As a student at Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline, MA, in the early 1990’s, my family and I visited various churches and summer youth camps in the Boston Metropolis. We were blessed to meet many dynamic clergy. Their ministry styles were unique and creative. Each of them reinforced how important our faith is to maintaining a healthy family life. They not only sought to connect us to God, but to one another through His Holy Church.
Fr. Christopher Foustoukos serves as Proistamenos of St. Vasilios Church in Peabody, MA. He is one of the Boston clergy that encouraged me and my family. Since my graduation from Seminary, I see him rarely, except at Clergy Laity Congresses. Yet I respect and pray for him and his ministry and family. I value his friendship. Let me explain why.
During Great Lent each year, I am reminded of spiritual encouragement he once shared with me. It is during this time that I read and seek to apply what he wrote in his brief reflection below. Each year I share it with those I am serving. My prayer is that Fr. Chris’ practical message will continue to resonate and enable God to use us as a means of offering His encouraging message of hope and joy, no matter where we find ourselves.
Indeed, I have never forgotten Fr. Chris’ gifts of time and talents to our seminarians. His simple and practical steps inspired me to wonder: what if during our family sharing at our “Sunday Lunch”, we reserved time to discuss and teach our children or one another how others have supported and encouraged us? And then, what if different family members chose to call or contact those we’ve lost track of, or have been too busy to share with, or perhaps those who would love to hear from us?
It’s an easy task that reinforces to others we recognize their importance and sacrifices on our behalf. This Sunday, I will share with my family that Fr. Chris is a Priest who gives time to his family as a husband and father as well as to his parishioners, brother clergy, and Metropolitan. He does so in a friendly, encouraging, and enthusiastic spirit. He reflects the love of Christ Jesus with joy and excitement. He and so many others have helped me realize that our Orthodox faith is filled with possibilities to help us grow closer to God and His Church. I offer a “shout out” of thanks to him today, as well as to many others in the weeks ahead for their love, support, and encouragement.
And now I share with you Fr. Chris’ practical suggestions for making our lenten journey a spiritually fruitful time. Remember to read them to your family and friends during “Sunday Lunch” and assign who will do what with whom… when and where!
Surrender your hands to Christ. Make them the hands of His Love. Write a letter this week to a friend long ignored. Tell that person how much you appreciate him/her.
Surrender your tongue to Christ. Make it the tongue of His love. Telephone two or three people you have intended to phone but have not. Tell them what they mean to you or to say thank you or sorry.
Surrender your deeds to Christ. Make them the deeds of His love. Take something you have made or bought to someone who means a great deal to you, but for whom you rarely express your love – a fresh loaf of bread – a small remembrance that has your love as a wrapping.
Surrender your feet to Christ. Make them the feet of His love. Visit someone who is shut-in, lonely, or an absentee church member. Nothing can take the place of a personal visit in the home, nursing home or hospital. Don’t expect to be rewarded. Make it a gift.
Surrender your heart to Christ. Make it the heart of His love. Make a list of at least 10 people – friends and enemies – for whom you will pray daily. Forgive them if they have wronged you. Ask for forgiveness if you have wronged them.
Pray daily at home. Use a devotional aid such as Daily Lenten Meditations for Orthodox Christians by Presbytera Emily Harakas.
Bring the proceeds of your Lenten fast (the money you saved by eating more simply and eating less) to church as your Lenten almsgiving or put it in your Orthodox Christian Mission Center Bank available in the Narthex for our use during Great Lent.
Practice metanoia, repentance. Just as a clean engine always delivers power, so a life cleansed through repentance and forgiveness allows the power of God to flow through, enabling us to live truly resurrected lives.
Watch less TV, or not at all, during Lent to devote more time to prayer and spiritual reading.
Worship every Sunday. Attend special church services offered during weekdays.
Lead your family in prayer and Scripture reading. Use the Lenten family practices recommended in the book Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home, by the Rev. Anthony Coniaris.
Read through the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Meditate on one verse each day.
Thank you, Fr. Chris!
In closing, as we proceed through Great and Holy Lent, I invite you to reflect with your family members how to make this period a spiritually fruitful time that will lead you to the ecstasy of a resurrected life with Christ our Risen Lord.
It is by practicing the askesis or discipline of the above that you will be able to say with Saint Gregory the Theologian at Pascha: “Yesterday, I was crucified with Him; today, I am glorified with Him. Yesterday, I died with Him; today, I am alive with Him. Yesterday, I was buried with Him; today, I rise with Him.” Amen!