His eternal mercy, God will vindicate our trust in Him.  

                In the parable, even the impious, unfaithful and impudent judge submits, eventually, to the persistence of the widow!  How much more will our Righteous Judge avenge His servants who call upon Him day and night?  This does not mean that we merely must remain vigilant in prayer, but to be expectant and to trust our God with perfect faith, and to remain in our service to Him. 

                What an encouragement for us sinners, the parable is, especially those who are suffering or persecuted or held in fear, to look with certainty and with expectation upon the day of God’s mercy and His infinite love for us.  

The Renovation and Reopening of Christ’s Tomb

 

After a nine-month period of restoration, the Holy Edicule in which is the very Tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ, an official reopening took place with a very solemn, spiritual and impressive service respite with resounding chant of both the Armenian and Greek orthodox patriarchates, monks and faithful. Of course, the many and various other denominations were well represented and also contributed to the beauty and significance of the historical event.

Only a year ago, it would be hard to imagine that the various groups would be able to work together in harmony to realize the renovation that was so badly needed.  It was even feared that the aedicule itself would eventually collapse form the weight of decay and the passage of so many centuries without reinforcement. There was even a time when pilgrims would chip pieces of the rock and take them away as souvenirs of their pilgrimage.

With the Greek, Armenian and Latin (Roman Catholic) churches working together and in a miraculous feat of solidarity, they were able to celebrate the culmination of efforts on Wednesday March 22nd.

In making the excavations and renovations, a type of miraculous event has occurred which has not been so widely reported. Excavation beneath the layer of concrete over the original slab of Christ’s Tomb, unseen by a human eye for over 700 years, a slab of granite was found, very well worn with a unique and beautiful Cross etched in the middle. This proves that in spite of many doubters who say that the site is not authentic and could not possibly be the site of Christ’s original and authentic tomb, with the passage of time, wars, fires and devastations of many other kinds, this spot was clearly a place of great devotion much earlier than some of the catastrophic events that people site to prove that the location of the site within the Holy Sepulchre (sorry about my Canadian spelling) is questionable.

Having been a pilgrim and having prostrated myself before the Tomb and burial place of Christ, I can assure you that no human words of wisdom or scientific explanation can describe the tremendously profound humility with which you are drawn to your knees on this amazing and sacred site. There is something inexplicable about the very fact that thousands upon thousands of people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and various geographical locations have travelled thousands of miles over many centuries, risking life and limb and every kind of danger to become witnesses of the burial place of Christ.

It is my urgent prayer that as many who desire to travel to the Holy Land and seek to become “mahdesi (one who has seen death)”, have the God given opportunity to do so and to make the pilgrimage. Not only as a Christian but more specifically as an Armenian Christian so that the importance and centrality of our presence in the Holy Land, the Holy Sepulchre, Mount Zion and the Holy Convent within the Armenian Quarter of the Old City, will be a memory and experience that will change your life and your understanding of what you are forever. An Armenian without Christ is lost.

If you would like to make a much-needed donation toward the renovation costs incurred by the Armenian Patriarchate, please go to www.savethetomb.org or call 508-233-2091. savethetomb.org is a mission of the Armenian Church-Eastern Diocese