By His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
On the Seventh Sunday of Luke
Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church
Toms River, New Jersey
November 6, 2022
My beloved sisters and brothers in the Lord,
Fifty Years ago, this month of November, your elders came together to bring to reality the dream of a Greek Orthodox Church here in Toms River. You are the fruits of their labors, their sacrifices, and the living experience of their dream.
I am so glad to be with you today for this special commemoration – first in the Divine Liturgy, and then at the celebratory banquet that will follow our worship.
The fifty years since that first meeting on Washington Street have seen enormous gains, and some painful losses for the community. I have heard from many clergy and laity of the nearly two decades of spiritual leadership by the ever-memorable Father Dean Martin, who was beloved by all who knew him. Among the clergy, his name is still spoken of with great affection, as he was a larger-than-life personality – someone who brought joy and humor, love and deep commitment, to ministry.
Now, as you celebrate your golden jubilee, you will commence writing the next volume in the story of your wonderful Saint Barbara Parish.
In Scripture, the number fifty is considered very sacred. As you know, it is seven times seven, plus one. Seven is a number of completion, and fifty is a number of redemption. For the Israelites of old, it is the number of days after the first Passover and their flight from Egypt. It is Pentecost, the day when God delivered the Law – the Ten Commandments – into the hands of Moses. For the New Israel, Pentecost means the fiftieth day after the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, when He fulfilled “the promise of the Father,” to grant unto His Disciples to receive power, when the Holy Spirit should come upon them.[*]
And the timespan of fifty years – the very thing we celebrate today – is called a jubilee, or, in the Greek of the Septuagint, ἀφέσεως σημασία, which means, “the signal of release or forgiveness.”[†] It is a special observance of redemption: when debts were forgiven, people returned home, the land was allowed to heal, and slaves were set free.
What a way to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of your parish! To forgive the debts of others as God forgives yours. To return to your spiritual home, to center yourselves on the profound truths of our faith. A time to allow the environments of your lives to heal – to realign yourselves with the purposes of your Creator. And to set yourselves free from anything that hinders your spiritual progress in love, life and liberty. To be slaves to nothing, and to be servants and ministers of all.
My beloved Christians,
This happy milestone in the life of Saint Barbara’s is an extraordinary time for all of you to reassess your lives and the life of your parish. It is truly wonderful to look back on the past, and to remember with love and affection all those who came before you and made this community possible.
But it is also a time to look to the future, and to recognize that this is the year of jubilee, the year when you can relax and let go of all those emotional, psychological, mental and spiritual burdens that weigh you down and keep you from being your best selves and living your best lives.
In ancient Israel, the year of jubilee was announced by the blowing of a trumpet – ἐν φωνῇ σάλπιγγος, as the Greek says. Today, as we worship together in this Divine Liturgy, let every chant, every Kyrie Eleison, every praise and doxology to God, be the sound of that trumpet. Let its voice be heard in your spiritual hearing. Let it resound in your heart, soul and mind.
It says that at the Day of Pentecost – the Fiftieth Day after Pascha, and the Three-Day Rising of the Lord, there was the “sound of a mighty wind.”[‡] Or maybe it will be just a “still, small voice,” as was heard by the Prophet Elias.[§]
In either case, or in anything else that you attend to in your hearts, it truly is the signal of forgiveness.
May it then bring to you, and to all the members of this parish, the cleansing and forgiveness that makes you shine with love and compassion.
Through the prayers of the Holy Great-Martyr Barbara and all the Saints.