As this calendar year comes to a close, I am enormously grateful to God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit for all the many and varied blessings we have received this year. Truly His mercy abounds.
The Good Shepherd parish, located as we are in the centre of Melbourne’s population, has a mission to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all Australians. We model the ancient tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy in a modern, secular culture. We conduct our services in English so that Australians of all backgrounds can learn, grow and find healing in their body and soul.
When people experience the liturgical life of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith in a language they understand, lives are changed. People of Orthodox backgrounds are growing and deepening in their understanding of the Faith. Roman Catholics are discovering the riches of a liturgical life untouched by modernity. Protestants are being led out of sectarianism. Secular Australians are hearing the Gospel for the first time.
Make no mistake, the Christian culture we have inherited is being delegitimised. Secularism is our nation’s dominant philosophy. Our culture is being re-paganised: returning to a utilitarian view of life not seen in the west since the early fourth century.
There is only one antidote to this moral regression, and that is for each Orthodox Christian to enter into the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, to grow in the grace of Christ, and to be energised by the Father’s Presence (Ephesians 3:14–21). Our Holy, Mighty and Immortal God has promised to be with us always, and through His divine life fill us with His energies so that we are equiped to participate in the ministry of reconciliation (Matthew 28:20; 2 Peter 1:3–11; 2 Corinthians 5:11–21).
The transformed life of spirit-filled Christians conquered pagan Rome, and by God’s grace His Life will again prevail. As the Apostle Paul wrote,
“Now to Him Who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power that energises us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen”
(Ephesians 3:20, 21).
As He energises us, let us glorify Him rightly in the Church. For this is not only our duty, but our great joy and salvation.
Worship, right worship, evangelical Gospel worship, is our focus. Our focus is the celebration of the complete Victory of Christ over sin, disease and death; over people who oppose Him on earth; and over powers and authorities in the spiritual realm. Christ is enthroned in Majesty and Power, and He is the Righteous Judge of all. Yet He approaches us — not as the Mighty Warrior, King and Judge that He Is — but as the merciful Saviour searching for His lost lambs.
As we celebrate this Christmas with our families, let us realise that through that Christmas 2,000 years ago the destiny of the world was changed:
“The captain of the angelic hosts was sent by God Almighty to the pure Virgin, to announce the good tidings of a strange and secret wonder: that, as man, God would be born a babe of her without seed, fashioning again the whole race of man. O people, announce the good tidings of the refashioning of the world.”
Our purpose is found in being a worshiping community. Coming together as a worshipping community constitutes the core of who we are and what we do. Each week we run three services, Vespers, Matins and the Divine Liturgy, in which we offer God our thanks-filled praise. And we offer many extra services during Great Lent and the year’s other liturgical seasons.
During worship we become more sensitive to the holy energies that bring healing to our soul. So I would encourage each one of you to make it a priority to gather together in worship as often as you can.
In many ways, Orthodox worship services are led by the choir. We are incredibly blessed to have an active, involved and highly competent choir. Led ably by Iounna, our choir makes time to practise up-coming pieces, and so execute their role in worship with great skill. Visiting clergy have been highly complimentary about the level of skill, dedication and personal devotion of our choir. And our choir has been invited to sing at multiple weddings and other festal occasions around Melbourne this year.
I would like to thank each member of our choir for their commitment to leading our worship services in song and praise.
Teaching and learning opportunities abound. This year during the Sunday sermon we have heard the Gospel expounded by clergy and laity alike.
Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) meets regularly on Wednesday nights and this year we studied the epistles of John.
Sunday School caters for children aged 5–12 during school terms. As I run my eye down the list of topics and activities the children have experienced during the year, I am absolutely delighted with the range of topics and creativity of the activities. The topics this year have covered the liturgical calendar, gospel stories, parables and preparation for the Nativity. Activities have varied from group brainstorming to marshmallow sheep, from colouring to rehearsing a play. Here’s a huge thanks from me for Barbara Mattar and her team.
We will continue to offer these learning opportunities, and are searching for ways to extend The Good Shepherd’s ministry to older teens and young adults.
2017 was a pivotal year in the life of our parish. To date we have been enabled by the untiring commitment of key individuals. But this year we began to broaden the people who are involved in key support roles.
The Welcoming Team greet people at the door and help them feel at home. Eighteen team members, rostered in pairs, serve the parish. In the most recent ecclesiatical year (September through to August) they were instrumental in welcoming 44 visiting people or families, of whom 24 have returned, with 6 becoming catechumens or chrismated.
The Chapel Team ensure the physical components within the Main Chapel are in place for the Divine Liturgy each Sunday and safely secured after the service. We now have 26 people involved in this ministry, and it seems to be a great way to build relationships through working together.
The Digital Outreach Team have taken charge of the website, and have transformed it into a useful ministry tool. Eight people volunteered to contribute to the website. A content strategy was formulated and a substantial effort at improving the quality of our existing articles and writing new ones was launched. As a result we’ve seen the traffic numbers to the website grow substantially. Around 40% more people in Melbourne connected with Orthodoxy through our website than in any previous year.
Thank you to everyone involved in each of these teams. Your willingness, patience and effort in building for the Kingdom is surely being rewarded.
Our purpose in this coming year is to continue to increase congregational participation in ministries. We want people to find ways to use their gifts to benefit the parish, so that many more people will hear and receive the Holy Gospel.
