Monday, June 26, 2017

August 2, 2017 Book Discussion: Becoming a Healing Presence


Our next book discussion will be on Becoming a Healing Presence  by Albert S. Rossi, PhD.  The discussion will follow the 6:00 P.M.  Service of the Paraklesis on August 2, 2017  in the Church courtyard.
To get a good sense of what this book is about, we have posted here the powerful foreword by the late Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko. Fr. Hopko was the Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir's Seminary:
Al Rossi  and I can’t recall exactly how I became his and his wife Gay’s spiritual father and confessor. It happened when Gay was diagnosed with breast cancer that soon metastasized into bone cancer. Their spiritual father, who was also one of their closest personal friends, thought it would be best for me to take over his pastoral service at this crucial time. But how it actually worked itself out still remains a bit of a mystery to both of us.

I had seen the Rossi family many times at liturgical services and other events at St. Vladimir’s Seminary (their home was a five-minute walk from the school), but my wife and I had not come to know them more than casually. I was serving a church in New York City around that time, and was also often away from the school, especially on weekends, attending to other duties.

It also happened about this same time that I was in charge of a retreat for young people at the seminary. Al had been invited to lead several sessions. At one of them he had the ­participants answer some questions and do certain exercises about their extended families, their childhood, their upbringing, their experience in the Church, their favorite films, books, music, etc. They did this in writing, just for themselves, to serve as a springboard to their discussions. They were not obliged to share with Al what they had written.

Being at the retreat, I decided to do what Al asked the participants to do. When I thanked Al at the end of the day for his good work, which I saw had a powerful impact on the young people, I handed him what I had written. “Have a look at this,” I asked him, “and, if you wish, tell me what you think of it.”

A few days later, I met Al on the seminary campus. He told me that he’d read what I wrote and thought it would be helpful for us to talk about it, adding with a tantalizing smile, “but this time on my turf.” I eagerly agreed and began visiting Al at his office once a week. Our regularly scheduled meetings went on for more than a year. Since then we have continued to meet, speak, work, and pray together in countless ways. We were each in dire need of what the other had to offer, and still are. And so was Gay. But little did we know at the time how much the two of us needed her, and still do, in our spiritual lives.

The compelling tasks facing us from the beginning of our work together were Al and Gay’s marriage and Gay’s struggle with excruciatingly painful bone cancer. Their family life was in dreadful condition. Gay was indescribably angry and unhappy, and so, in turn, was Al. Their kids were caught in the middle of it. Their history, individually and together, was the most complicated and painful story I ever encountered. It was also, for me at that time, the most incredible. I had virtually no understanding of almost anything that either of them had been through from their childhood and youth and life together, both before and after they found themselves a married couple with two beautiful children in the Orthodox Church—which situation, despite its many graces and joys, was itself hardly an easy, smooth, or painless experience.

The one thing that bound Al and me together in the most intimate spiritual communion was our devotion to God’s Gospel in Jesus Christ as witnessed in the Church’s Scriptures and offered by God’s grace to our living experience (fragile, flawed, and sinful though we be) by Christ and the Holy Spirit in the liturgical worship, sacramental life, doctrinal teachings, and spiritual counsels of the saints of the Orthodox Church.

Gay Rossi’s agonizing journey, and ours with her, by which we were purified and illumined by God’s grace, was in every way a perfect example of the truth of the psalmist’s exclamations: “Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I keep Thy Word. . . . It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes. . . . If Thy law had not been my delight, I should have perished in my afflictions. I will never forget Thy precepts, for by them Thou hast given me life. I am Thine, save me!” (Psalm 119:67, 72, 92–94).

This book, Becoming a Healing Presence, tells a vivid story of going into one’s heart to find Christ, and then going out from one’s heart to allow Christ to heal others through us. I am grateful to have been part of the healing of Gay Rossi and the subsequent impact her healing had on Al and the writing of this little book. I would say that every word in the book you, the reader, are holding in your hands could have an impact on you to become more of a healing presence. If you read the book, you will come to see it for yourself—if you have eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind willing to understand, and a heart ready to obey.

