“Little girl, arise.”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Glory to Jesus Christ!
I was very enthusiastic this morning. I was I excited about the meeting today, and we got up and we had a leak in the toilet and I remembered how fragile this property is here, and I remembered how many other times I’ve gotten up early, always on a Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday and found a leak somewhere. But now I know that I’ve got guys back there who can fix it, right Erik? So I’m not quite as worried.
What I want to talk to you about is our life together. I had a young man, Fred Johnson – and you all know he went to seminary about a year ago this fall, and his wife who is pregnant with their second child – and when he arrived in orientation, two people came up to him. One was a former music teacher, Mr. G., and the other was a _____ who had been an education teacher.
And they said, “We see that you started out at St. Herman’s, and then you came here from Holy Transfiguration. What’s wrong with you?”
“What do you mean?” he said,
“Well, that’s an old dead parish. Why would anybody leave a living, American parish like St. Herman’s and come to an old dead parish, down the ghetto, in the Slavic neighborhood, in the stockyards like Transfiguration?”
And he said, “You know, you guys haven’t kept up over the last 20 years, have you?”
Well, this spring is going to be the 25th anniversary or our being here. We came in 1984, and those of you who are still here to witness can tell people the way that this church was looked on at that time. Now, not by everybody. When I came, and I was looking at the parish, Gary sat down with a pad of paper and he read me about 20 questions, like he was doing an investigation – because, you know, he was a detective – and it made me very happy because it meant the people still had ambitions here and they had an idea what they wanted. Father James said to me, “You know there’s a lot that can happen here. This is a parish with a lot of potential. It just means it’s time for a change in leadership.” And if he hadn’t said that to me I would have figured the place was just a bitter cesspool and I never would have come here.
---Honking outside--- It sounds like the Mary Kay car is protesting.
The wonderful thing has been that as we’ve been here, we’ve seen God bring life to us, and he’s brought life to everyone around us. When I came here, Colorado had six Orthodox churches that were sometimes open that were canonical. Now there’s almost thirty. We had 23 clergy to lunch in our parish hall on Thursday just form this area here. Orthodox clergy. And love has flowed through us far beyond the number of people who fill this temple. God has done wonderful things for us and through us, and it’s not Fr. Joe, and it’s not even the parish council leadership. It’s Christ who did it. And I and Fr. Eugene, and Fr. James are now like Peter, and James, and John who got to go into that room with that little girl who was lying dead on the bed - for everyone thought that her soul had left her body – and watched Jesus bring her back to life. We get to be witnesses and so do you.
When I was thinking about how the crowd laughed at Jesus when he said, “The little girl’s not dead, she’s only asleep,” I was thinking about how another former priest here called me up and said, “Why do you want to go there? It’s a church full of Slavic people, they drink, and it’s down in the stockyards.”
And I said, “Two out of three sounds pretty good to me.”
He wasn’t very happy with that, but later he said to me, “You know, if we’d ever had any idea of what could happen there, we probably would have worked harder.” He said, “It’s not that there was anything wrong with the parish. It was wrong with us.”
Well, God has done marvelous things for us. And I remember the first annual meeting I had, nobody wanted to come because they thought of annual meetings as times – well, the no longer brought guns and bricks in socks, the women no longer put bricks in their purses any longer – but they thought it was a place where you went where there were arguments, and fights, and contention. You know, over the years, out of 25 meetings we’ve probably had five or six provocative questions, and most of the provocateurs have gone away. And so, it’s really a wonderful thing. We come, and we sit, and we let the Holy Spirit show that an extension of our liturgy is when we gather together and we discern God’s will, and we do what’s good. We have now completed the restoration of the building except for the final stages of the iconostasis because Gabriel is a perfectionist and he keeps going over and over it again.
We’ve received many gifts in the last two years. Back in the back is an icon of Our Lady of Puchaia. In Poland, and in Ukraine, almost every large parish has a icon like this that is passed around form home to home, and each family in the parish will take it home for a week and pray in front of the icon and pass it on to their neighbors. And somebody said, “Why do you have it down low like that?” Well, there are two reasons. One, there’s no place else to put it. And the second one is where it’s down there, people now come in and they stand in front of it, and they can kiss, and they can touch it, and we have people who come and say akathists in front of that icon, and they couldn’t do that if it was way up high on the wall. It’s a blessing for us, everyday, God gives us more and more blessings.
