Sunday Lunch: But As for Me and My House, We Will Serve the Lord

Every newly married couple brings unique talents and experiences together to form their new household. In the Orthodox Church, we encourage our faithful to create their new home as our “little house church” where we worship and witness God, and serve and offer fellowship in Jesus’ Name, “the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

It is in our homes that we are free to choose to live our Orthodox faith and witness it to our children, visitors, and strangers we welcome. How we respond to God’s invitation to serve in His Kingdom that Christ our Savior established on earth, and which will be fully realized at His Second and Glorious Coming, depends on the outlook of each husband and wife, and the priorities they choose for themselves and their children.

When Presbytera Marinda and I were married 37 years ago, we each brought our unique talents and experiences together to form our new household. In every home we have lived since then, we always welcome visitors by displaying this precious gift written in calligraphy by our sister-in-law, Diakonissa Lea Tsahakis. It identifies to our guests our joy and mission to serve God first, and share His love with our family and neighbors.

Presbytera Marinda’s Grandmother Ruth of blessed memory gave us a cherished framed print that hangs in our dining room. It reminds us daily to seek God’s will first and ask His blessings to guide us how best to use His gifts and share them with others.

Far away from Atlanta, and unnoticed by the rest of the country as we confront the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and await Hurricane Irma, live two gentle souls who have faithfully modeled the essence of these two precious images entrusted to me and my family. Indeed, through their faith and devotion to Christ Jesus and His Body, their lives have been offered in thanksgiving to our Lord as they sought to “serve Him first and foremost” and as they “prayed and taught countless others to pray and rely on Him to guide their lives and seek His Kingdom.”

The two images I shared above capture the spirit of two of the most incredible people I have been privileged to know, learn from, and love since I met them in junior high school in the late ‘60s in my hometown of Roanoke, Virginia. Through faithful obedience to God’s will, Fr. Peter and Presbytera Despina Leventis have served God’s Holy Vineyard during their 60 years of married life with sublime humility, great personal sacrifice, and unspoken hardships they quietly suppress in favor of serving and lifting up their family, friends, and parishioners. Now in their ‘80s, they continue to inspire those in their midst and have never stopped encouraging me and my family, even though they live quite a distance away, in Casper, Wyoming. With their 60-year anniversary at hand, I humbly ask you to pray for them and their family, as we celebrate this blessed event. I pray that God’s will is for all of us to be so blessed. This picture was taken at their 50th wedding anniversary in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, in 2007.

This Sunday, I had planned to surprise and eat Sunday Lunch in person with the parishioners of Holy Trinity Church and the families of my Brother Priests, Fr. Peter Leventis, now retired, and Fr. Stephen Ziton, the Presiding Priest in Casper, Wyoming. Had it not been for Hurricane Irma, I would have fulfilled a dream of liturgizing with my first Spiritual Father, who together with Presbytera Despina served me and my family during my high school and college years. After this Sunday’s church services, Fr. Peter Leventis and Presbytera Despina are being surprised and honored with a special luncheon hosted by Fr. Stephen Ziton and the Philoptochos Society on behalf of their parish family. Those present will remind them of 60 years of the most amazing marriage with their five children, grandchildren, friends, and parishioners.

Only Fr. Stephen knew I was planning to come until my plans had to be canceled this past Friday in the midst of Hurricane Irma considerations and my duty to assist my Hierarch in the days ahead. I am grateful to Fr. Stephen for wanting me to be present and offering for me to give Sunday’s sermon. His own father of blessed memory was a hard-working and devoted Priest, assisted by his beloved mother in their mutual ministry. I thank Fr. Stephen for serving his parish in Casper, for his love and respect for Fr. Peter and Presbytera Despina, and also for offering emergency relief work in the Houston area this past week, in conjunction with International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). In supporting his efforts, we support many in need far from us.

Knowing my disappointment, Fr. Stephen asked if I would share in writing my remarks congratulating God’s faithful servants, Fr. Peter and Presbytera Despina. With this message I thank them for their faithful ministry to God and His people, as well as their faithful service to their family, friends, and strangers they have welcomed and supported. I commend their children and their families for the sacrifices they have endured as their parents obediently served the various parishes their Bishops assigned. This meant moving to new homes, beginning afresh in new schools, losing ties with close friends, and perhaps wondering why their parents couldn’t be like other couples, who seemed to stay in one place.

