Archbishop Daniel Visited St. Anthony of the Desert Mission of the UOC of the USA, Las Cruces New Mexico
Archbishop Daniel Visited St. Anthony of the Desert Mission of the UOC of the USA, Las Cruces New Mexico

Архиєпископ Даниїл Відвідав Українську Православну Місію в Лас Крусес, Нова Мексика

On Saturday evening April 17th Fr. Gabriel Rochelle presided over Great Vespers, held outside on the grounds of St. Andrews Episcopal Church, because the chapel is still cordoned off and limited in seating due to the ongoing Covid-19 alerts in the State of New Mexico. 

Some twenty people attended the outdoor service, at the conclusion of which His Eminence Archbishop Daniel brought greetings to the parish family and spoke about commitment to Christ as basic to our faith.  Due to the Covid restrictions, no meal was held as usual, but many people stayed to visit with Vladyka after the conclusion of Vespers.

On Sunday April 18th, the Fifth Sunday of Lent commemorating St. Mary of Egypt, the congregation gathered in the parish hall for the Divine Liturgy at 9:30 AM.  We have had to be creative in our use of space during this time and the parish hall has proven to be ample in space on most weekends.  Despite the absence of some regular members due to precautions over the virus, thirty-nine people were in attendance. 

The Liturgy was preceded by the joyous occasion of the tonsuring and setting aside of Seminarian of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary Christopher Encapera as Subdeacon.  Christopher and his wife Dr. Kim and their two children, Isobel and Ruby, are long-time members of the mission; Christopher is on the verge of finishing the MA in Applied Orthodox Theology at St. Sophia Seminary.

In his sermon, Archbishop Daniel stated: “… We read in the Epistle lesson today: "... HOW MUCH MORE SHALL THE BLOOD OF CHRIST...PURIFY YOUR CONSCIENCE." What is that inner voice in each of us called conscience?  How did it get there?  Is there anyone behind it?  What is its purpose?  Why does it have the power to make our lives on earth heaven or hell?

In his letter to the Romans St. Paul says:  "WHEN THE GENTILES WHO HAVE NOT THE LAW DO BY NATURE WHAT THE LAW REQUIRES, THEY ARE A LAW THEMSELVES, EVEN THOUGH THEY DO NOT HAVE THE LAW.  THEY SHOW THAT WHAT THE LAW REQUIRES IS WRITTEN ON THEIR HEARTS, WHILE THEIR CONSCIENCE ALSO BEARS WITNESS..."  For St. Paul the world was divided into two classes of people:

  • the Jews who had the law given to them directly by God in written from, and
  • the Gentiles who, although they did not have the written law, nevertheless had a God-implanted instinctive knowledge of right and wrong within their hearts.

Both would be judged by God, says Paul.  The Jew on the basis of the written law; the Gentile on the basis of the law that was written not on tablets or books but in the heart, i.e. the conscience…

… When a person sins, conscience reacts like a broken bone.  As a broken bone hurts because it is not where it ought to be, so conscience hurts and pains us when it is not where it ought to be - a right relationship with God.  The deed we did, the word we said, the harm we caused, the good we might have done -- all these are brought back by conscience to trouble us.  But why?  For what reason?  Does God wish to inflict misery upon us?  NO!  That's not the kind of God we believe in.  God allows conscience to trouble us for one reason: to awaken us, to bring us to repentance, to guide us to a better way. 

A hurt conscience is God speaking to us, telling us that we have denied life (we have denied HIM).  What pain is to the body (a warning that something is wrong, urging us to seek medical help), that is what a hurt conscience is to the soul (urging us to seek spiritual help). One of the great doctors of our church, Venerable Maximos the Confessor says it very simply.  "DO NOT DISHONOR YOUR CONSCIENCE, WHICH ALWAYS GIVES YOU EXCELLENT ADVICE, FOR IT OFFERS YOU DIVINE ADVICE."  St. John Climacus or John of the Ladder as he is better known in the Church, says: “AFTER GOD, LET US HAVE CONSCIENCE AS OUR AIM AND RULE FOR EVERYTHING."

But here is where our Tradition differs from the tradition of the society we live in regarding conscience today.  The Orthodox Christian Tradition clearly states that conscience by itself is not a safe guide.  It cannot stand by itself.  It needs to be developed and sensitized by training.  Conscience is a safe guide only when it is properly educated or "formed" as the west would say and safely guided by the Holy Spirit.  Conscience needs to be educated as to what is good and what is evil.  This is the role of the Christian Community - THE CHURCH.  It is the teaching of Christian community, the Church with her 2000 year old tradition that educates the conscience and enables us to depend on it to make the right judgements.  It is the Church's job (all of us) to help us keep our conscience in tune.  Unless we tune our conscience in to God often, it will give us wrong or flat signals.  It will become a false conscience. 

"...HOW MUCH MORE SHOULD THE BLOOD OF CHRIST PURIFY YOUR CONSCIENCE"  says the writer of our Epistle today.  We know what conscience can do.  It can guide.  It can warn.  It can instruct. It can bless.  But there is one thing conscience cannot do.  IT CANNOT UNDUE THE WRONG WE HAVE DONE.  IT CANNOT HEAL THE WOUNDS IT INFLICTS.  IT CANNOT FORGIVE SIN.  Only Christ can do that.  And the message of the Epistle today and one of the basic themes of the fifth week of the Great Lent.  ONLY THE BLOOD OF CHRIST CAN PURIFY OUR CONSCIENCE.  ONLY HE CAN FORGIVE AND HEAL AND ERASE THE PAST TO BRING TO CONSCIENCE  “The Peace of God which passes all understanding."

At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, Fr. Gabriel presented Vladyka DANIEL with a new icon from the hand of Sara Harper, a parish member.  This icon of The Birth-Giver of God (Virgin) of Guadalupe is revered by people of Mexican descent and is, therefore, popular in the American Southwest and especially in New Mexico.  Vladyka DANIEL blessed the icon which will be placed on the wall of his office at the Spiritual Center/Metropolia of the UOC of the USA in South Bound Brook, NJ.  Due to the Covid problems, Sara was unable to attend the service personally and designated Fr. Gabriel to present it in her stead. 

The parish council with Sharon Italiano, president, met at the home of Blake and Louiza Davenport in the late afternoon to discuss the future of the parish.  Despite the trials Saint Anthony Mission has experienced during the coronavirus pandemic – as have so many parishes – the parish family has remained strong; finances have increased over the last year and commitment to Christ and his church is as strong as ever, if not stronger.  There has been some attrition over the year but interested people continue to approach the parish for information and to inquire about membership.

Vladyka Daniel and the two seminarians, Yaroslav Bilohan and Pavlo Vysotskyi, left Las Cruces, NM Monday morning following a farewell breakfast: coffee (made by Pani Susan) and scones (baked by Fr. Gabriel) with Fr. Gabriel and Pani Susan.

Archbishop Daniel Visited St. Anthony of the Desert Mission of the UOC of the USA, Las Cruces New Mexico

Photos by Subdeacons Yaroslav Bilohan and Pavlo Vysotskyi

(80 images)


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