Welcome to 2017!
I pray that you have had a good break in which you have refreshed yourselves ready for the New Year. This week we begin a new season in our Maronite Church, the Glorious Epiphany of our Lord. The Feast of the Epiphany was first celebrated in the Eastern Church in the third century and eventually adopted in the Western Church. This feast is also known as the Theophany.
Epiphany is a Greek word which means a “manifestation” or an “apparition”. In Syriac, this word is “Denho”. Theophany means “an
appearance of God”. Epiphany because on this day we celebrate the appearance or manifestation of Christ among us as God’s son and Theophany because for the first time in the Bible, the Holy Trinity was revealed, Father, Son and Holy Spirit at the Baptism of the Son.
The Epiphany water is blessed with a lighted charcoal which signifies the fire of the Spirit who entered the Jordan River at Christ’s Baptism. In our Maronite liturgy, this is the meaning of the ritual of immersing the inflamed charcoal in the water. It is like mixing fire and water, the fire represents divinity and the water represents our life or the material world. Symbolically, when our Lord went into the water to be baptized by Saint John the Baptist, he sanctified the water, the essential element of life. The water symbolises
the origin of creation and of every creature which is in need of sanctification through the Holy Spirit.
This water is then sprinkled on the congregation by the priest reminding them of their own baptism in which they put on a robe of Christ and were cleansed from their original sin. The water is also taken home and can be sprinkled or consumed so that the Holy Spirit may sanctify us and our material world submitting everything to the will of God.
This year we truly relived the baptismal rite by the renunciation of Satan and the profession of faith in the Epiphany rite on the eve of the Epiphany. Our beloved mothers and fathers also kept the Maronite tradition of the Epiphany pastries, Zlaabyi and Awamet,
alive in the parish. For three days, they worked on preparing these sweets and savory’s. The dough which is dunked in the oil represents Christs’ descent into the Jordan River. May the Divine presence of God be “Deyim, Deyim” in our lives forever.
Last weekend I was very fortunate to attend the annual family retreat between Christmas and New Year. Sixteen families attended the retreat this year and lived the theme “Inflamed with the love of God”. Over the four days, the families had the opportunity to be inflamed with the love of God through many spiritual, social and educational activities. Thank you to all who organised this retreat.
Also, last Friday our youth celebrated Christmas and New Year’s with an outdoor party in the church car park. It was a great night and everyone enjoyed it. Thank you to our MYO team for organising it.
Finally, I ask you to pray for our Bishop and all the clergy this week as we embark on our annual retreat. The theme for our retreat this year is “The Maronite Spirituality in the Liturgy”. As such there will only be one Mass celebrated between Monday and Friday at 6pm.
As we welcome this new year of 2017 we firstly give thanks to God for all the blessings and challenges we experienced together as a Parish family. In our Gospel reading for today we hear Jesus tell his disciples (and us also) “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” and when reflecting on these words we can’t help but think about our undeniable need for the Peace of Jesus. In 2016 alone, the world witnessed dozens of terrorist attacks in different parts of the world including some in our beloved country Lebanon. Along with these acts of violence, we witnessed the unrest of many caused by a variety of issues. Even in our own homes and in the depths of our own hearts, many of us struggle to find the peace that Christ gives to us. So how can we find this peace? The answer for us as Maronite Catholics is simple; we find the Peace of Christ and receive it in the most complete way in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy (the Mass). In our liturgy, we hear four times “Peace be with you”, our Rite of Peace involves the peace of Christ coming from his holy Altar and passed to the people present and after receiving the Prince of Peace in Communion, we are commissioned to “Go in Peace”. We are called in the highest form of our prayer to receive the peace of Christ and share this peace with all who encounter us. I pray that this may be our goal and our prayer as the people of God in Sydney, Australia in 2017, to be Icons of the Peace of Christ for all people.
Continuing on from our Christmas celebration and as we journey through the Season of the Birth of our Lord, we come to our next great feast, the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord on the 6th of January. We will be celebrating the feast with a Vigil Mass (including the Rite of blessings of the water and baptismal promise renewal) on Thursday 5th of January at 10pm. The Mass times on Friday will be 7am, 8:45am and 6pm. Again I would like to extend a thank you to all the great people who helped with our various spiritual and social events of 2016 and I pray that the Prince of Peace, Jesus our Lord bless you and your loved ones with a happy, prosperous and holy 2017.
Happy New Year!
Father Tony Sarkis
Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
From year to year, the Birth of our Lord always brings with it an additional dimension of faith, hope and love. The birthday of this Divine Child is not a normal birthday celebration. The more that we celebrate it, the more that we delve deeper into the mystery that is our Lord. On the night of his birth he brought great joy into this world. A joy that even up till now we cannot fathom nor comprehend. Jesus brought light into this darkened earth because he is the light that the darkness could not overcome! Jesus came and he brought with him the love of his Father; a love whose splendor cannot be measured. How fortunate and blest was this earth to see, touch, smell and feel our Lord. With Isaiah on this day we cry out: “Shower, O Heavens from above, and let the skies rain down the Righteous One.”
As we ponder on the Divine Child with Mary, our eyes are filled with his purity and innocence. With Joseph, we anticipate the hope that he will bring to all nations. With the angels, we praise, glorify and honour him. With the Shepherds, we bring all our dreams and wishes to his humble manger. And with the three kings we bow down before his majesty and adore him. How beautiful is the Divine Child that has been sent from above? Through him hope has overcome despair, joy has overcome sorrow, life has overcome death and the light has truly overcome the darkness. Through the birth of Jesus our relationship with our heavenly Father has been restored because he is the bridge that has redeemed and saved us. Yes, he is the bridge because without him we have no path to heaven! For this, we have no reason to despair. We are the children of joy! At times, it may seem hard to feel this as we journey through this life, however let us always try to remember this during this festive season and always. We are the children of joy!
As we continue our journey we come to the end of another year. A year in which we have grown so much, learnt so much and loved so much. A year which has been filled with new and exciting paths, challenging paths. Jesus continues to unveil his will for us and we continue to grow in love with him. The more challenges he places in our lives, the more we keep coming back for more and more. The closer we get to him, the harder that we must work to reach him.
On behalf of my brother priests and subdeacons, I would like to wish each and every one of you a joyful Christmas that brings with it a great sense of hope for the coming year. Thank you to all our staff, committees and volunteers who work tirelessly day in and day out to ensure that our parish continues to radiate the light of the Divine Child. Thank you to all the businesses, community groups and government departments who continually support all the work that we do. And of course a special thanks to you, our parishioners, who if it wasn’t for you we would not exist. May the birth of our Lord be the Light that overcomes every darkened area in your lives.
Christ is born. Alleluia!
Father Tony Sarkis