As in any growing parish, there is a need for enriching and enhancing our governance.
This year Tamara Mattar hosted a gifts day at which we discussed the various gifts present in the members of the parish council. As we continue down the path of Natural Church Development (NCD), we intend to extend the gifts questionnaire to the whole parish.
Child safety procedures have been implemented in the parish. Barbara, Jo, Tabea and Dcn. Nicholas contributed mightily in formulating them. We published a Statement of Our Commitment to Child Safety, and Tabea served as our first Child Safety Officer. Tabea has now handed over the responsibility to Alithea and we are grateful for her willingness to take on this important role in The Good Shepherd. The archdiocese has recognised the progress we have made in this area, and have used our work as the basis for procedures in other Orthodox parishes within Australia. Thank you to everyone involved in this most important work.
Also this year a Special General Meeting adopted a resolution to form an Incorporated Association. This step was necessary to establish The Good Shepherd Orthodox Church as a legal entity and protect employees and officers of the church from personal liability. Everything is in place now awaiting Metropolitan Basilios' final blessing when he can find time in his busy schedule.
We have also continued to accumulate the funds necessary to acquire or build a permanent building in which to house this congregation. We continue to walk in faith, trusting that God will provide the necessary people, circumstances and finances to permanently house this congregation.
Please pray for every member who serves on the parish council. They give tirelessly of their time for the benefit of us all. I thank God for them every day, and I pray that you do so too.
Although the purposes of Orthodoxy are constant from century to century, the circumstances in which we labour change. Our congregation is alive with creative technical people who are helping us to innovate.
James has been busy leading the charge to a digital future. He has produced an entirely digital musical score for the choir, and many members have donated iPads that the choir will soon be using. This work will soon relieve Kh. Janet of the burden of preparing music folders for each and every Vespers and Divine Liturgy.
Daniel introduced Digital Chant Stand (DCS), an iPad app which provides our text for Matins each morning.
Loryn is constantly thinking about ways to make the website more relevant, prominent and useful to our website visitors.
We have also promoted the use of Daily Readings Lite to the entire congregation. It is a mobile app which provides a free listing of the lectionary, lives of the saints and prayers of the hour.
We were saddened by the repose of Metropolitan Archbishop Paul (Saliba) of blessed memory. I was the first person that he ordained to the priesthood and eternally grateful for his willingness to accept me into the Holy Orthodox Church. The Good Shepherd parish was founded under his leadership. He blessed and supported our parish from its inception through to his repose. We are grateful for his support of our mission during the fifteen years in which he Shepherded us within the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines.
Nevertheless, it is our great joy to welcome his successor, Metropolitan Archbishop Basilios (Kodseie). Last week Patriarch John and Metropolitan Basilios visited Melbourne, and many of our members had the opportunity to welcome both our Patriarch and our new Metropolitan.
This Patriarchal visit was the first time I have met the Patriarch of Antioch. I was truly impressed by Patriarch John’s approachability, humility, good humour, gentleness and grace. And I was delighted to see the interest Metropolitan Basilios took when he heard about the up-coming baptisms on Friday night. I am looking forward to working under the leadership and direction of our new Metropolitan. God truly is good.
I would also like to express my appreciation for the dedication and commitment of our pastoral team. Dcn. Nicholas and Sub-dcns Patrick and Timothy provide great support. I value how they make themselves available in personally engaging with parishioners, and in gently guiding and educating in the way of the Orthodox. They are a great blessing and support to us all.
We are seeing growth in the number of people attending our services and bringing their friends and family.
This year we received seven adults and an infant into communion with the Orthodox Church through the sacraments of baptism and chrismation. And we have more people preparing for baptism and chrismation early in the new year.
We welcome these numerical increases because it means that the love, joy and peace that flow from the reception of the Gospel of Christ are being faithfully extended to more and more citizens of Melbourne.
When we asked these converts why they sought spiritual rest within the embrace of Orthodox Church, they said:
“I felt a deep sense of peace”
“It is a place of belonging securely rooted in history”
“I can sense the Divine Liturgy changing me”
“God enabled a deep-seated experience of repentance”
“I see true worship with reverence”
“I know that my repentance is deeper and truer here”
“There’s a real sense of community”
“I’m free from being judged, even when I’m having a bad day”
As we strive to present the Gospel to our friends and family and workmates and neighbours here in Melbourne, our motivation is to share the joy, peace and love that flows from the Fountain of Life (Revelation 7:17), to the glory of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Christ is born
Our Lord Jesus Christ, at once Fully God and Fully Man, is the link between heaven and earth. He is the True Covenant that was promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the first man to be Fully Human. Through the grace of the Spirit, let us put on the Mind of Christ, that we may offer true worship and praise to our Heavenly Father.
“Make glad, O you righteous!
Greatly rejoice, O heavens!
Dance for joy, O mountains; for Christ is born!
The virgin has become like the cherubic throne.
She carries at her bosom God the Word, made flesh.
Shepherds glorify the newborn child.
Wise men offer the master gifts.
Angels praise Him and sing:
O Lord, past understanding, glory to You!”
Have a blessed and holy Nativity Feast. We look forward to you joining your worship with ours in the New Year at The Good Shepherd.