We are found in the season of Thanksgiving when we offer gratitude to God as a nation and as individuals for His blessing and love for us. Today, November 21st our Church celebrates a unique feast of gratitude, the Entry of the Theotokos to the Temple.
Joachim and Anna were childless for many years. They promised God that if they had a child, the child would be given to the service of God in the Temple. At three years of age, Joachim and Anna offered Mary to God in thanksgiving and fulfilled their promise.
Zacharias led Mary into the Holy of Holies, where the High Priest would enter only once a year. No one else was allowed to enter. Zacharias was led by the Holy Spirit to take the three-year-old child into this most sacred area of the Temple. The significance of the act was that God was preparing his vessel, his bridge, his new Temple, Mary, in order for His Son to enter the world.
She was led into the Holy of Holies, because God was telling the world that Mary would become the new Temple. Mary became the new temple because she bore God for nine months. She was his physical temple, for she gave Christ her flesh, her blood and her bones, which replaced the wood, metal and stone of the Temple.
In the Temple, Mary prepared herself to become the Mother of God. The Entry of Theotokos marks the fulfillment of the promise of Joachim and Anna to give Mary to God as an act of thanksgiving.
This Thursday we will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. In the first year the Pilgrims landed in America, half of them died from lack of food and a severe winter. The Indians taught them to plant corn, which prepared them and helped sustain them for the following. In 1621, Governor William Bradford, wanted to set aside a day of feasting and prayer in thanksgiving to God for surviving the winter.
The settlers invited the Indians to this meal to give thanks to God for their many blessings. The Pilgrims recognized God as the Giver of all good things and offered him thanksgiving and gratitude.
On Stewardship Sunday, we will be called upon to express our thanksgiving and gratitude to God, like Joachim and Anna and the Pilgrim Fathers. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." God gave, by setting the ultimate example, and encourages us to experience the joy of giving. He asks us to give in order to continue his work on earth by supporting his Church.
Our goal as a parish should be to support the entire Ministries and Operating Budget through the Christian Stewardship Program. We should be responsible to support fully the work of Christ at our Church. We invite you today to help us reach 100% of our goal by increasing your giving "not until it hurts," but "until it feels good."
If we increase our giving each year, as the Lord has blessed us, then we will keep pace with inflation and support and grow all our programs through Stewardship.
A pastor once said to his congregation: "My friends, it takes faith to make the church walk!" They shouted, "Let it walk, Pastor, let it walk." He went on, "Brethren, it takes love to make the church run!" They shouted, "Let it run, Pastor, let it run." "Beloved," he continued, "it takes money to make the church fly." Back came the answer: "Let it walk, Pastor, let it walk."
In Byzantine icons the angels are pictured with wings to denote the speed with which they fly to carry out God's will. I'm sure we can all try to imitate the angels in this respect. The Church should not walk or run; it should fly like the angels, because its purpose is to promote and expand the love of Christ among us.
Whether the Church walks, runs or flies depends on how well we have prepared. Joachim and Anna prepared to fulfill their promise by dedicating Mary’s life. The Pilgrims prepared by following the advice of the Indians to plant for the coming year. Each was thankful for the blessings bestowed upon them.
We, as Orthodox Christians, have much to be thankful for. Yet, how well have we prepared? God‘s love is abundantly evident as we look around us.
Stewardship is the privilege of responding to God's love with thanksgiving and gratitude. Today, we have the great privilege of assisting Christ by our 2005 Christian Stewardship Commitment. We have the privilege of participating in spreading the good news of his love now and in future generations. Look at the young people in our Church feed the little and big sheep of his flock.
At the Liturgy the Priests offers the gifts of bread and wine saying: "Your own gifts, from your own, we offer to you."
All we are and have are a gift from God. All is His. We are merely the stewards, the managers of the time, talent and treasures He has given to us.
I ask that you prayerfully decide the portion of God's gifts to you that you will offer to His Church through the Christian Stewardship Program of our Parish.
Reverend Alexander G. Leondis