I thank and acknowledge publicly that the clergy who served me in the first two decades of my life, and their spouses that we refer to as Presbyteres… they are the ones together with my parents of blessed memory who opened my eyes to hearing God’s call to serve as one of His shepherds. In fact, knowing the difficulties and sacrifices a clergy family endures, Fr. Peter encouraged my parents to guide me to wait a few years before seeking to study at our theological school and request ordination to the Holy Priesthood. Fr. Peter knew then and still understands my inner spirit, molded by my family and life experiences. He felt it essential that I first pursue another vocation and mature before presenting myself for God’s pastoral ministry. Those discussions took place some 45 years ago, and he was right… it proved beneficial and I’m thankful to him.

For that reason, at my ordination to the Holy Diaconate, the anniversary of which was just one week ago in 1995, I recalled the words of a cherished fourth-century Bishop who likewise had fled from God’s calling and eventually succumbed willingly to serve with full knowledge of his office’s responsibilities and sacrifices. That day, I prayed the following prayer, asking for God’s guidance as I sought to serve Him full-time with the help of my entire family. I offer this prayer now because Fr. Peter, assisted by Presbytera Despina and their family, first taught me by their living example, the essence of St. Gregory the Theologian’s message in his “Flight to Pontus”, which ends with this sublime prayer:

… May the God of peace, Who made both one, and has restored us to each other, may He Himself hold me by my right hand, and guide me with His counsel, and receive me with glory, Who is a Shepherd to shepherds and a Guide to guides: that we may feed His flock with knowledge, not with the instruments of a foolish shepherd, according to the blessing, and not according to the curse pronounced against the men of former days: may He give strength and power unto His people, and Himself present to Himself, His flock resplendent and spotless and worthy of the fold on high, in the habitation of them that rejoice, in the splendor of the saints, so that in His temple everyone, both flock and shepherds together may say, “Glory, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be all glory for ever and ever.” Amen.

I thank God for blessing Fr. Peter and Presbytera Despina with their anniversary. In sharing with you the Processional Psalm verses from the Sacrament of Marriage exclaimed 60 years ago, I give glory to God for fulfilling these prayers for them:

Priest: Blessed is everyone that fears the Lord.

Choir: Glory to You, O our God, Glory to You.

Priest: That walks in His ways,

Choir: Glory to You, O our God, Glory to You.

Priest: For you shall eat the labor of your hands.

Choir: Glory to You, O our God, Glory to You.

Priest: Blessed are you, and it shall be well with you.

Choir: Glory to You, O our God, Glory to You.

Priest: Your wife shall be as a fruitful vine on the sides of your house.

Choir: Glory to You, O our God, Glory to You.

Priest: Your children like young olive plants around your table.

Choir: Glory to You, O our God, Glory to You.

Priest: Behold! The man shall be blessed that fears the Lord.

Choir: Glory to You, O our God, Glory to You.

Priest: The Lord shall bless you out of Zion, and you shall see the good things of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

Choir: Glory to You, O our God, Glory to You.

Priest: Yea! You shall see your children’s children, and peace be upon Israel.

Choir: Glory to You, O our God, Glory to You.

As I was finishing this reflection, I received a timely reminder from a beloved parishioner who lamented the irony that in coming to church, a few in our midst can be sources of pain. I answered the way Fr. Peter taught me throughout his ministry, by affirming my parishioner and advising him to overlook the affront of another and liken it as a small stone in our path as we carry our crosses in behalf of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And I thanked him for sharing with me, because it reminds me to look at the “big picture” God has given us, like this beautiful vista Fr. Peter drove me to when I visited him and Presbytera Despina in Casper three years ago. That morning, he smiled repeatedly and kept saying, “I want to take you to the top of Casper Mountain.” In so doing, just as God gave Moses a view of the Promised Land, Fr. Peter reinforced my perspective that the focus of our life is to seek and glorify God, and safely guide those He puts in our paths to His eternal Kingdom! Many years to Fr. Peter and Presbytera Despina.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16) Amen!

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