Our ambition is not to have a parish with 500 members – that would be more members than we could all know by name. We would have to essentially break into little families instead of being a big family. Our ambition is eventually to build a church that is big enough down here that on Sunday, all the people who want to come here could. You know, the Eritreans told me they come here for baptisms, and they come here for weddings, and they said to me, “We have about 50 people who would be here every week, but we know that if we came like that every week there wouldn’t be any room for the people who keep this church going.” But they said, “When you get a bigger church, we’ll be there every week.” So we know that there are people who would like to be here but just plain don’t fit. But that will happen in God’s time, and I don’t have to see that building go up for me to know it will happen, because God put it in our hearts that someday there will be a large temple near this. But this will always be the cathedral. This will always be the place where that little band of people from the Balkans – of buchavenians, and of Carpatho-Russ, and Serbs from Croatia, and Ukrainians from Muldova came here and built this building by mortgaging their homes and then began to pray here.
We are like that little girl who everyone else thought was dead, and who Christ touched and said, “Talitha koum! Little girl, arise.” But I want you think about this, even though we’re 110 years old, we’re just barely out of our adolescence. We’re just pretty much kids. And now God’s called us to mature, to grow in missionary zeal, in purpose, and intention, in vision, and to do wonderful grown up things for him. I’m sure one of the fathers wrote what happened to Jairus’s daughter after she grew up, but I haven’t read that; I don’t know. But I’m certain that having been brought back from the dead by our Lord, she never forgot the miracle that was working for her. We know what happened to the other person in the crowd. We know what happened to lady who is called, for lack of a better name, Veronica, the lady who had been bleeding for 14 years, who was not able to come into contact with people in public because she was unclean by Jewish law, who did the unthinkable. She reached out and as a woman, as a woman with an issue of blood, as an unclean woman by Jewish understanding, she touched the lower hem of Jesus’ robe and she was healed immediately. We know that after she was healed, she became a martyr of Jesus Christ. She witnessed so that the next time the mystery of blood appeared with her, it was the shedding of her blood in witness to the resurrection.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we worry a lot about things that happen in the world, the country, and with the Muselmen far off, and with ragings among nations, and with the economy, but in good and bad times, in difficult times and in plentiful times, through the depression and through prosperity, God has always offered a liturgy in this holy temple. It is sanctified, not for our pleasure, but for our salvation. It is the embassy of the kingdom of heaven on earth. When we stand here, we do not stand on earth; we stand in heaven. When the royal family of Yugoslavia were exiled in England, the queen was about to have a child and there was a problem because the constitution said the heir to the throne had to be born on Yugoslav soil, and so the queen of England transferred territoriality for that one hotel room where the doctors came from her crown and throne to the crown of Yugoslavia, so that the prince was born in Yugoslavia though it was in down town London. Well, we stand, not in Yugoslavia, not in Moscow, not in Bucharest, but in the heavenly Jerusalem itself right now. God has given us that great gift.
The first time that I came into this building, it was an odd kind of a place. Icons were not hung evenly, plastic had been put over things to keep them from getting dirty and then the plastic had gotten dirty. Sticky, yucky. But do you know what? I didn’t feel, “What a yucky, sticky, crooked place!” The first thing I felt when I stood right here in the middle of this building was coming out, radiating from the walls, the prayers of 85 years of souls who have stood here and offered their lives to God – their needs, their wants, their hurts, their injuries, their joys – and who received his grace here.
So now, as I come on 25 years – Matushka wanted to make sure that we had been here the longest of any other priest, and so we’ll have done that – I want to ask you to join me in saying thank you to God like Jairus and his wife did, like the little girl who was raised from the dead did, like the mocking crowd who stood outside and said, “Who does he think he is? The girl’s dead.” I want you to give thanks with me like that woman who had suffered pain, and hemorrhage, and isolation, and with one touch of the border of Jesus’ robe felt the healing begin in her. Let this be the beginning of our healing, the beginning of our maturity, not the end of the last chapter, but the end of the first.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, glory to Jesus Christ!