What a special celebration our Saints Constantine and Helen Church Family enjoyed last weekend! After postponing our 100th Anniversary Celebration twice because of COVID, we finally concluded our centennial celebration when 190 of us gathered for a Gala celebration. We missed those who didn’t come but we truly rejoiced with all who were present. What a beautiful evening for our loving community!
We honored the forebearers of our Church with a beautiful 27-minute video remembering all that our past generations did to create this community and pass on the torch of faith to the next generations. The first Greeks and Albanians came to Webster in the early 1900s and established their church in 1919. These original Southern European immigrants were treated poorly and often despised by American society, and yet they assimilated into the American life while preserving and passing on their heritage and faith. We expressed deep gratitude for them and their legacy!
We celebrated who we are today – a diverse family made up of fourth and fifth generation of children from the original founders of the church as well the numerous new people and families who have joined our community – faithful from a variety of ethnic Orthodox backgrounds (Greeks, Albanians, Romanians, Russians, Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians, Ethiopians) who found a home with us as well as the numerous converts who have either been baptized or chrismated and have become Orthodox Christians. The diversity of our Church family reflects the beautiful and special flavor of who we are.
During our celebration, we didn’t want to simply remember the past or lift up the present. We also turned our eyes to the future. The blessed yet serious responsibility of carrying the torch of faith and passing it on to a new generation is now ours. We have this special privilege to discover and live out the treasure of our Orthodox Christian faith while we also proclaim it to the world around us.
One fairly recent convert to the faith told me after the Gala that the reflections on the past made him realize how this past is now his past, that he is a part of this history. He has been grafted onto the vine of Jesus Christ and His Holy Church. Not only the 100 year history of Saints Constantine and Helen Church in Webster is his, but more importantly the 2000 year history of Christianity is his. This legacy and treasure is his legacy and treasure, these roots are now his roots, and it is now his responsibility, along with all of us, to carry the torch of faith and to pass it on to the next generation in society!
What a sobering, humbling thought. It is now our turn, each one of us. It is now our responsibility not simply to pass on an archaic tradition – a museum piece – but to discover for ourselves and to live out in its fullest the living reality of Jesus Christ Risen from the dead and then to joyously pass on the life-transformative power that faith in Christ gives to others and the world around us.
This is the priceless faith that people died for in past generations. This is the immeasurable treasure that people gave up everything in their life to embrace and hold. This is the living faith that transformed terrible sinners into saints, that healed people whose lives which were broken and gave new life to those who were lost. This is the faith that has given ultimate meaning to millions of people throughout history!
We surely live in challenging times when much of our society is forgetting and turning away from God. Many people are distracted by the alluring pleasures and superficial pursuits of the day. Our secular society compartmentalizes faith and marginalizes the influence of communities of faith more and more.
We all have friends who have little authentic, life-changing experience of faith and no contact with any community of faith. Too many of our young adults, teens and children literally know nothing about faith and have little to no experience of the beauty of a sincere faith community. Our society seems quite confused and lost in many ways.
This is where vibrant, healthy Churches and communities of faith come in! We can offer an experience of love and acceptance, of light and joy, of meaning and purpose. Communities of faith have always played a central role in the history of our country and throughout all cultures of the world, and they can continue to play this essential function.
We may lament the challenging reality we face in society today, or we can look at it as a wonderful opportunity for us to shine the light of Christ in a darkened and chaotic world. I want to dare our Church Family, to challenge each one of us, to truly act as light-bearers who bring the Good News of hope and the eternal joy which our Risen Lord Jesus Christ has ushered into the world.
As we see a decline in religious commitment throughout society, may we never forget that God is ultimately in control. He is the “One who is, who was, and who is to come, the Lord Almighty.” Christ is the light of the world, the bread of life, the living water that quenches our thirsty souls. We never need to get discouraged. We simply must strive to stay faithful to our Lord and act as His ambassadors in this world. We are called to rejoice each day with gratitude and thanksgiving, to see the beauty of life all around us, to bring the joy of the Lord to all people, and to continue acting as light bearers in the world!
Let us reflect on last week and rejoice on our 100 year celebration with deep gratitude! Yet let us accept the sober and serious responsibility to become the new torchbearers of faith in our present world. Let us live every day with the joy of our Risen Lord Jesus, in this blissful Paschal season, acting as a divine lighthouse, a spiritual hospital, a sacred oasis, and an ark of salvation in Webster, throughout Massachusetts and northeast Connecticut and to all the world!
Christ is Risen!