As Gay was progressively being cleansed, illumined, and saved by God’s grace through what she was suffering in flesh and spirit, she began to say, “I’m determined to die healthy.” Because she achieved her goal by the Lord’s power, she and Al became the healing presence they now are for those desiring to be healed who are ready to count the cost and pay the price for this precious gift of God in His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the Church.

In our last conversation before she died, I asked Gay the most important questions. “Gay,” I asked, “What do you now say about God?”

She replied simply, “I worship God.”

And I went on, “And why do you do so?”

She responded, again so simply, “Because I have come to know love.”

I then said to her, “And what about Al?”

Her answer was firm and clear: “I see Al veiled in light.”

I was present when Gay fell asleep in the Lord. She was breathing laboriously, as dying people do. We were reading psalms. Or simply standing in silence. Sometimes someone said a few words. Then, without warning, I suddenly began to cry. This was not at all like me, as those who knew me then would surely testify. Shortly after I stopped weeping, which took some time, Gay breathed her last and gave her life to God.

Later Al said to me in regard to this unexpected incident at her deathbed, “You know, Father Tom, I just bet that Gay decided not to die until you wept.”

I responded, “You know, Al, it would be just like her to do so.”

I drove home from the hospital after Gay’s death listening to Nana Mouskouri singing that it is only love that changes everything. How true this is! Yet we must all come to know by experience what, or more precisely, who, this Love is. Al and his Gay help us here to do so. How grateful we should be to them, and to our Lord, for the invaluable gift of this little book.

 Please note: It is strongly recommended to discuss spiritual literature with your father confessor, or spiritual father or mother

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Weekly Lent Book Discussion: Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives & Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece

Orthodox Book Discussion

Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives & Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece

Weekly Lent Book Discussions Beginning March 1, 2017

In an age obsessed with psychology, medicine, and human solutions to spiritual problems, the ancient ministry of the god-bearing elder is a divine gift to contemporary man. Termed the "golden chain" by St. Symeon the New Theologian, this life-giving ministry of the Church is a precious inheritance passed down from Christ, through the Apostles, from one generation to the next, to our own day. The lives and counsels contained in this volume attest to the continued vitality of this ancient ministry and to the importance of its preservation for the life of the Church today. -from the back cover

From the Bookseller:
This volume presents the lives and counsels of eight contemporary Elders of Greece: Amphilochios of Patmos, Epiphanios of Athens, Iakovos of Evia, Joseph the Hesychast, Paisios the Athonite, Philotheos of Paros, Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia, and George of Drama. The text includes extensive commentaries on the lives and counsels, detailed maps, and a glossary of theological terms, making it an invaluable source of spiritual orientation and enlightenment for every seeker of Christian Orthodoxy.
Each Wednesday during Lent the church community will meet after the 6 P.M. Liturgy of Presantified gifts for a Lenten pot-luck dinner in the taverna. Following dinner, we will discuss a few chapters of Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit, available in both the bookstore and church library.
Our first meeting will be March 1. Join us for evenings that are sure to deepen your Lenten experience!


Please note: discussions of spiritual material with your father confessor, spiritual father or mother are strongly encouraged.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

January 17, 2017 Losing Susan --Author Presentation and Book Signing

Orthodox Book Discussion
January 24, 2017 7:00 P.M. Church Parlor
Losing Susan --Author Presentation
The Annunciation Library Book Discussion Group is pleased to  announce that it is hosting author Rev. Victor Lee Austin  for a presentation and book signing for his memoir, Losing Susan.

From the bookseller:
The Story of Brain Disease and the Priest's Wife

This is the story of Susan--a wife, mother, Christian believer, lover of children, writer of stories, and woman of extraordinary intellect. Susan was diagnosed with a brain tumor in her late thirties. Although it was successfully treated, the process led to her slow, unending decline.

In this personal story of love and loss, Rev. Victor Lee Austin shares how caring for his wife during her painful struggle with brain cancer and its aftereffects brought him face-to-face with his God and with his faith in unsettling ways. God gave Rev. Austin what his heart most desired--marriage to Susan--then God took away what he had given. Yet God never withdrew his presence. Weaving together autobiographical details and profound theological insights, this powerful narrative shows that we are called to turn to God in the face of suffering.

