Rectors Annual Report January 2017
By Father Paul Jannakos
Parish Register for 2016:
By the grace of God, I have completed my first year here at St. Luke Orthodox Parish. I am grateful to Fr. Andrew and Pat Harrison for their support and guidance during this time of transition. I have purposefully spent these past 13 months learning the ins and outs of our parish life and getting to know everyone in our parish on a more personal basis. The relationship between a spiritual shepherd and his flock is built on mutual love and trust, and these are gifts from the Holy Spirit that cannot be rushed or fast-forwarded in any way. Here, time is, truly, of the essence.
Our parish is unique and blessed in many ways. We are a gathering of different peoples united into the single household of God the Father’s Church through our Holy Orthodox faith. Our families come from many varied backgrounds: Albanian, Carpatho-Russian, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian and Americans of many ethnicities who have converted to Orthodoxy from Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Our people drive from all over the Chicago metropolitan area to Palos Hills to worship. We are truly a parish where there is unity in diversity.
Ministering in Faith
St. Luke is a parish that is not afraid to roll up its sleeves and get to work through its ministries. Many churches, unfortunately, have forgotten this dimension of church life: that the Church as the Body of Christ, exists on the face of this earth, not simply to conduct the Liturgies and Services—through which the Kingdom of God is manifest on earth—but to carry forward the saving work of Christ in this fallen world until His second coming. The Gospel must be preached, the hungry fed, the homeless sheltered, the sick healed, the demon-possessed cleansed, the elderly supported. Our children must be taught the faith and our adults must continue to be educated so that their knowledge of the faith might be deepened.
All of this is not only commanded in the Scriptures, but also prayed for in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great:
Remember Lord, the people here present and also those who are absent for honorable reasons. Have mercy on them and on us according to the multitude of Your mercies. Fill their treasuries with every good thing; preserve their marriages in peace and harmony; raise the infants, guide the young, support the aged, encourage the faint-hearted; reunite the separated; lead back those who are in error and join them to Your Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; free those who are held captive by unclean spirits, sail with those who sail, travel with those who travel by land and air; defend the widows, protect the orphans, free the captives and heal the sick.
These are the good works we must continue to do to be blessed by God as a healthy, viable, parish community.
As such, our many ministries remain in place. When I came last year, there were 56 ministries. Now there are two more: Share the Care Support for the Elderly and St. Zinaida Mental Wellness Support. BEDS Plus (formerly PADS) remains a wonderful opportunity for us to share our love with homeless in our surrounding communities. For 2016 our adult education program focused on studying St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. This study was well attended by members of the parish and many visitors from the outside community. Our children once again participated in the Junior Olympics sponsored by the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago. This past fall, Lee Kopulos presented an excellent study for our men on authentic Orthodox Christian manhood. And last but not least, Protinica Michelle has worked very diligently with our choir to ensure that our weekend and festal liturgical services can be sung as piously and beautifully as possible.
Sent to Serve
Mission trips continue to play a vital role within the life of our parish. Thanks to Michaelyn Sloan and her mission team, we participated in four mission trips in 2016. Besides the two YOCAMA trips to New Mexico and to Montana, I was privileged to go to the Hogar Rafael Ayau orphanage in Guatemala in June and to northern Romania at the end of August. The Hogar School is a miracle of love established and supported by Mother Inez and the other nuns. My first visit was a learning experience. Not knowing Spanish proved to be more of a difficulty than I anticipated, but when it came to working with the children, love transcended languages. We worked on the monastery grounds, on maintenance projects (Fr. Andrew), and in the monastery flower gardens. During our time with the children, we made crafts, baked, discussed the meaning of prayer, and took them on day trips to the historical city of Antigua and the Xocomil Water Park near the Pacific coast. The situation at the monastery/school has grown precarious on account of the Guatemalan government and their movement to de-institutionalize their children and move them back into foster-home programs. We continue to pray for their protection, growth, and well-being.
The highlight of my year, to be sure, was the mission trip that I took with Fr. Andrew to Romania for two weeks in August. Floyd Franz, an OCMC (Orthodox Christian Mission Center) missionary in the city of Cluj, invited us to travel with him to parishes and monasteries in northern Romania. During our trip, we had the opportunity to teach on the Orthodox pastoral response to addictions and alcoholism in both Cluj and Satu Mare. We also were blessed to be pilgrims at the ancient painted monasteries of Moldovi?a, Sucevita, Putna, and Vorone? in Bucovina. In Moldavia, we visited the monasteries of Neam? and Sihastria – where we were blessed to visit the grave of well-known Romanian Orthodox spiritual father Elder Cleopa. Having made new friends in these areas, Michaelyn Sloan is now in the process of planning a new 2017 mission trip program at a youth camp in the Carpathian Mountains outside of Satu Mare for Romanian homeless orphans. Our mission team is also contemplating possible trips to Albania, Greece, Guatemala, and northern Romania.
Finally, I am happy to say that we completed our Strategic Plan, which was begun by the Strategic Planning Committee in 2015. From a strictly theological point of view, there is really only one strategic plan in the Orthodox Church, and this is the Nicene Creed, especially with reference to its final article: “And I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, Amen!” In short, everything we do as a parish has to do with Christ and His Kingdom, which has appeared on earth and will be fully manifest on the last day, “the Day of the Lord,” when He comes in glory. But, it is often helpful for local parishes to envision their future by prayerful planning.
It is easy for churches to fall into complacency by doing “churchly activities” such as services and banquets, and thinking that this fulfills all that is necessary as commanded by the Lord. Yet, the services of the Church, though certainly foundational, essential, pivotal, are not the be all and end all of the Church’s life. As already emphasized, a parish cannot be true to its vocation without doing Christ’s own work in the local community in which it exists. St. James the Apostle writes, “Faith without works is dead” (2:14). And this means finding the ways and means to continue and expand our Lord’s preaching, teaching, and philanthropic labors. Subsequently, this cannot be done unless there is sufficient meditation and preparation on exactly how to make these things happen.
The Strategic Plan for 2017 thereby has sought to look not only at what St. Luke has done well (strengths) over the years, but to look at areas of our parish’s life that need to be fortified and amplified (weaknesses). All of this, too, was done by asking one reflective question: “What does our Lord want our Church to be like in 5 years?” In other words, what will we be doing that we are not doing presently? And what are we doing now that we might be able to do even better? All of this will happen, God willing, as we begin to focus on the Strategic Plan’s objectives, which will direct us first to our internal work (inreach) and then to our external work (outreach). May God bless our work!
Once again, I am grateful to the Lord for your continued love, trust, and support. I pray that the Lord will grant us here at St. Luke continued growth and prosperity in both the spiritual and material aspects.
Fr. Paul Jannakos