The Rev. Dr. Victor Austin is serving the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas as Theologian-in-Residence. Rev. Austin is a priest-scholar with background in both the parish ministry and the academic world. As a priest in the diocese of New York, Austin has served since 2005 as Theologian-in-residence at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue. Prior to that, from 1989 to 2003 he was rector of the Church of the Resurrection, Hopewell Junction; and before that, he was curate of Zion Church in Wappingers Falls--all in New York. He is a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the General Theological Seminary, New York City, and he earned his Ph.D. in theology from Fordham University in 2002. 

In the academic world, Austin was assistant professor of religious studies, philosophy, and theology at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, Pennsylvania. He has also taught on the adjunct faculty of Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York; Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, New York; and Fordham University and the General Theological Seminary.
His theological interests are wide-ranging, but his particular focus is in Christian ethics. 
  
Losing Susan is now available in the church bookstore and library. 


Saturday, September 10, 2016

October 13, 2016 Book Discussion: An Inner Step Toward God: Writings and Teachings on Prayer


An Inner Step Toward God: Writings and Teachings on Prayer by Father Alexander Men
From the book seller:

This book is for any Christian who desires a more regular prayer practice and a deeper connection with God. Available for the first time in English, this collection of Father Alexander Men's prayers and teachings and writings on prayer center on the theme of taking "an inner step of faith" toward God. Many topics are covered including prayer as loving response to God, the body and prayer, prayer as sacramental encounter, meditation in prayer, and exercises that may enhance prayer.
Father Alexander Men (1935-1990_ was a popular Russian Orthodox priest, author of Son of Man, and spiritual teacher in the former USSR. After his high profile murder in 1990, his legacy has continued to grow in Russia and around the world. For many years, translator Christa Belyaeva lived in Moscow, where she converted to Orthodoxy and worshipped at the Church of the Dormition with people who knew Fr. Alexander personally.
Those new to Orthodoxy as well as cradle Orthodox can find joy from this book as it is a helpful guide to a more meaningful prayer life. An Inner Step Toward God is now available in the church bookstore and library.  The Book Discussion will be held at 7:00, October 13, 2016 in the church parlor

Please note: Discussions of spiritual material with your father confessor, spiritual father or mother are always strongly encouraged.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

August 10 Book Discussion: The Global War on Christians

For the third consecutive year, the book discussion group has committed to selecting a book that focuses on the plight of the most persecuted group in the world, Christians. The selection this year is The Global War on Christians. This book is timely for many reasons, the newest reason being the introduction of Ramadan prayers in Hagia Sophia.

From the bookseller:
One of the most respected journalists in the United States and the bestselling author of The Future Church uses his unparalleled knowledge of world affairs and religious insight to investigate the troubling worldwide persecution of Christians.
 
From Iraq and Egypt to Sudan and Nigeria, from Indonesia to the Indian subcontinent, Christians in the early 21st century are the world's most persecuted religious group. According to the secular International Society for Human Rights, 80 percent of violations of religious freedom in the world today are directed against Christians. In effect, our era is witnessing the rise of a new generation of martyrs. Underlying the global war on Christians is the demographic reality that more than two-thirds of the world's 2.3 billion Christians now live outside the West, often as a beleaguered minority up against a hostile majority-- whether it's Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, Hindu radicalism in India, or state-imposed atheism in China and North Korea. In Europe and North America, Christians face political and legal challenges to religious freedom. Allen exposes the deadly threats and offers investigative insight into what is and can be done to stop these atrocities.
 
“This book is about the most dramatic religion story of the early 21st …century,: The global war on Christians,” writes John Allen. “We’re not talking about a metaphorical ‘war on religion’ in Europe and the United States, fought on symbolic terrain such as whether it’s okay to erect a nativity set on the courthouse steps, but a rising tide of legal oppression, social harassment and direct physical violence, with Christians as its leading victims.”


Join us for a discussion of this very important book. The discussion will be held Wednesday, August 10 after the 6:00 P.M. Paraklesis Service to the Theotokos. 

Please note: In accordance with the wisdom of the Church mothers and fathers, we strongly encourage discussions of spiritual material with your father confessor or spiritual father or mother.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Weekly Lenten Book Discussion Beginning March 16, 2016

Lenten Orthodox Book Discussion
Wednesdays during Lent after the Presantified
Beginning March 16, 2016
When one thinks of St. Isaac the Syrian, one thinks of God’s love. In The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, we will become acquainted with the spirituality of this amazing saint. His emphasis on “luminous” love is so timely in this world that is so torn by tragedy and sadness.
In the foreword, written by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, we are given a hint of the treasures that lie ahead. Here are a few excerpts:
Isaac the Syrian, also called Isaac of Nineveh, lived and wrote during "the golden age of Syriac Christian literature" in the seventh century. Cut off by language and politics from the Churches of the Roman Empire and branded "Nestorian," the Church of the East produced in isolation a rich theological literature which is only now becoming known to outsiders. Yet over the centuries and in all parts of Christendom, Isaac's works have been read and recommended as unquestionably orthodox.
Now, at last, to my great delight, we have at our disposal a single book in English, offering us a balanced and comprehensive overview of Isaac's life, background and teaching. Wisely, Fr. Hilarion Alfeyev has allowed Isaac to speak for himself. The book is full of well-chosen quotations, in which Isaac's true voice can be heard.
Saint Isaac of Syria was an ascetic, a mountain solitary, but his writings are universal in scope. They are addressed not just to the desert but to the city, not just to monastics but to all the baptized. With sharp vividness he speaks about themes relevant to every Christian: about repentance and humility, about prayer in its many forms, both outer and inner, about solitude and community, about silence, wonder, and ecstasy. Along with the emphasis that he places upon "luminous love"—to use his own phrase—two things above all mark his spiritual theology: his sense of God as living mystery; and his warm devotion to the Savior Christ.

 Each Wednesday during Lent the church community will meet after the Liturgy of Presantified Gifts for a Lenten pot-luck dinner in the taverna. Following dinner, Father Christos will lead a discussion of a few chapters of The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian. The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian is available in the church bookstore and library.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

January 21, 2016 Book Discussion: How Dante Can Save Your Life

One way to break up the monotony of cold weather is to encounter a book that takes one on a journey. The book selection for January, 2016 is one such book; however, the journey has a destination that is not in this physical world! How Dante Can Save Your Life takes the reader on a unique spiritual journey of a contemporary Orthodox Christian man. His travel itinerary was inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. No, it is not necessary to have read The Divine Comedy to find enjoyment and meaning from this book!

Here is how the book is described from the book cover:

'Dante Alighieri had done all the right things, according to the story of his culture. He had written beautiful poems that won him fame and respect. He married and had children, and he was a man of the church, faithful to his God. Later he took up political leadership in his city and tried to govern justly, even when it meant sending his trouble-making best friend into exile. And what had this gotten him? He lost everything: his wealth, his power, and his family. If he hadn't fled into exile, Dante would have lost his life.
       Few of us will suffer a fall from grace quite like Dante's, but our day will assuredly come. Loss of a loved one, betrayal, divorce, bankruptcy, addiction, personal or professional failures, depression, a health crisis--whatever loss or tragedy befalls you-- it will provoke a crisis from which you may feel you will never recover.
        Rod Dreher was in the midst of such a personal crisis  when he came across The Divine Comedy while wandering through a bookstore. Finding himself "in a dark wood," he read the 700-year-old poem. The life-changing wisdom of this medieval masterpiece launched Dreher on a spiritual and intellectual journey that helped him see the mistakes that had devastated him, and showed him that he had the power to change his life. (He eventually converted to Orthodoxy.)
           History's greatest poem provides an inspired road map for the journey of the soul toward goodness and describes the recognition and rejection of sin... Dante told his patron that he wrote  The Divine Comedy to bring readers from misery to happiness. "

        Join us to discuss Orthodox perspectives on  How Dante Can Save Your Life.  How Dante Can Save Your Life  is now available in the church bookstore and library. It makes a great Christmas gift!

        The book discussion will be held January 21, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. in the church parlor. Check your email for cancellations in the event of a snow storm.

Please note: If you cannot attend the book discussion, in accordance with the wisdom of the Church mothers and fathers, we strongly encourage discussions of spiritual material with your father confessor or spiritual father or mother.